There is a very good reason that platforming stars are usually equipped with a pair of healthy legs. To accurately traverse the tricky environs offered in many jumping-focused games, you need a hero who can run and leap with precision. In Niki - Rock 'n' Ball, you take control of Niki, who is a ball, and his spherical nature leads to a series of unpredictable rebounds, imperfect leaps, and unexpected deaths. Even with the frustrating control issues, there is still some simple, inexpensive fun to be had in Niki's adventure, which sells for 500 Wii points ($5), but the touchy controls and the increased difficulty of the later levels makes the game tough to recommend.
Niki is a courageous ball trying to protect his village from invading monsters. He looks like a Pokeball with hair, and the bland aesthetics will be of little help in drawing you into this world. Levels are completed by destroying all of the enemies and collecting every pearl. Though your foes come in a number of different forms, they can be broken down into two simple categories: those with spikes and those without. To vanquish the unprotected enemies, you can simply roll into them or, if you prefer, bounce on top of their heads. However, the majority of your opponents are more challenging than that, forcing you to transform into a rock before you can defeat them. Other than rolling and hopping, transformation is the only other move that you'll be able to pull off at will, and you'll choose to hide in your rocky shell often, given that it makes you virtually indestructible.
Although the early levels let you casually roll around, easily snatching the shining pearls and finishing off your enemies with lazy satisfaction, most of the journey places more daunting obstacles in your path. This is where the controls become an annoyance, and the game is never able to fully overcome its lack of precision. You can choose either motion or traditional controls, but the retro option is the more reliable method. Tilting the controller does give you analog movement, but trying to navigate the platforms while flicking the controller to jump will lead to repeated failure. Even with traditional controls, you'll still find yourself rolling off of slanted slopes, ricocheting wildly off of enemies, and bouncing uncontrollably into spike pits. Many levels include a power-up that turns you into a fireball, but the trade-off for increased speed is even touchier controls, which put a wet blanket on your fiery indestructibility. With a lot of patience, you'll be able to make your way through the journey, but you'll rarely feel fully in control of Niki.
The level structure conspires with the finicky controls to make this game far more agonizing than it should be. Each of the four worlds contains 10 levels to play through, but don't expect to blow through all 40 stages in one go. You are given five lives at the start of each world and must make your way through all 10 levels before your progress is saved. Though this may not sound unreasonable, the controls ensure that you will meet your end often. Furthermore, each level has a three-minute time limit, after which the stage fills with slowly rising orange liquid and your already crummy controls are further compromised. You can play through this game cooperatively, which makes the levels significantly easier, but the joy of playing with a friend can mask the iffy controls for only so long before the frustration rears its head again.
The simple concept of Niki - Rock 'n' Ball could have lead to a more enjoyable experience, but the controls sap much of the fun out of your quest. The best aspect of Niki is that it is only $5, and the rolling joy of the early levels coupled with the inherent fun of playing with a friend make it worthwhile if you can overlook the flakey controls. But that can be a bitter pill to swallow for many, and this uninspired platformer doesn't offer a significant reward for putting up with its faults.