Breakout kicked ass back in the day. There was nothing complicated about it; no semblance of a story, horribly cliched characters, stylized graphics, and all of that other stuff that we love or hate today. Instead, it was the epitome of what made late 70’s/early 80’s arcade games awesome: simple controls blended with inherent difficulty. All you had was a paddle, a ball, and a gigantic wall of blocks to tear down. The ball would go flying off the paddle, smash into the wall, and come ricocheting back down at an angle, forcing you to use your mad gaming skills to intercept and send it back up for another shot. If you weren’t able to save the ball, it’d go plummeting into a bottomless abyss, leaving you with nothing but an undestroyed wall, a bitter sense of failure, and a burning desire to shove another quarter into the machine to keep playing. Thirty years later, Break’em All has been released on the DS in an attempt to rekindle the popularity of the classic game.
However, this isn’t the arcade game you used to know. The basic gameplay is unchanged; the paddle, ball and wall of blocks are still present and accounted for. The joystick controls of the arcade and console game have been tossed out in favor of the DS’s Touch Screen (or if you want a real challenge, the horrendously slow shoulder buttons). But instead of forcing you to rely entirely on your timing and reflexes, Break’em All gives you a slew of powerups to choose from before you even start playing. You can either have the ball speed up or slow down upon impact, coat the paddle with a sticky residue or a mirrored surface, have break the ball up into multiple pieces, create larger, smaller, and secondary paddles, cover the bottomless abyss with a temporary laser shield, and morph the ball into either a miniature bomb or a ball of concentrated energy capable of melting through row after row of blocks without bouncing back.
And to think, you have to deal with all of these options before the match even starts!
At least they come in handy. Unlike the wimpy blocks of Breakout, these futuristic obstacles are lined with all sorts of colored surfaces with varying durability. The basic gray blocks can be taken out with a single hit, but you’ll find others that can endure three or four hits before disintegrating, vulnerable only on a certain side, unbreakable without hitting certain switches, and plenty of other tricky gimmicks. If you think these are a problem, just wait until you get to the bosses (yes, this new-age Breakout has bosses!) in the game’s Quest Mode. Once you’ve valiantly fought your way through three levels of walls, you’ll get to face gigantic spiders, mechanical whales, and plenty of other behemoths. These daunting foes usually have some really obvious weakness to exploit, but require an incredible amount of timing and precision to take down.
But if smashing through the Quest Mode isn’t your thing, Break’em All is packed with a truckload of other gameplay options. In Survival Mode, you’ll be presented with four paddles, each surrounded by differently constructed block shields. From there, your paddle will be launched into outer space where it’ll participate in a brutal multiplayer competition. There’ll be a bunch of balls flying around, forcing you to frantically move around and deflect them with your shields lest they hit your paddle and destroy it. The goal of this surprisingly fun contest is to reflect the ball back at your opponents and break through their defenses, leaving only you as the eventual champ. But if you prefer the simpler aspects of this game, the Tokoton Mode features the Standard Play mode, which pits you against progressively difficult walls. If that isn’t basic enough for you, the Random Play mode can create over three million different walls with varying degrees of challenge.
Yeah, you read that right. This game has over three million randomized puzzles for you to beat. Needless to say, this game doesn’t go stale very quickly.
For what Break’em All possess in sheer gameplay content, it comes up utterly lacking in everything else. You can’t really blame them, though; there’s not a lot you can do with a ball and a gigantic wall of bricks. The game tries to spice things up by including vertical-scrolling background screens for the levels, such as overgrown vines, non-descript metal shafts, and a few other bland visuals. While the Touch Screen is utilized for the paddle controls, the top screen is used to keep a real-time fix on your progress, such as the amount of points you’ve amassed, how many combo scores you’ve managed to create, and how many blocks you’ve annihilated. All the appropriate bleeps, dings, and other sound effects are present and accounted for, blended with an utterly generic techno soundtrack. The only redeeming thing about this disappointing presentation is the artwork; as you gain more points, your rank will evolve from an amoeba to a fish, a turtle, an alligator, and a few other interesting graphics.
If there has to be a game that epitomizes the phrase “substance over style,” Break’em All clinches it. The design of this game is based upon some of the most addicting arcade and console games ever conceived. All you’ve got is a huge wall, the means to tear it down, and hopefully enough gaming skill to last you through the match. Unlike its predecessors, this game boasts an awesome Quest Mode, complete with multi-tiered levels and challenging bosses. DS owners will likely appreciate the game’s precise Touch Screen controls and enjoy taking on up to eight of their friends in Survival Mode. But the real winner here is the Tokoton Mode, which will probably draw some gamers into a addiction-induced stupor. But if all else fails, your gaming rank can evolve into an Invincible rating, complete with a statue of Jesus Christ as the corresponding art. Yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that.