Bato is a zen-like strategy game involving coloured marble balls, diamonds, a large game board and many special powers. It is pretty undemanding and allows for a contemplative gaming experience that is sure to chill you out after a long hard day. The gameplay continually brings more and more ideas to the table that expand on the concept resulting a fun time that ceases to get boring.
Bato requires you to fling marble balls across a board to hit similar coloured balls. By doing so you eliminate those balls. Your aim is to get rid of all the objects on the board without the timer hitting nil.
Whereas this concept has the potential to get repetitive, Bato manages to wrap a simple, yet serene, storyline based on the protagonist’s search for a mythical treasure. However, doubts about its existence and the unremitting environment all get in the way of your struggle to find the ancient gold. The story is all text-based, but it manages to pull you in if you stick at it, and by the end you will be eager to uncover the next piece of the adventure.
The storyline can feel very disjointed from the actual gameplay, with the idea that these Bato puzzles somehow tell you which way to head for the treasure. But as the gameplay actually adapts to where you are on the map, it becomes much more engaging. For example, when you venture into the cave, there is no light meaning you can only see a small section of the board at one time. When you cross the frozen lake, the board becomes a slate of ice with zero friction and there may be clumps of snow and holes in the ice that stand in the way of your objectives.
What’s more, the sound effects adapt to your situation as well. In the forest you will hear the familiar noises of birds singing and the rustling of trees. The music as well is nicely subtle, with a hint of japanese origin. All of which complete the zen-like experience.
You unlock new powers as you play, which you collect and store for later use. Such abilities like being able to move a ball, stack up many moves at once, unleash a fireball and randomly rejig the board all help you get out of tricky situations. However, each power is collected by meeting the concurring demands of separate deities. Such as hitting specified balls, doing trick shots like rebounds, getting enough hits in quick succession etc. The gameplay may be simple, but it’s well executed, and well developed.
Bato is not without its flaws though. The gameplay is fast-paced but doesn’t require much thinking. It’s all about you seeing two balls of the same colour near each other and knocking them together. Powers are good at getting you out of near-loss situations, but actually losing is rare. Be warned though, when that extra-tough level comes your way, if you lose a few times, you will be taken back to the beginning of that stage. This could mean going back 10 or more levels which is demoralising. Working your way back through levels you have already completed is tough as there really isn’t anything bringing you back to Bato other than story and new gameplay mechanics.
Bato is a simple and relaxed game that won’t really challenge the mind, but will make for a laid-back encounter that you will have subtly fallen in love with by the time the credits role.
Publisher: Vasilek Games
Price: $3.99 (£2.49)
Description: A Ball Rebounding Relaxed Puzzler
Pros: Progressive and fun gameplay, very zen, great special effects and powers, fitting music, intriguing story.
Cons: Doesn’t require much thinking, quite easy but unforgiving if you do lose, can’t replay previous levels.