Antonball Deluxe: A Ball-Bustin’ Arcade Throwback
Recently, I talked about how Summitsphere was moving their game Antonball Deluxe to Switch. Now, the time’s finally come, and the game is out. I’ve been able to check this new port of the PC arcade title on my Nintendo Switch. Summitsphere has also been kind enough to send me a copy of the game to review. With all this in mind, How does Summitsphere’s expanded version of their renowned game jam title fair on the company’s console it’s been inspired by?
A Breakout Title with a Twist
Booting up the Nintendo Switch and launching the game, it’s no surprise that the game feels like it’s been meant for the Switch. While the visuals are great, the most important question is how does the gameplay?
For starters, let’s look at Antonball. Three modes make up the entirety of Antonball Deluxe: Punch Ball, VS. Antonball and the classic Antonball. The game starts by having players pick a character, which will not change the gameplay; it’s mostly cosmetic. The game also runs the player through a short tutorial before putting the player into the first phase.
Once the tutorial is complete, it’ll play a cutscene. The two single-player modes have a story, but for those who want to jump right into the title, they’re able to skip all of that and get into the meat and potatoes of Antonball Deluxe.
Antonball follows the titular character of Anton, who’s leaving Brulo’s Casino on his way home. However, he falls into an open manhole and has to find a way back to his house.
Each level is called a phase, a clear-cut example of Mario Brothers, but the setting and level names are where the gameplay portion of the references ends. Playing as any character is the same; each can run and jump. The goal is to break all of the colored bricks on the right side of the playing field. However, there’s a small hole on the left side that will cost the player a life if the ball happens to go through it. The player is the paddle in this game. They’ll have to use their body to launch the ball back at the wall to keep it in play.
However, there’s more than just running and jumping. Anton and his friends have two more moves up their sleeves. One of them is the backward flip while standing still and holding down. Pressing the jump will have the player do a higher jump that they can use to reach the ball if it’s too high for a normal jump. And then, each character has a dash based on the shoulder bash from Wario Land. Hitting the ball with the dash will rocket the ball forward, making it faster, which is needed if players want a time bonus to net them more lives. There’s also the ability to change the ball’s trajectory when hitting it. If the player holds up or down while the ball makes contact with them, they can deflect the ball in that direction, which helps give some more control to the player.
This is the core of the game. Since the title is a score attack arcade title, the game focuses on getting a high score and completing the levels as fast as possible. However, even though it’s an arcade game, it’s very tough. Combining combos with the ball and the bricks can net the player some extra lives. After every five levels, a bonus stage is given to the player. If they can complete the bonus stage, they’ll be granted an extra continue, which will help when they lose all their lives.
In total, the game sports 30 levels per mode, with the levels becoming increasingly harder as time goes on. This includes the addition of enemies, environmental hazards, and the left side of the screen becoming more and more open. However, there are some powerups that Anton and his friends can use that can turn the tide of the game and provide some help on tougher levels. There are three powerups in Antonball Deluxe. One of them is the revolver, which gives the main cast a western look and a big six-shooter. They’re able to fire at the blocks to destroy them. The powerup can be found either in the blocks or when there are only a few blocks left, which can help finish off the remaining blocks and end the level, but aiming and keeping the ball in play is a risk itself.
The other two powerups are the clock and the extra ball. Hitting the clock will slow down the blocks but keep the players and the balls at the same speed. The extra ball does what it says and can add up to two extra balls in play, which is helpful when it’s difficult to keep one ball in play. Players can lose their extra balls. They only lose a life when they lose their final ball.
The Punch Ball mode resembles Mario Bros., but Antonball Deluxe’s spin on the mode makes for another addicting arcade romp. The game’s cutscene sees Anton’s building mate Annie watching TV, finding out that Brulo hosts a punchball tournament. The prize is a lifetime supply of “Ballble Tea.”
