Balloon 27′s iOS title Hill Bill has been described being like the Tony Hawk series. That may be so, but Trials HD is probably a more apt comparison. Saying this is like Tony Hawk implies a score that matters, a variety of set pieces, and a desire to better yourself with each run. Trials HD is a better comparison, as score is not only unimportant to completing Hill Bill, but also undefined. And I felt no desire to perform a better run each time.
The titular Bill – he’s a hillbilly, of course – sees a BMX show on TV and decides he wants to try it out for himself. This leads to a series Evel Knievel-esque stunt jumps that take Bill from his backyard to big stadiums. But despite Bill’s progress a stunt jumper, I never felt like I improved my skills; by the time I was pulling off amazing jumps on national TV, I still felt as amateur as when I used the simple wood ramp in the backyard.
This boils down to both Hill Bill‘s controls and its goals. Every jump begins with Bill readying his bike a few feet before the jump, various obstacles rising between the jump ramp and the landing ramp. Once you’ve placed his bike along the track, you give it gas, pull of a wheelie if you’re so inclined, and hit the ramp. Once in the air, directional swipes determine Bill’s tricks. Unfortunately, these never quite work as intended. More often than not, my swipe would do nothing. Swiping several times in hopes of activating the trick is a bad idea too – this led to my performing two of the same trick, leaving me with insufficient air time to land the jump safely. Since they never worked as intended, I was never able to improve by the time I reached the bigger jumps.
But even if the tricks of Hill Bill worked as intended, the landings wouldn’t be improved. Many times, I crashed into ground – which forces you (appropriately) to repeat the stage – when my wheels were perfectly square to the ramp. Not only are the tricks spotty, but landing the tricks can be just as hit and miss.
Of course, all of these issues might be able to be pushed aside if not for the completion requirements for each of Hill Bill‘s levels. Want to move on to the next stage? Just clear the jump safely. You can ignore all tricks and showiness, just land the jump, and move on (hence the Trials HD comparison). There is no incentive to actually get the maximum three-star rating for each jump, and even if there were, the stars are completely undefined. Will doing a wheelie before the jump net me a third star? Maybe, or it could boost my speed too much, causing me to crash into the jump’s obstacles. And these issues are mutually problematic, as these problems could be forgiven if the controls were responsive.
As they stand, Hill Bill‘s mechanics don’t hold up. Controls could be forgiven if the scoring system had any real incentive, and the scoring system could be forgiven if the controls worked as intended. Rather than lean on each other, the mechanics here fall down together. And sure, more stars means more money for different bikes and costumes, but why would I want to leap over a bus dressed as a clown when every jump already feels like a joke?