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Shatter

Shatter feels like an extremely polished offshoot of many games. Its physics-heavy twist on the standard Breakout gameplay is reminiscent of Magic Ball; its pick-up-and-play accessibility echoes that of Super Stardust HD; its psychadelic backgrounds, visuals and soundtrack echoes Rez HD; the slick, stylish and understated presentation could have easily stepped straight out of Wipeout HD. Like many of downloadable gaming’s great successes, it borrows the best bits from many games and comes out with something with a lot of its own style and a successful twist on a classic gameplay formula.

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In its most simple terms, Shatter is an update of the standard block-breaking gameplay, albeit with a few fundamental changes to bring it up to date. Chief among these is probably in its excellent physics – some blocks are stuck fast but others are free to move around, and should one of these fall down the screen and hit the ‘paddle’ it gets incapacitated for a split second, leaving you unable to defend the ball. There’s also the chance that the ball might hit rogue blocks floating around the screen, and catch you unexpected. It’s a neat balance, and obviously developers Sidhe put considerable time into getting the tuning just right, as the risk/reward element is prevalent, and never too punishing.

Spicing up the standard block-bashing gameplay are a few tricks up Shatter‘s proverbial sleeves. One of which is the ability to launch extra balls at the cost of a life, and while it’s much tougher to keep track of two or more balls, potentially higher scores are awarded to balance this added risk, as is a proliferation of 1up tokens in most levels. Further, the paddle has the ability to suck or blow with L1 or R1, meaning you can manipulate the balls mid-air as well as bring tokens in for points and push or pull blocks to your advantage. The game always shows you where the ball will hit next (indicated by a thin line), which proves incredibly helpful in taking out those stubborn last few blocks.

There’s something almost Tron-like about Shatter‘s premise – you play the role of a ‘paddle’ of sorts who breaks free from its crystal shackles. It’s never really explained whether the paddle was a prisoner, a worker bee so to speak, or even if the designers themselves ever planned it themselves in such detail, but the mission is against an enemy empire, culminating in battling its masters. Regardless, there is something with shades Reboot in the feel of the premise – it’s all very Deus Ex Machina.

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The worlds the game takes place across are magnificent from a stylistic and and visual perspective. Admittedly they don’t impact the gameplay at all, but there’s something wonderfully otherworldly about having vast crystal caverns, huge sand towers or vast, twisting neon nebulas framing the scene. The visuals are wonderful and runs at 60 frames per second in 720p, and generally this is as polished and well developed as any other PSN game out there. The soundtrack is also blistering, with a collection of utterly brilliant trance-funk tunes which could sit well both in a 1991 Amiga game and the next Wipeout instalment. Top marks to Sidhe and Module in this regard.

The bosses are noteworthy because they’re so well done. These screen-filling juggernauts always require more precision and tactics to beat than the usual levels, and they usually have a quirk that must be exploited in order to defeat them. The lack of maneouverable space makes things very tense, and with some solid designs (a large armoured clockwork sphere and a bigger aggressive rival paddle are two of the best) they are almost as memorable as bosses from the likes of Metroid or R-Type – in the later stages with the bosses and what little narrative the game has, it feels a lot like StarFox. That the developer has included a Boss Rush mode is a great inclusion, and one that might see more play than the main game once it has been unlocked after a play-through.

If there are criticisms to be aimed at Shatter, it would be that some of the levels aren’t really interesting enough, and perhaps losing a handful from the middle stages would do the game no harm. That said, griping about the game’s length feels a little ungrateful, and there’s a lot of content here, including a bonus round where you have to keep three balls of increasing speed in play for as long as possible. The fact friends’ scores are always displayed in the top corner (which is also in the main game) is perfect incentive to carry on for the all-important boasting rights.

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As a tribute to Amiga-era retro gaming, Shatter is a resounding success. It has a perfect price point at just £4.79/$5.99, and represents a worthy successor to Super Stardust HD as possibly the most addictive game on PSN.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

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