RealPlay Puzzlesphere Hands On

We get briefly to grips with In2Games' ball-wielding puzzler.

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In2Games has long been attempting to get motion-sensing controls into its PlayStation 2 games. After its Gametrak system for the PS2 won critical acclaim but failed to achieve serious commercial success, the company is back for what could be one last crack at the PS2 market before the launch of its PS3 and Xbox 360 products in 2008.

The company has a number of RealPlay-branded titles out in the UK this Christmas, which all ship with their own bespoke motion-sensitive controllers. The games coming up include what is essentially a follow-up to last year's Real World Golf 2007, a racing title, and a pool game.

The standout game among those we've seen in the series so far is RealPlay Puzzlesphere. The game presents you with the familiar premise of a ball--in this case called a Xorb--traveling through a treacherous three-dimensional course to a target area.

Three lives, many drops.
Three lives, many drops.

What makes Puzzlesphere different from others in the genre is that you control it not with your DualShock 2, but with a wireless sphere that will ship with the game.

The internal hardware of the sphere is very similar to the Wii Remote's--we're told that the tilt chips are marginally more sensitive than those in the pointer for Nintendo's console, but other than that the principle is the same.

The control scheme seems at once both very simple and amazingly difficult. You tilt the sphere in any direction to increase the momentum of the onscreen Xorb in that direction...and that's it. The sphere picks up speed very quickly, and commensurately with the degree of tilt, so delicacy is most definitely the order of the day.

The various courses feature checkpoints along the way, which both ensure you don't take any unauthorised shortcuts as you progress toward the goal and act as respawn points if the Xorb does fall out of bounds. The number of attempts you get at each level before being forced to start over is relatively small, at least for the moment, which adds to the game's overall difficulty.

To help out, the Xorb has an air brake that applies a force in the opposite direction to your current motion. This allows you to bring the Xorb to a fairly sharp halt, and even allows you to stop yourself from falling over the edge if you catch it in time. It's not of much use once you've fallen, though.

Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea...
Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea...

The courses are challenging from the get-go; unguarded spiralling ramps, precise deliberate blind drops, jumps that require a certain speed to be maintained, and fans installed to blow you off course all present obvious challenges across the levels we saw. Power-ups such as improvements to your air brake should make things a little easier, if you can reach them without coming a cropper.

In its current state, the game is fairly difficult and unforgiving, but it's rewarding when you do complete courses--although this can take quite some time. Toward the end of our brief hands-on we found ourselves feeling as if we were edging into the zone where the ball's motions started to suddenly make much more sense, but it's possible this was just due to the onset of madness caused by having seen our Xorb plummet off the edge for the umpteenth time.

The game promises a large number of courses--the menu system we saw showed at least 50 levels over four different environments, which included a futuristic cityscape and a sunburnt desert.

There are still improvements to be made in terms of the way the aerial camera pans around as your ball moves in certain areas, but the developer has a while before the game hits the store yet. We hope to get a bit more hands-on time nearer the game's release to look at the environments and the later levels, so watch this space.

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