If you’re old enough, you might recall the thrill of an old arcade cabinet rotting in the corner of a local pizza place or laundromat, flashing game demos across its screen and promising fun while you wait for your underwear to dry. And if you do remember these modern fossils, you might also remember Bust-A-Move (or Bubble Bobble, as it was sometimes called), a colorful puzzler from Neo Geo. Its cute graphics and addictive gameplay solidified it as a staple of arcades. Magnetic Balls, while it may lack the cute presentation, is the closest thing we’ll ever see to a spiritual successor of the arcade classic.
Magnetic Balls is a game about magnetic balls. You know what you’re getting into right away. The game is played by holding your device vertically and tapping the screen to shoot your ball. Match three of the same color and you score points. What separates this game from the others in the “shoot colorful balls for points” category is its physics engine. If you haven’t already guessed by the title, the balls are magnetic, and fly and bounce with the grace of real magnetic balls. This small addition vastly improves the base game and adds another layer of strategy, as well as the satisfaction of shooting around tight corners and crumbling the ever growing wall of balls.
There are two modes available: an endless mode with adjustable difficulty and a campaign mode. You can choose between four different worlds that feature different physics and decorations, both of which can be turned on and off in the menu. There are also special balls that cause explosions and other effects. In addition to the whopping 384 levels available, the game features plenty of collectables, leaderboards, and a minigame in which you help decorate a penguin ski resort (why? Because people love penguins!) There are some in-game purchases and ads that you can suffer through for some extra gems to buy items with, but they weren’t so much intrusive as they were mildly annoying.
Unfortunately, while Magnetic Balls does have a lot to offer as a ball-bouncing, puzzle game, it doesn’t necessarily do much else. If you’re a puzzle enthusiast or a Bust-A-Move/Bubble Bobble fan, you’re in luck. This game is all that and nothing but that. Anyone expecting the next great puzzler might be disappointed. Its generic design and art may also ward players off before they even download it.
I admit, I walked into Magnetic Balls expecting to hate it, but came out pleasantly surprised and shamelessly guilty of actually loving it. Regardless of whether it was nostalgia goggles or the simple, almost therapeutic gameplay, I genuinely enjoyed this game. While it does nothing to forward the platform or the genre, it manages to feel at once familiar and new, and channel a simple, old school charm that’s rare in the free-to-play store, plus there is an upgrade option for .99 cents if you choose to rid yourself of ads. Once you get past the generic name, you’ll find pure, unadulterated fun in Magnetic Balls.