About the Game
Released in 2006 by D3 games, Brick 'em all DS is a bat and ball game. The concept of the game is straightforward; your task is to break through a wall of brick tiles by using your bat to bounce a small ball against a wall of tiles that diminish each time they are hit.
This style of game lends its style to the game Breakout from the seventies, and has been much replicated since, the most popular clone being Oceans Arkanoid.
So is this yet another Breakout clone or not; well yes and no. Let's play!
On booting up the cartridge you are presented with four menu items-
Tokotron Mode - The standard single player mode. In this mode you can select whether to play in Standard or Random play. Standard play has 50 pre-designed levels for you to play against whereas Random play creates a new random playing field each time you play and offers a whopping 3 million variations. I'll take the developers word on this!
Quest Mode - Similar in Gameplay to Tokotron mode though slightly different as you must complete a series of games to progress to a 'Boss' level stage where you need to defeat the boss to proceed (I'll explain this in a bit more depth later).
Survival Mode - A Wifi-Mode that allows up to 8 players to compete against each other in a space themed arena.
Record - Shows a list of the high scores achieved in each of the game modes.
Starting the game in Tokotron mode I first selected the standard play option.
Rather than launching straight into the game the screen displays choice of power up that you need to select in sequence. This is where the game differs drastically from the other Breakout clones. Let me explain; in previous clones of this genre power ups (such as a bat growing power up, or multiple balls on the playfield) would drop from the bricks down the playfield and you would need to catch these with your bat for the power up to take effect. In Brick 'em all you are asked to choose the power ups you would require in the game by pre-selecting them before play in a step by step multiple choice.
You have selection of the following power ups - Ball speed, Catch the ball, Mirror your last shot, three multiple balls at the same time, ball splits into 5 parts, a safe barrier under your racket, wide or small racket, a laser ball that penetrates through stubborn bricks and a bomb option that destroys all the blocks connected around the brick that you have hit.
Your selections are not saved for future games and need to be selected each time you play a new game.
Once you have chosen and accepted you list of predefined power ups the game begins.
The upper DS screen displays information on the High Score, your current score, the number of bricks hit, a count of your successful continuous rallies, the time taken, the level you are on and your assessed skill level. The also screen also displays the list of power ups that you have chosen and highlights the power up that is currently available to the player.
The lower DS screen displays the playfield. On the playfield you have the walls of bricks (in varying patterns per level), your bat (that can only be moved on a horizontal plain) and your ball. To the side of the screen are power-up indicators and selector button, the speed of the ball indicator.
So the game starts and the ball is launched from your bat towards the wall of bricks.
The game starts quite slowly and as the ball hits the first brick and it dissolves the ball is sent casually back down the playfield towards your bat. Using the stylus to horizontally move the bat (or alternatively the left and right shoulder buttons of the DS) you position your bat underneath the ball and send it hurtling back towards the wall where hopefully it will connect with the next brick and destroy that.
Depending on the position of your bat when the ball hits it changes the trajectory that the ball returns towards the bricks. I discovered that the closer to the edge of your bat the more acute the angle. With the ball bouncing up the playfield on an unpredictable path makes it harder to estimate where to place the bat on its return.
You start the game with 3 lives. Each time that you miss a ball with your racket a life is lost. Once your lives have gone the game is over.
The game gets even more difficult as the ball gradually increases in speed each time it is hit which gives you less time to react to its return. The speed of the ball is displayed on the lower screen. I found that at the faster speeds that you really had to be precise with your bat angles otherwise you had little chance of hitting the ball.
The other aspect that makes the game even trickier is the variety of brick. Some bricks can be destroyed instantly as the ball hits them. Some bricks take several hits before they are destroyed and some bricks remain indestructible and become obstacles in your task. I had real difficulty in the higher levels where indestructible bricks were in close proximity to the bat. At the higher ball speeds you have milliseconds to position your bat and avoid losing a life!
The power ups are displayed in the sequence that you selected them from the opening screens. Several successful rallies of the ball make the power ups available. The power ups can be activated by clicking on a small button on the bottom right of the playfield.
As the power ups are listed in a sequence you need to decide if the power up highlighted is suitable for your current game position as it cannot be selected once you have qualified for the next power up. This can make the game even harder as you are faced with choices such as 'Should I wait for the bomb power up or should I make my bat larger now instead!'
Once all of the destroyable bricks have been destroyed on the playfield the game then progresses to the next level.
I'll briefly touch on the other game modes.
The Gameplay of the Quest mode is identical to the Tokotron mode other than a couple of variances. To complete each playfield you must hit your ball through a portal that is displayed at the top of the screen. To get to the portal you must destroy all of the bricks that are in your way. Once through the portal you automatically progress to the next level. After you have successfully completed a series of completed playfields you are required to fight against a Boss level to continue. The boss level is the same as the previous levels however instead of a portal at the top of the screen there is a boss monster. Clearing the bricks around the Boss and hitting the boss with your ball promotes you to the next stage of the game.
The Wifi Survival mode is entirely different. In this mode you can host or join a game wirelessly of up to eight players. The playfield based over the 2 screens and is a space themed star field. Each player has a tetris like shaped bat. Each bat has a couple of highlighted vulnerable areas and can be moved both horizontally and vertically across the play area. The other difference is that there are several balls in play simultaneously .If the ball hits this area then the player loses a life, similar to the field game dodge ball. The last player remaining is the winner.
And that's the game in a nutshell (a slightly large one albeit!)
The menus and score screens have a retro space feel to them which work well.
The game graphics are small, though they have to be to fit in all of the bricks etc. That said the different types of bricks were easy to see and had good definition. The movement of the ball and bat was fast and sleek with no noticeable slowdown.
Sound and controls
The music is a futuristic computer generated soundtrack. In the game you have to concentrate so hard that the music doesn't really contribute or degrade the Gameplay experience. The ball makes a pop or ping noise when it hits the bricks and bat as expected.
The controls are overall very easy to use. You can use the shoulder buttons to move the bat, which can be a little tricky, or alternatively move the bat with your stylus. The only downside I found with using the stylus to control the bat is that you need to take the stylus off the bat if you want to use the onscreen power up button. This caused me to lose many a life as I didn't return the stylus to the bat quickly enough. This is however a minor gripe.
Overall the sound is fine and the controls are responsive.
There's no doubt, seeing as there have been many clones, that the Breakout genre of game is a popular format. This game follows that format well and the multiplayer option is a different game altogether. What I did find a shame is that the games uniqueness (the having to pre-select your power ups) was also its downfall. I say this as the main enjoyment of other brick and ball games is being able to dodge unwanted power ups and only select the ones that were appropriate. The combining of power ups is also missed.
If you enjoy this type of bat and ball game then there are other titles of the same genre available on the DS that you may find more satisfying.
Additional details, Price & Availability
Publisher: D3 Games
Genre: Puzzle Game
The game was available for £24.99 from www.play.com at time of writing.
Copyright M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
The premise of Brick 'Em All for the Nintendo DS is very similar to both Breakout and Arkanoid. This means countless levels of bat and ball action. The game offers brick-smashing fans a variety of options. There are 240 levels that should offer players hours of fun and keep even the most jaded gamer amused. There is also a wealth of different blocks to break, which vary in size, shape and durability.