Countryballs? Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in years, kid” was basically man reaction when I first learned about this game. A countryballs game in the year of our Lord 2021? Surely you jest! But Bang-On Balls: Chronicles doesn’t. Neither does it seem to be likely to change its God-awful title.
It is surprisingly hard to find a non-blurry screenshot of Bang-On Balls: Chronicles. Why? Because it’s non-stop dynamic action. The flowing freedom of movement was something I hadn’t felt since playing a game about being a gross alien monster meat blob. I can’t stress enough how liberating and exhilarating the game feels.
Once you’re out in the world, you can do whatever. Sure, there are overall goals to achieve to complete the stage, but you will feel compelled to do everything else first. It will all be free and organic, without any on-screen prompts or mission objective windows. Just you, a rowdy country ball, jumping around and causing havoc, intuiting both the puzzles and solutions from environmental clues.
If you can see a location, there’s probably a way of getting there with enough rolling and jumping. The control scheme is very simple, and it just adds to the overwhelming sense of flow. Back when we tried the game on a Friday evening, we thought we’d play it for an hour, and then drop it. We four adult men were proven wrong, as we fucking blitzed through everything that was thrown at us in 2,5 hours.
Yes, it’s possible to play Bang-On Balls: Chronicles solo, but you’re a dope if you do. Aside from a few puzzle spots that need two cooperating balls, it’s just sheer fun trading bants over VOIP as you zip around exploring (and destroying). As I’ve said, the map is entirely open, there are no tethers, and voice communication allows not only coordination, but also blessed moments of listening to your friends getting into trouble off screen (or failing to identify Scandinavian flags). This is a core part of the experience – and you’re missing out if you’re going at it alone.
There’s also a serious system of looting more cosmetics. First, you unlock the ability to apply the country to your ball after you complete the tutorial (the way new zones are unlocked reminds me of playing Bugs Bunny and Taz: Time Busters as a kid). The shield is the only cosmetic option you’ll have to use actively (or, in my case, forget to) as that’s how the blocking mechanic works. The rest are pure cosmetic – country balls attack by running into things or jumping on them, they don’t even swing weapons. But that isn’t exactly true! Some items have functions that you’ll have to discover while playing the game. For example, the reaper blade give me a chance to temporarily turn enemy balls into friendly zombi-balls (they even say “zombi, zombi” when they’re under the spell) as you attack. Once again, the game doesn’t tell you that, you have to notice it. You can find effects like that for shields, and even hats. It’s all good! It’s all fun! And your countryball will look amazing!
If there’s one criticism to be leveled at the game, it’s that boss fights can rely too heavily on the gimmick of the bossball spawning minionballs as it takes damage. If there was a second one… Look, countryballs was build on irreverent takes on world politics. So why can’t I play as North Korea ball or (if memory serves) Taiwan ball? I’m glad I got to complete the Viking invasion as Iranball, but still, where my DDR ball option? Also, Israel being a cube, Kazakhstan being a rectangle, and Nepal being… weird were kinda big things in the maymay, so seeing them as balls is just jarring.
Overall, Bang-On Balls: Chronicles is a lot more charming game that a you’d expect from something seemingly made to cash in on a (regrettably) dead meme. There is real love put into the gameplay, there are actual new experiences to be had while playing there, there’s joy in the even “inaccurate” display of history in it. You may even small cute details like save points being Kodak cameras – and you can actually see the photos they took in the hub area of the game! How cute is that? Just play it with three friends and you’re solid!