Balls of Fury
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DS
| Balls of Fury

Balls of Fury the film was a bit of a flop. Surprising really seeing as it features Christopher Walken dressed as a table tennis-playing-Chinaman.

So Balls of Fury DS is off to a bad start. Games licensed from good films can be disappointing enough so surely one based on a film that's scored 24 per cent and been awarded 94 Rotten Tomatoes (of 123) by critics scarcely stands a chance.

Doubters, you'd be wrong. As a game, Balls of Fury is absolutely nowhere near as weak as the film it's based on. It's a fairly no-frills affair admittedly, and because ping pong is one of those games that suits the DS like a puppy farm full of chihuahuas maybe it would have been hard to mess up completely. But none of this detracts from the fact it's as addictive as the real game of ping pong itself.

There are several play modes. Exhibition lets you play as any unlocked character in a one-off match and Arcade offers a series of elimination matches, but it's in Story mode where the pace is really picked up.

Each Story mode match pits your character - Randy Daytona - against another from the film; from blind trainer Wong to niece Maggie. And each match has different criteria for winning it too, so they don't all follow straightforward table tennis rules. To get past the level with the lightning-quick Dragon for instance, you simply have to get three points up on her. Not as easy as it sounds - as you'll find when you're standing there with flaming ping pong balls shooting past your flaccid paddle.

The game doesn't let you take control of Randy as such - instead you get direct control of his table tennis bat using the DS stylus. It's a system that's so simple and gratifying it alone would justify Nintendo's decision all those years ago to give the DS a touchscreen. There's nothing quite like feeling you've just physically sent a little ball flying out of your flailing opponent's reach.

The controls in Balls of Fury aren't perfect though. Because you can only really move your bat left and right along the bottom edge of the table and not get close up to the net it restricts your tactics. This means you don't get to do the little drop shots you can in real-life, or in table tennis games on other formats. And sometimes your opponent sends balls trickling or soaring at an angle that means you don't really have a chance of being able to return them because you're stuck a foot or so back. On the whole, we'd rather have these rare annoyances than be forced to use a D-pad to move around.

Now, we did say the game was no-frills, but there are a few fancy shots you can employ to break up what could otherwise have been a fairly monotonous tooing and froing of a ping pong ball. Special power shots are accumulated by filling up an on-screen power bar with lengthy volleys and can then be unleashed during a volley or before a serve, with different ones available depending on the character you're playing.

The Teleport shot makes the ball magically disappear for a second as it crosses the net then hurtle fast in a random direction, while the Loop-de-Loop makes the ball land and do a few random left-to-right bounces on the other side. You probably wouldn't see them in real life table tennis - not in matches that aren't played either in hurricanes or by trickster David Blaine at least- but they're fun nonetheless.

On top of these two, there are a further couple of power shots and four power serves, all of which work well against artificial intelligent opponents but don't guarantee a point. And, of course, AI opponents can use them against you - unfortunately with what feels like a higher success rate as they can be practically impossible to react to quickly enough to. There's also the option to curve the ball at any time by holding the D-pad left or right (or the face buttons for lefties) when you hit the ball.

What does let down the otherwise decent Story mode is its length. Instead of packing in a lot of content, the game instead favours making matches very hard, and the tougher opponents are frustrating to play. It doesn't help that the AI never feels quite spot-on. Points don't always feel earned and, as an opponent will make it to a curved power shot easily one minute and miss a shot aimed right in their laps the next. It all feels a bit random.

Balls of Fury's budget price does make this a bit easier to forgive, seeing as its ball twacking back and forth remains enjoyable. But it's a game that really only reaches its full potential in two-player mode where the iffy AI isn't a problem. That said, the Story mode is still addictive enough that you'll probably pick it up for enough short bouts to get through to the end, but it doesn't offer the complexity or rewarding play to make it truly stunning. One final plus point - you get to play as Christopher Walken and, let's face it, that could be a deciding factor.

Balls of Fury

An enjoyable table tennis starring the characters from the film, Balls of Fury's touchscreen controls make it fun to play, even if the AI isn't always perfect
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