“ Manufacturer: Gameloft / Type: iPhone Application „
One of the first home computer games I ever played was Breakout on the Atari 2600 (this will mean nothing to anyone under the age of 35). As proof that you can't keep a good game down, around 10 years later, I became addicted to an enhanced version - Arkanoid - on the Commodore 64.
Now, that very same game is available on the iPhone, albeit once again in a slightly new format, which just goes to show how popular and enduring the basic idea behind Block Breaker 2 is. You control a bat at the bottom of the screen and have to hit a ball into brick walls of various shapes and sizes. Clear all the bricks from a level and you move onto the next one; allow the ball to go past your bat and you lose a life.
Graphically, of course, the game is light years ahead of those early versions. In a vague (and frankly unnecessary) attempt to give the game some plot, you compete in various clubs, trying to impress their top players with your skills. All this really means is that between levels you are treated to intro screens of drawings of pretty girls, who are the clubs' hosts. These might look quite nice, but in terms of the game play, they're actually a bit of a nuisance, forcing you to press Continue several times before you are finally allowed to move onto the next level.
In-game graphics are OK, although on a screen the size of the iPhone, they were always going to be a little cramped. The individual bricks which make up the walls are quite small and this can be particularly frustrating when trying to pick off those last few, isolated bricks. This has always been true of this type of game, though, so I'll let that one pass.
What's a little less forgivable is that the graphics resemble an explosion in a luminous paint factory. Initially, they look very attractive - their bright, neon glow makes them seem quite pretty. After a while, the flashing, bright colours actually become a distraction and if you suffer from migraine, there is a very real chance that playing this game could induce one.
The same is true of the sound, which rapidly becomes annoying. The first time you load this game, it asks do you want to play with the sound on. I made the mistake of saying "yes" and within a few turns was hunting out the option to turn it off again. An annoying, beat heavy tune plays in the background and, like the bright graphics, whilst this might suit the game's setting, it doesn't enhance the game. Worse still, all the time you are playing, your hostess will shout words of encouragement or abuse at you. After hearing her shout "Great" for the 15th time in an annoyingly whiny voice, you'll be hunting for the "volume off" button.
Of course, graphics and sound are very much a matter of taste and some people will love the bright look and incessant sound effects. What is important is that there are two things that make or break this type of game: controls and in-game physics. Controls need to be precise, allowing you to make small movements quickly and easily, whilst in-game physics need to be realistic allowing you to predict the path of the ball with accuracy to make sure you are in the right place to hit it.
On this second aspect, Block Breaker 2 scores highly. The ball moves in a highly realistic way and bounces exactly as you would expect it to. Ricochets off bricks alter the angle, but if you watch carefully, you can work out the likely path of the ball and so position yourself correctly. Essentially, if you die, it's because you failed to get your bat into the right position or react in time, not because the ball behaved in a strange fashion. This is one aspect of the game which has been very well implemented.
I was intrigued to see how the game would be controlled on the iPhone, as a trackball or joystick offer the best control options, both of which are lacking on Apple's machine. It's fair to say that the designers have done the best job they can within the limitations of the iPhone's screen. Beneath your bat is a small area a couple of centimetres high. You place your finger in this area and a little circle appears to confirm it has recognised your touch. To move the bat, you just slide your finger left or right, and the bat will follow, whilst a tap on the screen launches the ball. It's initially a little fiddly and on my first go took me quite a while to work out what was happening. Once you've got to grips with it, though, it is quite intuitive. Unfortunately, due to the size of the iPhone screen, the control area is quite small and it is all too easy in the heat of the action for your finger to slip out of the control area, leaving your bat stranded. It's also too easy to accidentally move your finger too high up the screen, so that your fingers obscure the main game area. This is not a game for people with fat fingers!
Level designs are pretty imaginative with some really challenging ones in the later levels and there is a good variety of power-ups (multi-ball, large bat, lasers) that can help you clear a level. It's particularly good to see that you can combine power-ups and hold several at once (with previous games of this nature, collecting a new power-up caused you to lose the previous one). This means that with careful play, you can acquire some pretty impressive abilities (although sadly, you lose them all at the beginning of each level, lest the game is made too easy). As always with this type of game, there's always that urge to get just that little bit further or beat your own high score and initially, it's quite addictive and has a high replay value.
Eventually, however it can become a little dull, due to a lack of variety. Each level essentially has the same objective (clear all the bricks) and whilst the level designs are imaginative, that lack of variety does begin to tell. With over 80 levels, the game certainly offers plenty of challenge, but whether your average gamer will persevere long enough to see them all is questionable. Still, it's always going to be a fun game to pick up and play when you have a few minutes to kill, as each level is quite short and your progress is saved after each one, so you can return to the same point you reached at the end of your last go.
Ball Breaker 2 Deluxe is a fair implementation of a game which was always going to be tricky to do well on the iPhone. Personally, I could have done without the over the top graphics and sound, but the key game play elements - game physics, power ups, imaginative level design and controls - have been done reasonably well. It's only 59p from the App Store and for that price, you'll get your money's worth from it even if you only play it occasionally. If you want to make absolutely certain it's your cup of tea, you can download a Lite version and try a few levels for free.
In fairness, this is probably one of the best Arkanoid/Breakout clones on the iPhone, but as ever, that lack of variety might prevent it from appealing to everyone.
Block Breaker 2 Deluxe
Buy from: App Store - £0.59
© Copyright SWSt 2010