Pktball Review - Tennis with Spaceships and Laser Dogs

It's tennis with a Crossy Road twist, and loads of kooky characters.

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Laser Dog Games
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Pktball by Laser Dog Games is so interesting because of how different it is. It's clearly trying to be a game in the Crossy Road style, being about pick-up-and-play gameplay with various characters to unlock. But it stands out in part by only mimicking the structure, and playing by its own rules. For one, the game isn't about instant failure. You're basically playing tennis against a computerized opponent, getting points for each volley you return.

But if you fail, you get a second shot at life and can earn extra balls if you play really, really well and earn them. This game is forgiving. Kind of. It's still really difficult and makes for a very challenging experience because you're always having to return shots quickly. And then there are the secondary factors of the coins you can collect to unlock other characters and the special powerup balls you can get. This game gets crazy as it goes along.

The controls might be where this game doesn't immediately hook people because, in order to hit a shot, you basically have to approach it from the reverse direction. It works in time, but it always feels a bit odd, like trying to back up a car and being sure which direction is which. I might be a bad driver. As well, releasing to hit the ball takes a bit of time to get adjusted to how it works. It's quite different from other tennis games, and while I think the fast-paced gameplay is worth sticking with, the controls might never be something you get acclimated to.

The other part of this game that's interesting is that it's a game built around local multiplayer as well as its single-player action. The controls requiring the acclimation period that they need means that I probably wouldn't expect someone to just pick this up with a friend and have a fun time right away, as in my experience, but get someone who's played the game, or spent a few minutes with it at least, and there's fun to be had.

The game is just meant to be a fast, enjoyable tennis game no matter if you play it with other people (more players on tablets than on phones, using just one device). It just happens to be built around a Crossy Road structure in its singleplayer and to unlock the various characters.

And perhaps the greatest strength of Pktball is those characters. This game has something that I'm an absolute sucker for, and that is when characters from one game make a cameo in another game. I've always been fascinated since the days when I played a baseball game on Sega Genesis that had Sonic advertisements in the stadiums, and nowadays, games that make meta-references continue to fascinate me. There's something about the idea of a game making reference to other fictional universes, particularly if it's treating it with levity, that appeals to me. 

And Pktball warms my heart with the cameos of other characters from Laser Dog Games titles that appear in Pktball. The protagonist from Hopiko is here, which is cool enough, but so is a humorous representation of a ball from their game Puk. And the eponymous Laser Dog is playable. Heck, even the ship from Alone has been anthropomorphized, which is just insanely amusing to me.

Even the protagonist from Table Tennis Touch makes an appearance, going outside of the Laser Dog milieu. 

The other characters you can get are well-made too, spanning all sorts of archetypes, but what's impressive is that they all get their own courts, too. This has the drawback in some cases of being too busy, such as the Alone court. But, it's hard to complain too much, because it is more amusing, and if you care primarily about high scores, then you can just go for the simpler characters. But why do that when you can have a crazy background behind you?

And really, the characters and the amount of effort that went into this game are key for a good Crossy Road style of game.

It's still readily apparent that low-fidelity games will be popular on mobile because people are looking for fun first, production values second. But people do care. It's why Crossy Road did so well in the first place.

The fast-paced action is really tough to get acclimated to, so do give this game a few rounds at the minimum. The difficulty curve might be a bit sharp for a game of this sort that's meant to be casual in many ways, but that doesn't mean that it's not worth your time. Just for the characters alone, and the satisfaction that comes from when you do rack up those high scores against the brutal computer – or beat a friend with your tennis mastery – ​Pktball is worth a download.