Watching the perfectly arranged set pieces splinter off into smaller chunks by the force of your ever-moving soccer ball is one of the biggest draws of the game. However, the three-dimensional characters and items create one of the game's central issues: It's too easy to lose track of the ball on the screen. It's not impossible to keep up with its trail, but larger pieces often obscure the ball, especially amid the aforementioned environmental modifiers. Another annoying quirk is the curved paddle, which can cause balls bounced off the far edge into a wall to head in the wrong direction, causing you to lose a life in the process.
Magic Ball consists of 48 core stages plus a couple of bonus levels, with the first two-dozen sporting a high-seas pirate theme and the rest set in a medieval kingdom. Like the arcade greats that launched the genre, Magic Ball simply gives you a trio of lives to work with and tasks you with staying alive as long as possible. It's a tricky, though not particularly frustrating venture - the game offers up many more life-ending skull pick-ups than hearts, but it's hardly a major issue when you can easily boot up the latest stage from the main menu and continue on with a fresh slate of lives.
The game also features local and online co-op/competitive two-player modes, but splitting the board in half for each player makes for a fairly ho-hum experience. Games of this sort are essentially single-player Pong, so a multiplayer-focused version of it would theoretically just be something akin to Pong, right? Despite numerous attempts, I was unable to locate another random player with whom to try the online modes, which almost certainly has to do with Magic Ball's under-the-radar status as a PlayStation Network title. Don't count on a burgeoning online community for this game going forward, let alone the ability to find a single opponent at the ready when you want some competition.
Magic Ball has a Peggle-like potential for lengthy play sessions, but in addition to the aforementioned gameplay qualms, the whole experience simply feels lightweight and insubstantial. The game never aspires to be more than a fleeting diversion - although a light snack amid meatier fare is never a bad thing.
Bottom Line: Fluffy and simplistic, Magic Ball rarely wows but proves an amusing distraction most of the time.
Recommendation: Give it a shot if the concept strikes your fancy. You don't have to lower your expectations, just know that this attempt to modernize the genre doesn't quite nail the formula.
Andrew Hayward tried shaking this Magic Ball, but it didn't have any answers.