Ballad of Solar
Version Reviewed: Steam
Year Published: 2014
Publisher: Buka Entertainment
Developer: Alawar Entertainment
Ballad of Solar is the type of game where you are not doing anything different on the last stage from what you were doing on the first stage and it's not even any harder. Basically, you click on things to make stuff happen, and it's almost impossible to lose. A "time-wasting" game I've heard this genre called, and (assuming you didn't pay very much for it) you won't hate it, but there's not much to it, leaving it best suited for children and (very) casual players.
As Prince Solar, who doesn't actually have any abilities related to the sun, you must rescue the princess of an enchanted kingdom who's been kidnapped by an evil wizard named Grogan. Yeah, I know, a "save-the-princess" plot in 2014. This, along with the simplistic storytelling and colorful cartoon designs for the main characters, gives me the impression that the game is written and intended for young children. That would explain a lot about its elementary design.
Solar must forge a path across various landscapes on his way to Grogan's lair, but there is a lot of stuff lying on the roads and (wouldn't you know it?) people who need help along the way. Solar, despite cavorting around the title screen and game maps on a white steed, is just about the laziest hero I've ever seen. Much of the work of clearing debris, repairing buildings, and helping NPC's is actually done by generic workers that Solar hires. He also recruits a wizard (Marvin) and a friendly troll (Yord) who have specialized skills for bypassing obstacles the workers cannot. Only occasionally is Solar actually needed for anything.
Clicking on the various logs, rocks, rubble, and bushes will send a worker (or Solar/Marvin/Yord) over to that object and they will clear it while coverting its remains into assets that can be used to surpass other obstacles. Example: Chopping a log turns it into lumber that can be used to build a bridge. The only real danger to your progress is the possibility of depleting your resources. Some regenerate and some do not. However, I only got stuck once when I ran out of gold nuggets because I failed to pick one up before it vanished. They only remain on-screen for a limited time, so be quick to grab them. In this case, I used the option to restart the level as the game does not seem to have any kind of proper "game over".
Moving quickly is very much encouraged in Ballad of Solar, as not only is there the possibility of missing required items, but on certain stages you can earn a gold star by beating it within a time limit. On the harder difficulty setting, almost all the stages are timed in this manner. Unfortunately, there are no Steam or in-game achievements, so I was only motivated to get them on the easier setting. I just didn't find the game compelling enough to keep playing the same stages over and over for the hard mode. If, however, you like this game enough and want more out of it, the option is there.
What I find strangest about Ballad of Solar is the weirdly ambitious presentation. The intro is comprised of several fully-animated scenes, although someone on the Steam discussion forums pointed out that Grogan's animation was copied from Rasputin in Anastasia. I wouldn't be surprised if the rest came from other sources as this seems like a costly amount of work. The art style is pretty, definitely meant to evoke a fairytale storybook or cartoon, and a decent amount of attention was paid to the soundtrack and voice acting, all of which leads me to believe the game's main purpose is to occupy a child's attention for a few hours. Adults may find it repetitious and, though it's short, be "happily ever after" that it ends when it does.
Good, colorful artwork and animation. Really good soundtrack.
The game is mildly entertaining while it lasts.
Easy to learn and play.
The story and gameplay are written and designed for children, so adults may not find it appealing.
Game style and difficulty doesn't change much from the first level to the last.
No Steam achievements.