The game’s stages are situated similarly to Mario Bros. However, hitting the platform under them doesn’t work; it only turns them around. The only way to stop the enemies is to hit them with the punch ball the player is equipped with. Throwing the ball will knock the enemy down, and then running into them will defeat them. However, there are multiple enemies not seen in the previous mode. Enemies like the snail will leave tracks on the ground, which have the effect of ice until they disappear. Other enemies, like the glove, will catch the punch ball and throw it back if they’re attacked directly.
The bonus stages are different compared to the ones in Antonball. In Antonball, players had to complete a level without losing the ball once. In Punch Ball, the bonus stages are platforming challenges that players will have to complete by activating all the levers on the map. This will then open the goal. However, the level is on a timer, and the levers are also on a timer.
The final mode is VS. Antonball. The game plays like tennis, both teams, either 1v1 or 2v2. Both players are situated on each side of the playing field, with bricks on either side of the map. They have to rally the ball, attempt to break the bricks behind the enemy team, get an opening, and make the ball past the bricks counts as a win. However, the bricks move in some stages, so players need to take out many of their bricks to win the game.
All these modes make up Antonball Deluxe. However, players who start will only have four characters: Anton, Annie, Danton and Nina. Players have to unlock more characters by gaining high scores, which will turn into casino chips used in the lottery. The chips will net players with either music, a VS. Antonball stage or a new character. Players can also check out the Rec Room, where they can listen to the music they got from the lottery.
My only complaint about the title is that the controls feel a little too stiff at times. I played the game normally and once with the split joy-cons in co-op. Playing the game with the split joy-cons was a bit of a pain. The analog stick lends to the character crouching while trying to move. However, this could be an issue with the hardware rather than the game.
Another issue is with jumping and moving. Sometimes the character is just too slow. On top of this, jumping upwards with the super jump right at the edge of a platform is precise that sliding around it like Mario Bros. isn’t an option. I also think switching the game’s A and B buttons would be a better fit for the controllers.
Antonball Deluxe runs perfectly on Nintendo Switch. The framerate is smooth and the visuals are crisp, without any visual issues with the game. Some titles feel like they belong on the Switch. Antonball Deluxe is one of them.
The game is an arcade title, so the music is filled with chiptune tracks for the players to listen to. Like I mentioned, the game has a Rec Room, which all the unlocked tracks can be listened to. On top of this, the game’s Arcade feel falls right into the sound design for the game as well. Connecting combos have the sound effects ramp up with each consecutive combo. Hitting with the shoulder bash also has a sound effect that accentuates the massive punch of the ball. Each character has some voice lines. They’ve all compressed with the voices to feel like they’re being played on an old arcade machine. The charm from the game’s sound is great, and it’s perfect if players have headphones or not.
The game’s visuals are also extremely well done, the whole game is in pixel art, but the level of detail varies much like an arcade title. The main cover’s art has been done normally, but the cutscenes look like they’ve been drawn as pixel art rather than digitized. The colors are crisp, and it’s near impossible to lose track of anything while playing. The game’s arcade feel has been accentuated with a border that looks like a pixel version of the marquee art from the Mario Bros. cabinet. The border doesn’t get in the way while playing and adds to the charm of the visuals.
While not a gameplay mechanic, inside of the world select is a world labeled “funny,” and clicking on it will only cycle the image. There’s no other use than making funny pictures of dogs appear, but it’s a visual aspect of the game.
There’s not much of a bustling community for this title, but being a niche indie title, it’s normal for a game like this to have a small, close-knit community. Summitsphere’s Twitter is where most of the general conversation for the title is, retweeting clips and sharing the love for the title throughout Twitter. The larger conversation is inside the dev’s discord. Conversation on the discord is lively. The game developers aren’t shy to chime in on the conversation, whether it’s about the game or happenings on the internet.
I recommend Antonball Deluxe if players are into this niche puzzle platformer. Check out the original Antonball on Summitsphere’s itch.io page if you’re still on the fence. The game is free if players don’t want to donate. If that tickles your fancy, then Antonball Deluxe is a much-improved version of the game and comes with online and co-op options to keep the good times rolling even after completing both original Antonball and Punch Ball.