In 1975 Atari released a game with the inherent influence of the timeless smash hit Pong. This game is known as Breakout! The gameplay, like many games of the time, was simplistic yet thoroughly entertaining. You bounce a ball off of a paddle and smash bricks one by one. Since it’s release, there have been a lot of games over the years that have been released in various formats. Cell phones, dollar store pocket games, even as extras in computer programs or some special package deal you get when you buy a new computer from one of many vendors all chipped in to help to not only keep this game’s memory alive but also gave the game the chance to evolve and keep pace with the constant evolution of gaming. While some kept the game simple, others attempted to emulate Breakout’s successor, Arkanoid.
Michael P. Welch forever set his name in the great stone of video game icons when he came out with his clone, DX Ball. Released in 1996 for the PC, DX Ball did what many others couldn’t. He took a classic and gave it a evolutionarily chronological make over without removing any of what made the game so great back in ’75. The graphics were boosted to allow it to look as smooth and shiny as the original Unreal, gameplay challenging to both the casual as well as the hardcore gamers, and a soundtrack using a genre of music that was also beginning to get it’s start around this time. However, even with these aspects giving the game strength amongst gamers, the one aspect that completely overshadows all others… DX Ball was SHAREWARE!!!!!1!!!!11!1111!!11!!!1ONE!!1!1!1!1! For those of you who may not have been around during the 90’s, ‘shareware’ is a term for games that are not only free but also encouraged to be passed around any and all gaming circles as if it were crack or MP3s on a P2P network (yes, it was once legal to share PC games!). DX Ball has had three sequels released over the years, but none of them caught on as the original, seeing as DX Ball 2 was the only sequel that was also shareware.
Of course, as the years fly by DX Ball becomes more and more like the original Breakout. All but completely forgotten and left as a footnote in the pages of gaming history. That is, until Sidhe Interactive developed a game that has changed the face of Breakout forever with they’re independent game, Shatter! It takes its cues more from Arkanoid than it does from its more simplistic predecessor and then proceeds to blow the mind with its stylistic visuals, up-to-date graphics, impressive and creative music, and it’s intense gameplay. Rather than ramble on about just how much this game has changed the face of Arkanoid forever, lets dig a bit deeper and see just what makes this game so f@#%&$g epic, shall we?
Upon entering the game for the first time, you are met with how the 2.5D graphics enhance the game’s visual prowess. The opening scene of the tells the basic tale of this game, escape! What appears to be some sort of scientific testing causes an ‘accident’ to occur and thus we are thrust into the meat and potatoes of Shatter. From here, you are shown different methods of gameplay level by level. More specifically that of the game’s main strategy, the suck-and-blow method. With every brick destroyed fragments fly about. Collecting these fragments build your power meter. The use of the shards as well as an explanation of the power meter shall be explained later in this review. The ‘suck’ ability allows you to collect these fragments in abundance. It also allows you to control where the ball will bounce. This shall be referred to from here on in as the ‘bounce point’. You can set the bounce point using the suck and blow method as a means of enhancing how many bricks you can hit per re-collision with the paddle, or as the game calls it, the bat. Simply using the suck feature as a means of collecting shards is all but eliminated, as you could reposition the bounce point to an area where you are unable to bounce back the ball.
There are various bricks in the game, ranging from the standard stationary bricks, to brick that move in patterns, even brick where upon hitting them will collide with other bricks. The possibilities in this game for clearing levels seems endless. But this is only a more than direct impersonation of Arkanoid, as the game goes one step further in enhanced gameplay with its stage designs. The first level immediately reveals its innovations by taking the basic game board and flipping it 90 degrees to the right. Boards can vary from the simplistic up-and-down gravity-esque boards to boards that are circular rather than square in shape. A circular board presents a level of challenge similar to that of DX Ball, where the precise area of the bat collides with the ball can change the angle at which the ball is bounced back.
And much like Arkanoid and DX Ball, hitting bricks can also yield power-ups to drop. Collecting the power-ups with use of the bat changes gameplay, allowing the ball to become more controllable or giving the ball the ability to rip through every brick in its path. There are also power-ups to increase the number of shards dispensed per brick break, gives the power bar a significant boost, and the ever useful 1-ups. Unlike Arkanoid and DX Ball, multi-ball power-ups and ball size power-ups absent from Shatter as well as power-ups which yield negative affects. The multi-ball power-up is now an ability which can be used to increase the challenge of the game and allow you to break more bricks and clear levels faster. Using this feature also eats away at the number of lives you have. For each ball released, a life is dispensed; so unless you’re incredibly skilled at maintaining multiple balls in a single game board you’ll find yourself losing the game quick, fast, and in a hurry.
