Iíve been a big fan of brick-smashing games ever since my college roommate returned from Christmas break with a brand new Atari 5200 game system and Super Breakout. I was soon hooked and still play various incarnations on my PC and other game systems that we have hooked up. (My kids have even come up with a generic term for Tetris, Breakout, and other puzzle type entertainments: ďDad Games.Ē Such as in the sentence ďIs that a fun or is it a Dad Game?Ē)
A while back I reviewed Break ĎEm All for the DS and enjoyed it. Now another Breakout style game has arrived for the handheld system; Nervous Brickdown. Based on the same basic idea as Break ĎEm All, Nervous Brickdown is significantly different and compliments the earlier game well. With 10 unique and different worlds, a lot of creative gameplay, and great graphics and music, this game is a winner.
At first glance, Nervous Brickdown is very similar to Breakout, Arkanoid, and a slew of other block-breaking games. The concept and execution are really pretty simple and the first world player have access too looks like more of the same. The player controls a paddle at the bottom of the screen and a ball bounces between the paddle and a wall of colored bricks at the top of the screen. The player tries to break all of the bricks without letting the ball slip past the paddle. Power-ups are awarded that allow your ball to break more than one block, grow bigger, or gain other advantages.
After the first world however, players soon realize that this isnít the Breakout of old. Each of the other levels takes this basic idea, turns it on its head, adds some style, and runs wild. In one level you have to save people falling off an island while you have to save them with your submarine-like paddle, another has the player shrinking ever-expanding ink stains with the ball, and another is based on miniature golf. It feels like different design teams tried to out do each other by coming up with more outrageous, and fun, worlds to play in. From the side scrolling Retro world to the Paper where you get to draw your own paddle (with the shape dictating how the ball reacts) each different set of levels has its own fun aspects and none of them are dull.
The designers didnít stop with the creative levels though; they made the gameplay different too. Some worlds limit the paddle to one dimensional motion at the bottom of the touch screen, but others let the player use the stylus to move the paddle anywhere they want on the touch screen. Player can run to the top in order to speed up the game (helpful in the levels where the Ďblocksí take multiple hits to kill and have the ability to regenerate) or hover near the bottom to give more time to set up shots.
This game goes even another step further and pushes the limits of the breakout concept by utilizing the DSí built in microphone. One set of levels is inhabited by ghosts that can mess up the ballís path. Players can rid the top screen of these distractions by saying ďBoo.Ē Not only that, but after unlocking the feature, you can blow into the mic and change the trajectory of the ball. Ultimately this isnít all that useful, though it does come in handy when you have one block left and you can tell the ball will just miss it. A quick blow sometimes ends the level.
The gameplay is simple but effective; players move the paddle with the stylus on the lower touchscreen. The motion is quick and responsive and there are no problems with the paddle loosing track of the stylus. There is only one real flaw in the design is the way the ball moves from the lower to upper screen (and vise-versa.) There is a gap between the two screens, and while tracking the ball with your eyes the brain expects to round white object to travel that distance between the two screens even though it canít be seen. This doesnít happen. As soon as the ball leaves the lower screen it appears on the upper one without taking any time to travel between, just like an energized electron making a quantum leap from one orbital to another. This can be a bit off putting at first, and takes some time to get used to.
Though the game is a lot of fun, it is only so in short bursts. After 20-30 minutes players will want to move on to something else. Even though it is very creative and unique, when you get right down to it, youíre still playing Breakout and that will keep someone entertained for only so long. Another factor against the game is that there isnít any score. When replaying a level because you died (the game auto saves about every 3 screens) there isnít the added challenge of trying to beat your old high score. Thatís too bad because it would have been an easy addition to make and would have given the game a lot of replay value. Another thing that would have added a lot to the game would be to have a classic Breakout mode. Sometimes I donít feel like anything dazzling, just some mind-numbing block crushing to relax after a hard day.
For a simple game that doesnít call for flashy graphics, this game sure has some impressive looking visuals. Each of the different levels has their own look and feel, and a lot of time was put into the backgrounds. They are very detailed, something that players might miss at first glance. For the space level to the underwater world, each of the different environments were carefully designed to create a visually impressive game.
The music that is looped in the background is pretty catchy and a lot of fun. It adds a lot to the enjoyment of the game. Of course a couple of the songs can get a tad repetitive, especially when you have one last block that you just canít seem to hit, but for the most part the music is quiet enjoyable. One of the things that make the music fit with the game so well is that itís quirky and different, like the levels themselves. I wish all games could have a soundtrack that works as well as this one.
This is a fun and unique take on that old standard, Breakout.
The developers really spent some time and energy pushing the limits of
the game and came up with some pretty cool new twists. The unique
worlds and environments are very enjoyable and fans of the old brick-shooting
games will be pleased and new players to the genre with be pleasantly surprised.