Bang-On Balls: Chronicles (the most intentionally awkwardly-titled video game since Clustertruck) is now out on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch after a lengthy period in Steam Early Access. Developed by Exit Plan Games, Bang-On Balls can be summarised as a Super Mario Odyssey-style open world collectathon chock full of historical and pop culture references, in which everyone is a Countryball. As an experience, it’s incredibly fun, if rather brief. The game packs a tonne of detail and enjoyment into a little ball-shaped package.
The plot in Bang-On Balls: Chronicles, such as it is, sees you play as a ball rolling into Bobbywood Studios to become a movie-star and eject Bob Boss, the head of the company. It’s the bare minimum of set-up required to justify the concept, made somewhat harder to follow by the fact that none of the characters have dialogue or even faces. I didn’t have a problem with it, however; the game is far too silly to get bothered by the lack of character development, and the sheer depth to the game’s sandbox environments made it easy to make your own fun.
At time of writing, there are four different worlds to explore, which is a Viking setting, the Space Race, a Pirate setting, and Japan, with a Wild West world planned to be added as free DLC later down the line. Each world has a set of key objectives to complete leading up to a big boss at the end, along with plenty of optional sub-objectives available for those eager to explore. The areas themselves are gigantic and sprawling, although a button to highlight the locations of key objectives made it difficult to get lost.
“The game gets a lot of mileage out of those simple mechanics…”
What makes Bang-On Balls: Chronicles such a delight to play is the sense of freedom. The actual controls are rather simple; you can double jump, dash, ground slam or use a handful of items. The game gets a lot of mileage out of those simple mechanics, with virtually every building you find not just being climbable, but having fully-modelled interiors with secrets to find.
These can include interesting historical tidbits, like the brewery underneath the monastery in the Viking area being a reference to Trappist brewing practices. There are also fun movie references, such as an extended one to the Robert Eggers film The Lighthouse to be found in the Pirate world. The sense of freedom only increased once I reached the Pirate and Japan settings, which feature sea and road vehicles to drive and made getting around even more fun.
As you explore, complete sub-objectives, or pay in-game currency to make random NPCs explode (no, seriously), you can unlock new customisation items for your player character (player ball?). These range from colour options, including different flags you can plaster over your ball, to tattoos, hats, glasses, and weapons. Adding to the crazy amount of detail packed into the game is the ability to wear different glasses, which creates visual effects on the game’s camera, such as little star-shaped outlines when wearing the star glasses. Most items only have cosmetic benefits, although some also provide new attack types as well.
Admittedly, Bang-On Balls: Chronicles isn’t an especially challenging experience; there isn’t much of a cool-down on your dash ability, making it trivial to just spam the dash and ground-pound move to take down most foes. Depending on how much you roll off the beaten path, it isn’t a very long experience either, although the promised addition of a new world in the future will give it more content. There is also both online and split-screen co-op to add more balls-to-the-wall fun with your friends.
In short, Bang-On Balls: Chronicles is one of 2023’s most unexpectedly pleasant surprises. The open world collectathon platformer genre is not easy to get right, as certain previous recent releases have shown. Even if it is not an especially lengthy experience, it is a very rewarding one. With its charming visuals, simple-yet-fun mechanics and compellingly intricate and fun open worlds to explore, collectathon platformer fans should definitely not roll past Bang-On Balls: Chronicles, despite its goofy name and unconventional premise.