Since its birth in 1995, Ambrosia Software has held a special place in the minds and hearts of Mac gamers as an unremitting source of some of the most beloved games to ever grace the Macintosh platform. Titles such as Maelstrom, Ares, Ferazel's Wand, and of course the masterpiece that is the Escape Velocity series quickly became cult classics and were largely responsible for drawing myself and many other Mac users into the world of computer gaming (and as a bonus, making some PC users tremendously jealous). I still fondly recall the summer back in 1996 that I spent hooked on Escape Velocity as one of my best game experiences ever on any platform.
It should come as no surprise that every new game published by Ambrosia is eagerly awaited by Mac gamers across the world. Unfortunately, the latest Ambrosia title, El Ballo (produced by ProRattaSoftware), has the dubious distinction of being the first controversial game to pass through the hallowed halls of Ambrosia Software. For those Mac users who haven't been following the game through the news, El Ballo is a classic platform-jumping arcade game much like Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers. This genre has historically been very popular to all ages and backgrounds due to its simple yet marvelously addicting gameplay, but ProRattaSoftware decided to try to make their game stand out among the sea of new titles and venerable classics by incorporating what they call "mild cartoon nudity." Therein lies the source of debate that has recently sprung up among Mac gamers, so it seems appropriate to expose (pun intended) the game in proper fashion to ascertain whether or not this "feature" is acceptable.
StoryThe story of El Ballo is not quite as simple as the generic "here you are: kill everything that moves" plot that arcade games usually dish out. The story is as follows: you play El Ballo, a member of a peace-loving, naked, and unsanitary alien race living on a planet in a nearby solar system dubbed the "Circular Assmosphere" (this may have caused a few readers to involuntarily snort whatever they were eating or drinking, and for that, I sincerely apologize). El Ballo's homeworld has come under attack by an evil and twisted "Dr. Cough," whose nefarious plan is to clothe its inhabitants and cleanse the planet of its filth and grime. As a loyal citizen, your job is to preserve your world's way of life and protect your girlfriend, "Butts," by challenging Dr. Cough and his hygienic minions.
GameplayAs previously mentioned, El Ballo is a tried-and-true 2D side-scroller, which means you should expect to spend the vast majority of your time jumping to and from platforms and cliffs while fending off enemies with an assortment of weapons. This genre has been around for so long that it is difficult to make mistakes when developing new titles, but surprisingly, El Ballo turns out to be a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of its gameplay.
Easily the most innovative feature of the game is your primary weapon: a short range "Ice Gun" that temporarily freezes your enemies, automatically turning them into platforms that you can use to gain access to out-of-reach areas. This is extremely helpful when attempting to reach items that aren't accessible by jumping, avoiding ground-based enemies, or even completely bypassing portions of each level. Unfortunately, the rest of El Ballo's initial arsenal is the standard shoot-'em-up fare, which proves to be too underpowered to be much fun until El Ballo's final levels.
Speaking of which, this game is extremely easy: It is possible to complete about 90% of the game by simply holding down one of the directional keys and constantly jumping or firing until you reach the end. The primary danger facing gamers is the threat of falling off cliffs, but this is mitigated by El Ballo's ability to cling to ledges. Many times I jumped halfway off a cliff edge before I realized that there was nothing below me, and saved myself by turning around in mid-air and climbing back onto the wall from whence I came. The jumping puzzles scattered throughout the game are arranged in such a way that it is immediately apparent which jumps are physically possible and which are not, which makes them extremely simple to get past. Furthermore, it is not necessary to kill or freeze the vast majority of your enemies, which takes much of the challenge out of the game. In essence, the game is not very exciting, and this disappointing fact will probably drive most mainstream gamers back to their consoles. It's not to say that El Ballo isn't fun from time to time: it does have its moments, but it is probably too easy to capture the attention of even moderately skilled gamers for more than a short while.