However, the simple action of breaking bricks in multi-versed levels would get boring to players that don’t have the basic nostalgic love for Shatter’s predecessors. Sidhe Interactive has thrown in yet another twist to this cocktail…boss battles. Yes, you read correctly! Boss battles are an element in the game that not only enhances the gameplay but also challenges your skill in the game as now, simply clearing bricks has become a less than secondary task. Bosses have their own life bar which depletes every time they are stuck with the ball is a specific area. This area is clearly marked by the game, but the real skill comes in being able to hit this area as bosses tend to move about as a means of defending themselves. Bosses also have bricks as part of their ‘bodies’ which allow you to further collect shards and power-ups. Some bosses even use their bodies to strike at your paddle, sending it back and preventing you from being able to collect fragments and power-ups as well as bouncing the ball back for a brief moment.
No need to panic, however, as Sidhe Interactive compensated by not letting you go at it with simple Breakout skill alone. As mentioned before, the shards from the broken bricks you collect fill up your power meter. The power meter is a very unique feature to the game that grants you the ability to use two key tools in the game. The first you learn is the shield. At times, bricks as well as bosses will be sent flying in your direction. The collision causes the bat to be sent off course and spins uncontrollably for a short time, which can prove to be rather costly in completing a level. The shield will destroy any stray bricks and protect you from incoming boss attacks. This allows you to continue your assault as you chip away at the bosses life meter, but depending on your basic Breakout skill and use of the suck-and-blow method, simple ball hits to the boss’ weak spot will take a considerable amount of time. Again, no fear, as you are given one more special ability…needle shot. You can use the power bar as ammo and send needles flying at bosses, thus increasing your chances at total victory. There is one more perk to the needle attack, once you are able to completely fill your power meter, you completely drain it and send a barrage of needles flying at your enemy in a Matrix style slow-motion effect. The needles are not exclusive to bosses, however, as you can also use the needle barrage method to quickly rip through bricks and clear levels in record time.
With all these perks in full effect, Shatter is enhanced one step further with its in game music. The music is created and composed by artist Module, and can be heard on such mediums as iTunes, Rhapsody, last.fm, Zune and AmazonMp3 and consists of over 90 minutes of original music to help tease and tantilize the senses during gameplay. Each level has its own ‘look and feel’, and the music reflects this with seamless and flawless effort. During the boss levels, the music intensifies and gives you the sense of dread and urgency similar to what you’d expect from any epic boss battle from games such as Prince of Persia or Unreal.
For any of you nostalgia freaks out there, you may make note of a failure to mention the Ricochet series from Reflexive Entertainment, developed back in 2007 just two years before Shatter. In all honesty, Ricochet could be seen as a reimagining of DX Ball, as the graphics and gameplay are similar if not identical. Where Shatter exceeds Ricochet is in the gameplay, as Sidhe Interactive created something with more of a progressive aspect to Shatter. One could also make mention of the fact that Ricochet is adding to it’s levels each week, thus increasing game replay value, Shatter is a relatively short game. However, this is not as much of a ‘short’ coming for Shatter one would think. Shatter was originally released for the PS3 via the Playstation Network back in ’09 and released this year for the PC via the gaming network Steam. Currently, Ricochet is only available for the PC also through Steam. The game’s small size is also a valuable merit, as it downloads in little to know time at all. One more thing to consider is while Ricochet was released in ’07, Reflexive Entertainment has had valuable time to establish a fan base as well as the ability for its players to download updates and new level sets. Shatter is still in many ways a relatively new game and is still developing its own fan base. And with Shatter being a part of the Steam network, addons and updates are much simpler, as Steam has a reputation of offering excellent deals for game updates. A prime example of this is with the Left 4 Dead updates being available on Steam for free while XBL gamers had to pay for the same updates.
In conclusion, Shatter picks up where many others left off in the evolution of Breakout by not only updating the graphics, gameplay and music but by surpassing all it’s predecessors with something innovative by all aspects of the term. Should you come across this game via Steam or PSN, definitely pick it up, for it is more than worth the price!!!