Go Mecha Ball is nothing like the games I enjoy. It has almost no story, instead focusing on a simple, repetitive gameplay loop. Playing it is an exercise in twitch reflexes on a screen filled with flashing lights and explosions. It’s basically the opposite of my usual taste in games. So why have I been losing sleep for the past few days to keep playing it?
The pitch for Go Mecha Ball is simple. It’s a fast-paced twin-stick shooter where you play as a mech with the ability to curl up into a ball, Samus-style, and crash into your enemies. While that’s an accurate summary, it doesn’t convey how much fun this game is to play. The moment-to-moment action of bashing enemies and trading gunfire with hordes of robots in Go Mecha Ball is exhilarating. However, a lack of variety holds it back from being the kind of game that’s likely to keep you coming back round after round in the long term — though maybe that’s good for your sleep schedule.
Simple but satisfying
Go Mecha Ball plays out in a series of arenas filled with robotic enemies, and your job in each level is to knock out the competition before they eliminate you. You can play as one of four mechs, each starting with a different weapon and powerup. You’ll also pick up additional items from the bodies of your fallen foes.
It only takes about 10 seconds of playing to realize how great Go Mecha Ball’s wrecking-ball combat feels. In its default mode, your mech can fire weapons but moves far too slowly to avoid attacks. But with the push of a button, you curl up into a ball and gain a massive speed boost to evade attacks or smash into enemies. Hit an enemy when they’re about to attack (signified by a giant exclamation point above their heads) and you’ll stun them, leaving them helpless for a moment so you can finish the job with a quick shot from your weapon.
That may sound simple, but it’s hard to overstate just how good it feels in practice. Your ram attack has a short cooldown between uses — just enough that you can’t use it constantly — so every time you approach an enemy, it turns into a tense exchange where you fire a few shots, wait for them to start their attack, then charge at them to deal a finishing blow.
In the arena
The arenas make your job harder but more fun. They’re full of ramps, launch pads, pipes to zip through, and pits that you can knock enemies down or lose a bit of health yourself if you don’t avoid them. Their design looks something like a mix between a pinball machine and a rave, with flashing lights dancing across every surface.
Go Mecha Ball’s designs for weapons, characters, and enemies are equally impressive. The whole world shares a coherent neon aesthetic, with levels like something out of a futuristic bloodsport game show and weapons that look like cyberpunk Nerf guns. The four playable characters are a particular highlight, including a spider-like mech with four glowing eyes and an alien perched in the mouth of a Venus flytrap that walks on plant tentacles. They’re all packed with character, like the mech piloted by a cat wearing headphones, which has a smiling cat face on the surface of its ball form.
Despite the game’s mesmerizing looks and lightning-fast action, it’s all remarkably easy to follow. Even as you zip through levels at high speed, every element of the arenas is clear enough to make piloting across these glowing platforms feel intuitive.
Go Mecha Ball’s combat is much more strategic than it looks at first, too. Along with your weapon and charge attack, you also have two abilities, which range from throwable discs to a ground slam that stuns enemies. Like your charge, abilities have a cooldown that’s just long enough to keep you from spamming them but not so long that you’re discouraged from using them. While your first few rounds of Go Mecha Ball might feel like pure chaos, learning when to bash an enemy, fire off a few rounds, use an ability, or just run away becomes much more important than just being a good shot.
That’s especially true in its truly excellent boss fights. There are only four, capping off each of the game’s distinct worlds, but each is a unique encounter that tests your skills in different ways. The first and simplest is a battle against a giant mechanical spider. In addition to perfectly timing your charge attacks and evasions from its massive area attacks, you’ll need to find and destroy hives that spawn hordes of tiny enemies or deal with their onslaught. My favorite fight is against a boss called Waveform, which takes place in an arena with giant fans on each wall. Using the fans to launch yourself into the air lets you avoid exploding drones and a massive spin attack from the boss, and counterattack when Waveform takes flight.
Fun while it lasts
Clearly, Go Mecha Ball has a lot going for it. But as immediately enjoyable as its gameplay is, the fun doesn’t last. I’m firmly of the opinion that most games could stand to be a lot shorter, and I’d rather play a well-made game that’s over in a few hours than a sprawling campaign that feels bloated. So it feels a little strange to criticize a game for being too short, but the real problem with Go Mecha Ball isn’t its length as much as its structure.
Go Mecha Ball has all the trappings of an infinitely replayable roguelike. As you play through its four worlds, you can spend the money you collect to unlock new characters instead of immediate benefits. There’s a gacha machine before each run where you can spend a different type of currency to add more weapons, abilities, and upgrades to your arsenal. Then, during each run, those items will appear randomly as rewards, making each time you play through the game a little different.
An individual playthrough of the game can take under 30 minutes once you get really good, so it feels like the perfect length to run over and over. I did that for a few days, but as much fun as I had, I quickly found myself without much reason to keep going. Go Mecha Ball’s levels are just a series of repeating arenas, and despite a few unique elements in each world, their design gets old after a few runs.
The same goes for Go Mecha Ball’s unlockables. Many of its upgrades feel incremental, like adding damage to your weapons and charge attack, with only a few that can change your strategy in a meaningful way. Its weapons and abilities also feel a bit same-y, with lots of variations on standard shotguns and area attack abilities.
The joy of playing a roguelike game is seeing how different each run can be, and adapting to your randomly chosen abilities to create surprising strategies. I just never got that from Go Mecha Ball. Even after trying every weapon, I always landed back with a shotgun and a fast-firing rifle as my options, with only small variations coming from upgrades and abilities. Even that would probably be fine with more variety in the levels or enemies, but each playthrough of Go Mecha Ball feels more like restarting the same game than playing a new, randomized run.
I highly recommend playing Go Mecha Ball — just know that it’s more limited than it might seem on the surface. I’d probably feel better about the game if it were a short, linear experience with crafted levels instead of a roguelike, and in its current form, just a few small updates to add a bit of variety would be enough to pique my interest again. Even now, I’m certain that I’ll be dusting it back off in a few months when the experience isn’t so fresh in my mind. As a way to spend a few blissfully chaotic nights, it’s hard to do better than Go Mecha Ball, even if it falls a bit short of greatness.
Go Mecha Ball launches on PC and Xbox on January 25. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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