Sunday, July 30, 2006


Break 'Em All

I almost missed out on Break 'Em All. Although it fills a very specific void in a gamer's library, I don't want a single member of its target audience to be left in the dark about it.

Break 'Em Out

It's a Breakout clone. Not quite as good as Arkanoid, but still quite charming. The biggest draw is the fact that it's on the Nintendo DS and you use the touch screen to manipulate your paddle. For the first time since the Atari 2600, we have a Breakout game with perfect analog control.

It's almost everything a Breakout (or Arkanoid) fan could want. You have blocks on the screen. You use a paddle at the bottom of the screen to bounce the ball into the blocks. Some blocks can only be hit from a certain side, some blocks take multiple hits to destroy, and some blocks cannot be broken. The object is to clear all of the blocks away.

I cannot stress enough what a joy it is to control this game. The touchscreen control is so responsive that it makes you wonder how Breakout games have ever gotten along without it. Once you get the hang of how the ball handles, it's very easy to manipulate it into hitting those last surviving blocks hiding on the edges of the boards. No more "random angle" frustrations -- this game's a joy to control.

Super Paddle Powers

The powerup system is pretty all right. Before you begin each game, you can select which kinds of powerups you want to have access to. Usually, the choice is between a very useful powerup (Slow the ball down, Wide paddle, Catch paddle) and a less useful powerup (Speed the ball up, Narrow paddle). In this way, you can set up how difficult you want your game to be.

Instead of having to catch falling icons (as in games like Arkanoid and Off the Wall), your power-up meter increases every time the ball bounces. When it levels up, you get the first level powerup. If you don't use it, the meter increases until you're granted a second level powerup, and so on. Naturally, the longer you wait, the better the powerup you can have.

The powerups available are pretty decent. You've got the slow and fast ball, the narrow and wide paddle, the catch paddle, two variations of multiball, and the most powerful of all, Laser, which gives you a "Breakthrough" effect. Sadly missing is a powerup that lets you fire at the blocks with your paddle (as with the Laser powerup in Arkanoid), but I can live without it. I guess.

Game Modes

The highlights of the game are Tokoton Standard, Tokoton Random, and Quest modes. Tokoton Standard is a collection of fifty levels. If you make it through all of them, you start over from the beginning and continue until you lose. Tokoton Random boasts over three million randomly-generated level designs, but if you play it long enough, you start to recognize that the generation is done with pre-made levels where the types of blocks used have been randomly determined.

Quest mode is slightly different from the typical Breakout game. Every board has an exit on the top of the screen, and the object is simply to get the ball through that exit. This means getting rid of some blocks, but sometimes it also means solving some simple switch-based puzzles. Hit a switch, and some indestructible blocks disappear. Hit it again, and they reappear. After three levels, you face a boss, which you have to destroy with your paddle and ball skills. None of them are too bad, it's mostly a matter of maneuvering your ball into its weak point for massive damage.

It's fun, it's addictive, and it's got exactly the right number of bells and whistles -- not too many, not too few, and plenty of options to make exactly the sort of Breakout experience that you want. If you've ever loved a paddle and ball game, this one's totally worth it -- and for only $20.


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