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Hyperballoid HD
Score: 65%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Alawar
Developer: iSquared Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Arcade/ Action/ Classic/Retro

Graphics & Sound:
I got my first Game Boy when I was six. Included copy of Tetris aside, my first handheld game was a Nintendo-themed Arkanoid clone called Alleyway. Ok, actually it was Home Alone -- let's keep this our little secret, okay? Alleyway was the second Game Boy game I owned, and it was the one I returned to the most. Its simplicity was worn as a facade for the brutal challenge that was buried underneath. Hyperballoid HD tries to scratch that nostalgic itch, but unfortunately it fails. It's just too slow and boring for a game of its kind.

Most brick-breakers settle (or strive) for austerity when it comes to presentation. Hyperballoid HD does not. Each stage comes with its own static backdrop. Most of these unassuming pictures look quite nice, but they don't amount to anything more than window-dressing. The special abilities look decent, and screen-clearing chain reactions look nice. But back to one of my main problems with this game; it's too slow.

At default settings, the music in Hyperballoid HD is far too loud. Of course, you can adjust the volume, so that's really not an issue. As far as quality goes, the techno/trance is decent, but it won't have you tapping your feet. On to the sound effects. Nothing remarkable here; the game sounds like any other casual game out there.

Describing brick-breaker games in modern terms would be something along the lines of "A Player vs Environment take on Pong." Each stage gives you a formation of bricks, a paddle, and a ball. When you launch the ball, it remains in constant motion until you lose it (or earn a special power-up). Your job is to break all the bricks on the screen without allowing the ball to fall to the bottom of the screen. Hyperballoid HD's brick-breaking action works well enough, but there's a lot going against it.

There are two themed fifty-level sets in Hyperballoid HD; Ancient World and Planets World. Each formation is creative and interesting. "Siege of Troy" has you busting up a Trojan Horse, while "Saturn's Rings" has you... well, you get the picture. The formations are often fun to look at, but they often take too long to break. This actually ties into a difficulty issue that hurts the game quite a bit.

Brick-breaking games are often all about patterns. Hyperballoid HD almost prides itself on its unpredictability, and that's not a good thing. When you're trying to control a ball that's in constant motion, hitting a target is challenging enough. But what if a certain cluster of bricks is being protected by an unbreakable barrier that phases in and out of existence? That's just not fun at all.

For some reason, several of the bricks take a very long time to break. Many of them require more than three hits, and when there are as many bricks and environmental variables as there are in Hyperballoid HD's stages, it's a recipe for tedium and frustration. It takes long enough to destroy most of the stage, but when you're fighting the environment to take out the last few bricks, it's a pain. The game tries to remedy this by dropping an instant-win power-up when you've only got a handful of bricks left, but by that point, it takes away from the sense of accomplishment you might have felt if you had actually landed that coveted skill shot.

Game Mechanics:
Hyperballoid HD's mechanics are more often than not out of your hands. Since most of the game revolves around paddle placement, your involvement is minimal but important. You'll be dealing with movement controls most of the time, but special power-ups allow you to assume a more active role. Some of the power-ups cause your paddle to sprout cannons or flamethrowers. All the weapons are mapped to the same button, so there won't be any confusion.

Even if you end up catching two Three-way Splits and a Rail Ball power-up, all you'll be doing is watching the bricks come apart. More often than not, luck is involved. There's a lot of movement on the playing field, and it's almost impossible to plan shots in this game. When you get to the later levels, it's not just "almost impossible" anymore.

Hyperballoid HD isn't worth the $5.99 it asks of you. It's not because of any grievous gameplay issues or anything; it's just not a remarkable game. Most importantly, where other modern brick-breakers (most notably Shatter and Peggle) have found success with subtle innovation, Hyperballoid HD remains stubbornly rooted in the past.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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