Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad Air
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Maintaining balance isn’t something you think about; it’s just something you do. You can’t consider the various physical forces tugging at your body while walking or riding a bike; it just clicks. Even though it doesn’t use any motion controls, Balance of the Shaolin still captures what’s fun about balancing: intuition.
Balance of the Shaolin takes many cues from arcade classics, including its easy to learn but hard to master gameplay. Players control a peaceful monk trying to keep his balance in increasingly precarious situations. Touching left or right on the screen causes him to lean in that direction while tapping both sides causes him to jump. Leaning is for counterattacking natural body swaying and outside factors like wind. Meanwhile, jumping is for dealing with each level’s unique obstacles like rising lava, angry sumo claps, and quick sword swings.
The goal is to last 30 seconds, and with only a handful of stages from secluded oceans to The Statue of Liberty, that doesn’t seem like much. However, victories require such complete attention and acute reflexes that anything more might start to feel grueling. Players can also push their skills even further in the remix mode that seamlessly transitions between stages and challenges players to last as long as they can.
Despite the serene title, Balance of the Shaolin is fast and brutal. But what makes success so satisfying is in how fair it is. The smooth controls put the onus of proper timing squarely on the players. Meanwhile, the colorful and pixelated art style, besides just being wonderfully retro, lets the game deliver crucial visuals cues very quickly but still very obviously. Players eventually reach the point where they develop slight precognition to stay one hop ahead of danger.
Balance of the Shaolin is a great example of how being simple and being mindless are not at all the same. Struggle through its hardships, reach enlightenment, and achieve inner peace.