Thursday, 26 March 2015

Puzzle Games #18

Be Ball a.k.a. Chew-Man-Fu (1990)
By: Hudson Soft Genre: Puzzle / Maze Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 First Day Score: 232,810
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Puzzle games can often be among the stranger titles hosted by their respective systems and this PCE release by Hudson is definitely no exception. A brief perusal of the American instructions (Be Ball is the Japanese version) reveals that 'the people have been deprived of their favourite foods - fried rice and egg rolls - by the evil Chew Man Fu'. To what end? Your guess is as good as mine, but luckily 'two feisty twin sisters' named LaLa and LingLing have bravely stepped up to 'turn the tables on the wrong-doers'. Jolly good then! Of course, as you probably already guessed, this is done by... moving four coloured balls around. Obviously. Each stage, you see, features four different coloured balls and four plates of matching colours. Your job is simply to move each ball to the corresponding plate before moving to the next. This may not be as easy as it sounds, however, especially when you learn that there are supposedly a somewhat bewildering 550 stages to battle through.

These terrifying porcupines are the first enemy you'll find...
No, that's not a typo, by the way. Each of these many, many stages is viewed from above, Bomberman-stylee, and is a mere single-screen in size, and there are ten in each of five areas or 'rooms' which are themed around Stone, Ice, Plants, Water, and Fire respectively. If you can clear these fifty stages you'll face five more 'extra' rounds. Finish these as well and you'll have completed a 'game', and there are ten of these in total. LaLa is able to push or pull each ball around the maze-like stages to place it on its plate but trying to stop her are Chew's 'evil henchmen' which are actually a menagerie of irritating creatures. There are three different types of these per area and their touch is fatal. LaLa's only defence against them is the very balls she's meant to be lugging around. Rather than laboriously pushing/pulling them all over the place, she can also give them a hard kick which sends them careering down any passageway that may lie in their path. Any creatures caught in their path is whumped accordingly and for most of them that means death.

Stupid ape has frozen the green ball...
Unsurprisingly, they're not actually gone for very long at all, so it's only worth bowling the oafs over if the alternative is your own death, especially as the balls tend to bounce back at quite a pace which can push you back into an enemy approaching from behind (giggity). It may, however, be worth booting the balls around a bit as some of the partition walls can be bashed down. This might allow the enemy creatures greater reign over the stages but it also gives you more avenues for escape. There are a few helpful items that pop up now and then too, including fruits for bonus points, one-hit shields, extra lives, several types of 'Beam Plates' that zap enemies in the indicated directions, Earthquakes, which damage all breakable walls on the stage, Skulls, which repair them, a stop watch which freezes the enemies, a Bowl of Ramen which, for some reason, attracts all the enemies, and diamonds which are required to gain entry to the bonus round where extra lives can be found.

Those red squawkers are cute but don't look very kiwi-ish...
On some stages the colour plates are not visible at first and only collecting a scroll will reveal them, which of course is often located in or around an enemy stronghold, and there are occasionally 'Colour Change Plates' as well, which, annoyingly, change all balls to the colour of the plate (temporarily). The balls themselves differ a little too. The black one, for example, is heaviest and breaks down walls easily, while the red one is the 'attack ball' and destroys enemies with a single hit. Most of Chew's foul creatures do more than just pootle about the place too. For example, there are types of ape/gorilla in several areas - one type can freeze the balls, another can carry them around, while other enemies include turtles which can hide from your attacks in their shells, penguins which can slide along the ground at speed, and kiwis which can peck down walls. Even worse, if you allow the rather strict time limit to expire on any stage, all enemies will turn into deadly fireballs!

LingLing's goalkeeping needs some work in Kick Ball...
However much of a pain you might find this gaggle of odd creatures though, they certainly help add to Be Ball's appeal. The actual design of the stages isn't particularly varied - there are only a few really distinctive, memorable examples. I suppose their small size combined with the large sprites doesn't leave too much room for variety, but the graphical style and colour pallette is nice anyway, and the peculiar occupants are great. The audio is also decent, with several catchy tunes and pleasant spot effects to make your ears happy. Games like this are almost always better with more than one player involved though, and happily that's also the case here. The main game supports one or two players, and you can even design your own stages using the decent Edit Mode, but there is also a separate two-player-only mode called Kick Ball which is a simple football-like game where the object is to score as many goals past your opponent as possible.

This is a spiffy bonus feature but obviously the main game is where you spend most time, and I wasn't entirely sure about that to start with. For the first few minutes of play I loved it - it is charming and pretty original after all - but after a few stages it seemed to get too hard too quickly and was proving quite frustrating. This was mainly down to the rather tight time-limit which doesn't really allow you to plan anything or wait for enemies to move out of the way, and the controls are sometimes a bit sticky too, which led to a fair bit of ball fumbling (chortle) and numerous lost lives as a result. With a bit of perseverance, though, I was soon enjoying myself much more and making a lot of progress. Most stages can be solved any way you like and, despite the somewhat inconsistent difficulty level, few of them are overly taxing once you're learnt which balls to grab first, when to kill enemies, which walls to destroy, etc. Be Ball is a slightly obscure release that not too many gamers seem to know about, but it's definitely one that's worth investigating.

RKS Score: 8/10

Gameplay Video: I couldn't be arsed to make my own video for this game, mainly as my Engine emulator is being a dick lately, so here is the one made by those splendid fellows at the PC Engine Software Bible site instead :)



  1. That character looks like a chibi Chun-Li, lol.

  2. I've said this a few other places (FB and Twitter) already, but I'll say it here again anyway: I really like this game. It brings back a lot of good memories of my childhood, plus it reminds me of the "good old days" of both Hudson and the PC Engine :)

  3. That's great Bryan, I wish I'd played this back then as well. I didn't even get my PC Engine until right at the end of its life but I bet I would've loved it even more if I'd grown up with one :)