App of the Day: Blast Ball

Geek chic football.

Version tested iPhone

On paper, Blast Ball sounds like it shouldn't work. It's a mish-mash of game concepts - a physics-based football game infused with arcade platforming and a high-score chasing spirit similar to Super Crate Box. But a few minutes spent playing Blast Ball is enough to alleviate any concerns about mixing together such eclectic genres. The game's sporting, arcade and action ingredients quickly blend into an enticing peanut butter and jam sandwich experience, which is to say that it shouldn't work, but it does. It's a lot of fun.

Blast Ball's action takes place across three rather rudimentary maps, also reminiscent of Super Crate Box, with that game's original Mario Bros. influence still shining through in both level design and basic controls.

Notching up points requires you trundle variously shaped balls into goals at either side of the screen, while an endless stream of enemies marches down from above. You kill them by manipulating the ball into their path, their spindly 2D bodies breaking apart at the seams, or you can simply avoid them. The majority of enemies differ only in their size and speed, with more advanced variants colour-coded and harder to avoid, in another nod to Mario Bros.

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Only Spanish commentary could make this wackier.

The game keeps a tally of your kills and survival time, but the only points that matter are the number of consecutive goals you can score in a round before dying, whether by kicking, rebounding or simply barging balls into the net.

'Soccer' balls are the easiest to control, while the oval-shaped American football variety can cause a problem when you're trying to strike them in a straight line. Rubber ducks, unlocked later, pose an even greater challenge, their bright and bouncy anatine bodies often rebounding around the level. Quack.

Keeping control of your projectiles is an enjoyable and often unpredictable task, although you build up a certain skillset over time, like knowing where you can dink shots off nearby platforms, or spiking balls volleyball-like into enemies. There is a lot less precision than the finely tuned shooting of Super Crate Box, but Blast Ball is more forgiving when it comes to avoiding enemies, and perhaps a touch more tactical. Would now be a good time to score? Or should you turn around and flatten that last charge of enemies with your giant basketball? You are also granted a single-use bomb to flatten nearby enemies as a backup option should other options fail.

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Goalgoalgoalgoalgoal!

Blast Ball constantly has you working towards a new challenge, scoring a certain number of goals on a specific level or rounding up a required amount of kills before dying. These are not as varied as the tasks in something like Jetpack Joyride, but still act as a powerful incentive to keep playing. A reminder of how far you are from completing your current mission appears on every Game Over screen too, inviting you to try again, with the stated incentive often a new ball type to play with or an upgrade to bomb capacity.

Blast Ball's visuals impress with a crisp nouveau-retro style. Everything from the wireframe menus to the blinking backgrounds of neon-coloured levels is a post-Bit.Trip homage to a bygone era of gaming. This graphical style epitomises Blast Ball in general: a thoroughly enjoyable mix of established game concepts, cooked up in satisfying new way.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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