Hyperballoid HD‘s greatest enemy could well be its timing. Had it appeared seven or eight months ago then it would have been an easy sell, its simple and earnest presentation and mass of content appealing to Breakout and Arkanoid fans and its styling echoing earlier PopCap Games output. However, the appearance of the excellent Shatter last summer has arguably already filled this niche, and one has to wonder whether there’s any room left for Hyperballoid alongside its more polished peer.
The game sports a good level of presentation and a lot of content, with around 100 levels of block-breaking action. Visuals are functional rather than flashy and levels adopt a style that seems to ape both the Aztec influence of Zuma as well as the more colourful otherworldliness of Bejeweled 2. Level designs themselves tend to be shaped around certain themes; the face or Zeus or an Alexandrian lighthouse, for instance, and often have moving objects, impassable barriers or changing patterns which help keep things more interesting.
The gameplay itself is standard fare – using a paddle at the bottom of the screen, the objective is to bounce a ball and destroy all the blocks positioned on the screen to progress to the next stage. The angle the ball travels at depends on where it hits the paddle, and the physics conveyed in both the ball and the blocks themselves is pretty impressive for a small production. Certain blocks are coloured which means they hold a collectible item, and these all boost the score and affect the player, for good or ill – whether it be in granting a cannon to shoot additional blocks, or perhaps making the paddle transparent so it can’t rebound the ball.
Although the notion of 100 levels to work through sounds impressive, in reality many of them are very similar, and with multiple levels having dozens if not hundreds of blocks and many of these often taking two or three hits, levels frequently take far too long to complete, with ball bouncing back and forth, often hitting nothing. There are times where it will all be tremendously exciting – juggling nine balls in the air while trying to catch falling items, or getting a particularly potent power-up and smashing through half the level in seconds – but the highs often are outnumbered by the dull lows, and the game seems to drag all too often.
There’s nothing here which couldn’t have been created on consoles or computers 20 years ago, and although that’s obviously part of the charm, after Shatter worked to move the style of gameplay forward, it’s a shame that the developers here couldn’t include something similar to the excellent frustration-busting ideas explored in Sidhe’s title. Specifically, something similar to a push/pull mechanic would have been a welcome inclusion, or at the very least, dropping helpful collectibles when the player is clearly struggling. There’s a timer in the bottom corner, and when some levels take eight or ten minutes to complete, you have to question whether there should be some kind of level skip or helping hand.
The game doesn’t sport any online features which is a bit of a shame, as comparing high scores with friends is always a little compelling. Some challenge rooms or something similar would be a nice feature, as the game has its 100 standard levels and nothing else. Perhaps some additional levels with a twist (i.e. the paddle shrinks the longer it takes, every block contains a power-up) would be an interesting feature, and help extend the game’s lifespan. However, for a modest £3.19 grumbles about content are somewhat invalid.
Hyperballoid HD is a fun game and its retro styling and low price point should be enticing to fans of retro classic Breakout and its ilk. Its over-reliance on frustrating and dated gameplay mechanics can become tiresome, but when it works its straightforward gameplay can be very enjoyable. It may not be as showy or flashy as some of its peers on PSN, but for just a few pounds and a tiny 80MB download, it’s a good purchase for retro fans and those who can’t get enough of the sub-genre.