Magic Ball adds graphical flair to the conventional gameplay of ball-bouncing arcade classics like Arkanoid and Breakout by transforming those games' multicolored bricks into 3D stone fortresses. Physics play a major role in this PlayStation Network-exclusive, and there are plenty of objects to destroy with your rebounding ball. Tipping tall structures and playing with the plentiful power-ups affords the kind of fun that can be enjoyed by anyone, but the charm doesn't last for very long. Overcrowded and repetitious levels, as well as crummy multiplayer support make Magic Ball feel overpriced at $10.
Using a wide paddle at the bottom of the stage, you'll launch and deflect a series of balls as you try to destroy all of the objects that litter the playing field. Magic Ball is about as basic as it sounds, so you'll use only the left analog stick and the X button to play. Sliding your paddle from side to side to keep the ball in play is simple fun, but numerous power-ups add a great new dynamic to this established formula. Upgrades like spiked balls that tear through rather than bounce off of destructible items can be combined with an equipped laser gun, larger paddle, and speedier ball to create a cool concoction of abilities. In addition to these power-ups, environmental bonuses like windstorms and meteor showers add a fresh element to the gameplay, and constantly keep you on your toes. Not all of the enhancements are beneficial, so you'll need to keep your eyes peeled for items that shrink, slow, or even kill you as you attempt to slide into the falling goodies. From tiny lily pads to giant pirate ships, there are no fewer than 48 levels in total, so there's plenty of game to go around if the simplistic formula of smashing things sounds appealing.
Sadly, Magic Ball loses its luster before long. A creeping sense of familiarity sinks in soon after you start, and it never goes away. Smashing the same set of stranded scalawags in multiple levels will leave you wondering if you've already played a particular map, and the few differences that you'll notice boil down to the number of sharks or oars you can count surrounding each island. Likewise, the main differences in the medieval castles and forests of the second themed series of stages are just the number of dragons or knights that occupy the space. The level design isn't bad, it's just that rearrangements of the same objects make up most of the mix.
To compensate for the lack of level variety, the stages are filled with tons of stuff to smash. Large structures like bridges, towers, and castles crumble in gleefully realistic ways, but ultimately such objects are more of a hindrance than an enhancement. You'll frequently lose sight of your ball as it gets stuck behind objects, which proves to be very annoying. While you can rack up impressive combos as the ball bounces around behind the objects, you'll still suffer many surprise deaths when it unexpectedly reemerges. A shadow that showed the ball's location through stone walls or wooden hulls would have been immensely helpful, but as it stands, you're left to deal with your fair share of frustation.
However, the most agitating detail in Magic Ball is its online mode. Both the co-op and competitive modes suffer from excruciating latency issues, causing the game to halt for seconds at a time. Worse, the realistic physics are crippled when you're connected to another player, forcing the ball into unpredictable directions at stuttering speeds. These online issues sour an already mediocre multiplayer mode in which each player's movement is restricted to half of the screen. Offline these modes just aren't a lot of fun, online they're broken.
It's hard to deny the charm of a game that puts a bedtime-story spin on the basic concept of breaking bricks with bouncing balls, and Magic Ball's adventurous settings bring new life to the otherwise bland bricks of Breakout. Smashing ships and toppling towers with a rebounding ball in a vibrant world proves to be adorable entertainment. But the fun, along with the alluring childhood fantasy, fades rather quickly. Frustration begins to take over as you lose sight of your ball behind objects, while the repetitious music and art assets, and total lack of variety drive the aggravation home. What could have been a cool clone of a classic ultimately ends up being a $10 disappointment with very little to offer in spite of its long list of levels.