Version tested: Retro
Most of the time, the whole 8-bit budget software scene was a bit of a bad joke on those stupid enough to waste their pocket money/ paper round on them.
You generally got exactly what you paid for: crap, derivative pap with cheap cover art, an inlay with barely any instructions, and a game on cassette knocked out by novice coders trying to make a name for themselves. But now and then, Firebird or Mastertronic would unearth a real gem that was easily the rival of games retailing at four times the price. I Ball was definitely one of the best examples.
With the prolific Rob Hubbard twiddling the audio knobs, it grabbed everyone's attention by announcing itself upon loading, screaming "I Ball! I-I-I-I I-Ball! I Ball!", before one of Hubbard's trademark stomping tunes goaded you to play this wickedly addictive vertically scrolling shooter.
But unlike so many of the boring me-too shooters in this crowded genre, I Ball had a quirky visual style on its side, and some rather curious gameplay mechanics to help differentiate it from the sludge.
The general idea was to guide I Ball (literally a ball, with, um, an eye) through a scrolling enemy infested and trap-laden environment, from the bottom right to the top. Armed with a sort of bubble gun that fired front and rear simultaneously, you could slip past enemies while they were shimmering the colours of the rainbow - but you become vulnerable as soon as they become solid. So the game felt slightly unnatural because you were constantly brushing past enemies and giving them the slip - something you'd never normally do.
Set across 16 levels, it was fairly repetitive stuff after a while, but the amusement value gleaned from hearing him scream "Oh no!" when you died, and "Game Over!" at the end were the stuff that teenage kicks were made of back in the late '80s.
6 / 10