Oftentimes, the simplest games are the most fun. When a formula doesn’t have much nuance or complexity, it can engage the player without being prohibitively hard to learn.
Enter Gravity Balls. There’s nothing brilliant about the design; in fact, the idea is simple enough that anyone could code it. But it’s so goddamn infuriating, and I can’t stop playing it.
Developed by then-teenager Aaron Davidson, Gravity Balls started as a goof-off “gravity simulator” experiment. Davidson was still learning to program at the time and “was trying to get Newtonian orbits going with various sprites […] when I added the mouse as a force, and found it fun to play around with.” The game changes very little from that. Your mouse acts as a magnet that pushes a ball around the playing field. If you can keep the ball in the center for eight seconds, you win the round, get a little flashy animation, and hear a bootlegged sample of “Magic Carpet Ride.” Then go to the next stage where the zone is slightly smaller and the ball moves more quickly. This continues ad nauseum.
I won’t go as far as to call Gravity Balls impossible, but it’s close. Early on, keeping a handle on the ball is pretty easy, but as it starts going faster and faster, the game spirals out of control. The gravity turns hilariously sensitive; any attempts to nudge the ball send it careening across the screen. Keeping it in the center requires the delicacy and dedication you’d typically ask from a surgeon. The best analogy would be spinning plates or balancing on a tightrope. For extra aggravation, the ball screams or makes an obnoxious noise every time it bounces off a wall.
I suspect that madness might have been more tolerable back when the tiny window took up more real estate on the screen, but as it stands now, a tiny flick of the mouse can crush hopes and dreams. Few games illicit this sort of throw-your-controller-through-the-monitor repetitive rage anymore. And worst of all, the task seems just feasible enough to encourage a second, third, or fourth try.
The glaringly bright, disorienting graphics don’t ease the pain. The backgrounds and balls look like they’ve been wallpapered with gradients and run through a series of Photoshop filters, then suffocated. It’s exceedingly weird – but again, to a degree of entertainment rather than seething hatred.
All this anger over one of the simplest possible concepts! Gravity Balls doesn’t use a single button or have any advanced strategy, but it will absolutely destroy your patience and test your mettle for accomplishing a stupid, seemingly easy task. If you ever played with a cup-and-ball toy as a kid, you understand this dilemma.
Gravity Balls was originally named Rodeo, which might explain the inexplicable horseback image on the title screen. It was also apparently GravoBalls at one point. As for that lo-fi sample of “Magic Carpet Ride,” Davidson likely took it from whatever tape his dad’s Walkman had in at the moment.