IGN Review of Break 'Em All
Cloning the classic Breakout is nothing new - Arkanoid, Questor, even Nintendo's own Alleyway for the classic Game Boy swiped the mechanics of the original Atari-produced design. It's been cloned in one form or another on nearly every gaming and even non-gaming platform (like, say, the iPod), but if the system doesn't support analog control a lot can get lost in the conversion. Break 'em All doesn't hide the fact that it's a Breakout rip-off, but it does try to do different things to spice things up. The touch-screen makes it work, at least in its controls, but the unique gameplay mechanics put in place muddle things up a bit too much and turn things easier and more repetitive than they should be. Still, it's a nice, cheap diversion if you can handle the basic design.
Break 'em All is Breakout: one ball, one paddle, and a gazillion bricks. The ball is a neutral item that bounces around the playing field, and the task is to simply keep it in play and bounce it up into the bricks by sliding it back and forth along the bottom of the screen. The original design used an analog twisty knob for control that, for years, remained unmatched. The DS touch screen, though, allows for just as accurate control, just in a different, more direct fashion, and is way better than the alternative joystick/D-pad option past versions and ports utilized. The touch screen control is pulled off incredibly well because the game uses the whole screen for the left/right recognition - so if you happen to slip off the on-screen paddle, it doesn't matter
the game will still know where you mean to go.
Warashi - the game's developer - went in a slightly different direction than other games "borrowing" from the Breakout theme. Power-ups are here, but they're on a progressive tier not unlike Japanese space shooters like Gradius or Thunderforce. As you build up the power bar by scoring points and brick combos, you'll work through your custom power-up chain that you created at the start of the game. In the first tier, you can speed up or slow down the ball. If you wait, the power-up will shift to the second tier where you can either catch the ball like a magnet, or send it flying back in the exact trajectory it hit the paddle. Skip that power-up, and you'll be able to either split the ball up into three parts, or temporarily into five. Work your way to the next power-up, and you can clone a non-moving paddle, or set up a safe-zone barrier behind your own paddle. Upgrade to tier five, and you can swell your paddle to double size, or shrink it down to half for more points. And finally, the ultimate power-up: charge the ball up to blast through the wall like a knife through butter, or blast bricks in chunks.
This power-up element is similar to Arkanoid's randomly-falling capsule power-up mechanic, as many of the powers in this game are a variation on what Taito offered in its design. The problem with this "shooter" style power-up progression is that you can't activate a specific power-up if you've already passed it. So, if you're sitting on the "Grow/Shrink paddle" tier, you can't decide, "Hey, I want to use the three-ball power-up instead." The "laser ball" power-up - the one that can send the ball slicing through the wall - is cool and satisfying but also a bit unbalanced since it's easy to activate and use it to build up the power-up tier back up to maximum before it wears off.
Granted, the game's other unique element makes it a lot harder to dominate in later levels with this souped-up power-up. In later levels you'll encounter bricks that can't be destroyed, and bricks that can only be destroyed from the top, the left, or the right. And some bricks take many, many hits before they vanish from play, but, again, these can be taken out instantly with the ultimate power-up. The level designers create some really dastardly layouts using all of these bricks - wait until you get to the wall that spells out DS with indestructible blocks, and have to find a way to bounce the ball through these letters to get the one brick that can be taken out.
There are variations of the main game to spice things up: the main game -- Tokoton Mode -- can be played either in a linear level progression, or in a way that randomizes the blocks into unique layouts. There's also a "Quest Mode" where players work through a series of levels towards an end-level boss that must be taken out using nothing but the bouncing ball as the weapon. This Quest Mode can be played over wireless link, but it's unfortunately more a score competition - you never interact with the other players in the network. And then there's the game's "battle mode" called Survival. Think of this mode as a reverse Warlords: you have to maneuver your block-surrounded paddle to deflect the ball into the other players' paddle, trying to hit the weak point to take them out of the game. This mode's a little too crazy - fun for a little bit, but it just feels too random to be something you'd return to regularly.
It's also a little overwhelming to see some of the default high scores already burned into the game's cartridge - you'll literally have to play a single session for more than a half-hour before you can even crack the high score position. The designers do make that trip interesting, though; the game keeps track of specific statistics such as bricks hit in a single bounce of a paddle, as well as how long you rallied before dropping the ball. There's even a silly little visual representative of your progression - as you work your way through the levels, you "evolve" into different creatures. It's kind of interesting to watch your skills convert into a lifeform, from amoeba to alligator to swan to dolphin. What's the next creature? You just have to keep playing to find out!
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