“One of the goals was to make a Smash Brothers type game that is deterministic. It has no randomness to it,” said Noah Sasso, whose BaraBariBall plays like an 8-bit mash-up of Nintendo’s brawler and volleyball. BaraBariBall ditches the power-ups descending from on high and the jarring stage shifts in favor of a giant moon-shaped ball and some super-chunky graphics.
I played Sasso at his own game during the TooManyGames Expo, and while challenging the developer of a skill-based game went about as well as you could expect, the game was still immensely fun. Feverishly frenetic, but instantly accessible, it actually reminded me of how much fun Smash Brothers used to be before it was ruined by the garbage that constantly pollutes the screen. As the match begins, a ball drops from the sky. and the game becomes a frantic competition to grab the ball and chuck it off the opponent’s ledge into the water below. It’s the same theory as Smash Brothers except you’re throwing an object off the ledge to score instead of the enemy. That also means that you have to defend your own side of the map and make sure the ball doesn’t wind up in your side of the pond. It’s an ingenious twist that leads to insane back-and-forth brawls and heroic saves.
The beauty in the game – aside from its delightfully minimalistic graphics – is the simple control scheme that allows the game to be played with just two buttons. Sasso even had USB NES controllers set up at the booth to complete the retro experience. Although there are just two buttons, you could pull off a variety of moves by combining the attack with different directions.
A timer keeps the matches to a tight schedule, which means each bout is a concentrated hectic brawl. The game’s unique jumping system allows characters to jump repeatedly without touching the ground. This led to aerial battles as the players attack each other, steal the ball, and then hop away without landing. Since characters are heavier than the ball, there are plenty of last-ditch saves where players leap after a falling ball, catch it in the air, and then jump back to the ledge without hitting the ground.
“A lot of the fun of Smash Brothers is where one person is recovering and the other person is guarding. I kind of like to bring those moments out where you’re battling over land,” said Sasso. Of course you can’t jump forever, and little spheres float around each character to represent how many jumps they can perform until they must land and refuel their meter.
Right now there are three characters and eight stages, four of which are larger and designed with 2-on-2 battles in mind. The characters have no names, but Sasso refers to them as “the big guy,” “the girl,” and “the monk.” Of course they each have their own abilities: the big guy has a grapple, the girl can latch onto walls, and the monk recovers his jumps more quickly, an ability that Sasso admitted wasn’t very sexy and was likely to change.
Sasso describes the game as having “isolated action with chasing in between.” In our case, I was doing more of the chasing as Sasso dominated our matches. Although the game is easy to play, he said it was important that it was accessible to casual players and refined enough to appeal to tournament players who will exploit every nuance. He’s planning on showing it off at EVO this year to get feedback from fighting game fans. Although the game was immensely fun already, the Brooklyn-based developer claims there is still quite a ways to go. He hopes to have at least a beta available by the end of the year.
Check out the official site if you want to follow BaraBariBall’s development.