The dark side of Skee-Ball for iPhone

Brett Terpstra
B. Terpstra|10.28.09

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Brett Terpstra
October 28th, 2009
The dark side of Skee-Ball for iPhone

I won't make any excuses, and I won't beat around the bush: I'm addicted to Skee-Ball [iTunes link], at least to the very-entertaining iPhone version from Freeverse. In fact, the reason I haven't written about it until now is that every time I get ready, I decide a little more "research" is in order, and I find myself on another Skee-bender. It's getting ridiculous, annoying my friends and upsetting my home life. I'd like to say, "I can stop whenever I want to," but I keep coming back to the warm glow of the LED scoreboard and the comforting sounds of wooden balls racking up just for me.

What makes Skee-Ball so entertaining for me is the realism of the gameplay. It sends me right back to my childhood; carnivals, arcades and Chuck E. Cheese's. The physics of the game are bafflingly realistic, with each roll responding to every nuance of the stroke or swing that launches it. Velocity, top and side-spin, friction... even the effects of bouncing off of the sides of the ramp or the edges of the cups feels natural. The prizes you can purchase with the tickets are reminiscent of the "big scores" of my youth: vampire fangs, bubble gum, fake moustaches, and glitter pencils. There's the occasional oddball prize, too (a banana, a robotic dog, a duck), presumably to remind you that it is, after all, just a game.

Balls can be rolled by holding your thumb on the ramp to aim, and then flipping the iPhone/iPod touch upwards to simulate a ball-throw. However, any seasoned Skee-Ball addict will tell you that the big points are in the alternate method, in which you just slide or flick your finger up the ramp toward the cups.

Aim is achieved by carefully controlling the start and stop points of the flick, the speed between them, and then the kicker: curving the stroke causes spin, which can be a friend or a foe. Unless you disable the accelerometer in the preferences, you can also add spin after the ball is released, often leaving the player in ridiculous physical contortions as he or she tries to will the ball into a certain cup. The simulated laws of physics will defeat such endeavors, in most cases.

The addiction kicks in with the fact that you really can't lose... or win. Even the lowest score gets some tickets. Hitting a personal high score is like a gambling jackpot, it just makes you want to keep going. There's never a satisfying conclusion, just the constant knowledge that someone else already has a higher score -- and a lot more tickets -- than you.

Of course, I'm not alone. Skee-Ball reached the peak of the Top Paid Apps list on the App Store yesterday, the third #1 showing from Freeverse (preceded by Flick Fishing [iTunes link] and Moto Chaser [iTunes link]). We've even had some Skee-competition amongst the TUAW crew, and some scores that have humbled me greatly, despite the embarrassing amount of time I've dedicated to this game. As of this writing, Josh has trumped us all with his score of 4600, but I've heard tell of scores over 5000, maybe higher (what's your best? You'd better have screenshots to prove it).

It pains me to think that my brain may not let me rest until I've achieved at least that many points, and all of the tickets and worthless junk which accompany a time investment like that. I should probably delete this app before it becomes a serious problem... but just one more game, then I promise I'll turn out the lights, honey.

If you're willing to risk the lost hours of your life, check out Skee-Ball, $0.99US on the App Store. Don't say I didn't warn you.

As some commenters have pointed out, there's also the visually excellent Ramp Champ, which has some add-on packs for Halloween:

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