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Breakout: Some Old and Some New

Hasbro?s latest retro reincarnation is an updated 3D version of Breakout, and the graphics get the job done. No, you won?t be wowed by the awesomeness of the levels, but this is an action puzzle-type game. The aesthetics of the game?s levels are secondary to the gameplay, and well, they should be. The early version I previewed included levels such as Egypt, Castle, Farm and Space, and each level was appropriately designed for its theme. There wasn?t much music in the version I played, but the sound effects were good, especially the satisfying crunch of the blocks as you break them. That particular sound effect is just perfect.

Well, there isn?t too much of a plotline here. Basically, your friends are kidnapped by the evil Crusher, and you are jailed. Of course, you gotta ?break out? and rescue them. So begins your quest. Good thing you are a little stick man. Let?s just hope you have the balls to do this. The first levels were what I expected. Very old school Breakout, with a training guide named Mr. Steel helping you learn the necessary moves and such. Then there were other levels that were kind of strange and quite a stretch for the whole Breakout theme. In one, you have to run from a wolf hot on your tail. Your character runs towards the screen and you maneuver him down the road, avoiding the wolf and picking up balls to hurl backwards, slowing down Mr. Wolf. How bizarre. Then in one of the Farm levels, you are in a chicken barn with rows of various chickens, roosters and baby chicks advancing on you Space Invaders style and hurling eggs, and it?s up to you to repel them with their own eggs. Ok, whatever. And then there?s the sheep round-up level. Just don?t ask. But it?s all good stuff. The Castle level also has such wackiness as fire-breathing dragons to roast your paddle, and irritating knights to get in the way of your ball. It?s all very amusing and well done.

Everything I have mentioned so far was on the Single-Player mode, but there?s also Multiplayer fun to be had in Breakout. Battle a friend side-by-side, as you break through scads of blocks which keep reappearing as you progress. Without an instruction book, I really couldn?t figure out what the final goal was, besides just breaking the blocks, because it seemed that each one had limitless balls (so you didn?t lose when you missed a ball) and bricks would reappear after you had broken them. Then all of a sudden, one of us ?won.? It was still good fun and there were interesting twists such as in the Space level, where when one player managed to clear enough blocks to hit the back wall of their area, a rocket was launched to fry the other players paddle. When this happens (as with the fire-breathing dragon), the paddle roasts and slows down considerably for a few seconds. Now this is damn irritating when your opponent keeps hitting the same spot over and over and launches countless rockets at you, but eh.

One odd thing to note is this. I started playing a multiplayer game by myself just to see what the levels looked like. The opponent?s ball launched on its own after a few seconds and kept hitting the same spot repeatedly and I was able to ?play? by myself for quite some time. I am talking like 10 minutes, without the ball missing the paddle. Seemed to me something should have caused the ball to fly off in a different direction, but more on that later.

The difficulty is fair. To an old school Breakout and Arkanoid fiend like myself, I found the levels on the preview version I played (especially the straight-forward Breakout levels) to be quite simple, and I wailed through them in no time. That?s not to say that they weren?t challenging, it?s just that there were no real surprises. The other levels were more unusual and unexpected, and offered a bit more challenge. I am interested to see what the final product will offer.

Well, this is not your father?s Breakout, that?s for sure. As I said earlier, there are decidedly Breakout-styled levels, in addition to a number of other strange offerings. But the game is fun. Your basic moves include moving your paddle from left to right, but there are fancier moves using the L and R shoulder buttons designed to make the ball bounce in a different direction. These special moves seemed forced to me. The only way I can describe it is that the physics seemed slightly ?off.? As I said, I am a Breakout fanatic from way back, and the way the ball bounces off of the controller just seems wrong - or at least very different from what I am accustomed to. In the old Breakout, you could never start a game and not move the controller for 10 minutes and have the game play itself. It just wouldn?t happen, but it did in this version of Breakout. We shall see if the physics get tweaked a bit before the game is released. As it is, it certainly isn?t detrimental to gameplay, just different and takes so getting used to. All in all, this updated version of Breakout is a fun diversion for old school arcade fans of the genre, and a good value at what looks to be around $20.

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins