This modern twist on Breakout is much more than a clone.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are that you’ve heard of the game ‘Breakout‘. To summarise – players control a paddle and eliminate bricks at the top of the screen, by ricocheting a ball off the walls of the screen, or the paddle itself. Missing a ball on its rebound costs you a life. Incredibly simple, this game of the 70’s has been hugely influential, but has also been re-done and cloned half to death. Though PSN title Shatter does owe its inspiration to such block-breaking games as Arkanoid and Breakout, it’s important not to tar this game with the same brush. As you’ll see, it really is a stellar example of how drastically changing gameplay physics and bringing new ideas to the table can create a fresh experience.
The background story is a bit obscure and revolves around your paddle breaking free of the circuit it’s part of and having to travel through seven different worlds… or something to that effect, anyway. Its scene literally takes up a matter of seconds at the beginning of the game, and isn’t really essential in an arcade-type game like this.
At a glance it may seem that Shatter follows the same idea as breakout. But the layers of bricks are either at the far-right of the screen or the top, so the left analogue stick moves your paddle up/down or left/right respectively. What’s cool is that the action can take place inside a circle arena as well as a square one, a nice feature since it’s a bit more challenging to judge the rebound of your ball here. You’ll also notice that can launch multiple balls yourself with the X button. This increases your score and means you can clear the stage quicker, but also ups the difficulty since you’ll need to juggle a few at once. Since each ball launch represents one of your lives hanging in the balance, it’s a sort of cost-reward mechanism.
Shatter’s biggest innovation though, comes in the form of its ‘suck’ and ‘blow’ physical forces, which you apply to the ball. By pressing the L2 button your paddle emits a wave of air pulling your ball towards it, and by pressing R2 pushes the ball away. Things get interesting here because using both of these abilities properly and in succession mean you end up kind of steering the ball itself. Rather than seem like a gimmick, this mechanic is a well thought-out one. It speeds the pace of the game up because now you won’t be waiting around for what seems like ages to break that last block. Not only this, but it actually plays a part in altering the course of game play itself; a bit of strategy is introduced regarding where you’ll guide the ball next.
Along with typical one-hit bricks, a variety of other bricks (and other shapes) are thrown into the mix react differently when hit. For example, spinning bricks that rotate those around it like a cog, rocket-propelled bricks that shoot across the screen when hit and smash into others, and bricks that cheekily emit their own ‘blow’ waves to push your ball away from them. Some bricks even react to the ‘suck’ and ‘blow’ abilities, moving towards or away from the paddle as they are used. Stages are broken down into seven waves of bricks, and it’s thanks to Shatter’s effective use of physics that we are given some pretty interesting formations. For instance you might have bunches of standard bricks hinged together by a rocket or explosive one, and when these are hit they’ll be send adjoining bricks flying. This shows how the game puts its own mechanism to good use in keeping things fresh and exciting.
When any brick is smashed it’ll send glowing blue ‘shards’ pouring out, which gradually fill up your power meter at the top of the screen. Pressing square uses a shield on your paddle; this protects yourself against anything that happens to be coming towards you, and drains your metre for as long as you use it. Or, for the more fun option, once the meter is completely filled, pressing triangle spends it all on a ‘shard storm’, an awesome move that sends bullet-looking things spewing out of your paddle, and makes short work of any layers of bricks.
Tt’s some of the prettiest carnage you’ll see
Of course, where any game like this is involved, power-ups are involved as well. You’ll collect the bog-standard ones such as an extra ball, but also some new additions like increased manoeuvrability for your ball, or an increase in the number of blue orbs released from destroyed bricks. When you collect a power-up a text announcement flashes up on screen in a small explosion of orange. Since it is the same colour as the ball, I personally found that this could often be a little distracting, but this is a minor quibble.
At the end of each world you’ll be confronted by a boss, these take on various forms, some being more unnameable than others. Their weak point that you need to hit with the ball is marked by a white circle, but you also need to make sure to dodge their attacks as well – for example, a floating octopus who attempts to give you a good old smack with his tentacles or a scrolling enemy paddle who launches his own harmful balls at you (no pun intended… honestly). These battles feel really clever and are a welcome addition since they introduce a bit more action and yet again, more multi-tasking: whale on the boss while dodging their own attacks. It’s great to see retro-style gaming merged with that old tradition of end-level boss, and it works.
This is all accompanied with some absolutely fantastic music. Module has collaborated with Sidhe Interactive to produce the game’s soundtrack, an assortment of 15 tracks of synthesized and electro beats. Each is catchy and helps to bring a different feel to the different worlds, emphasising the futuristic atmosphere of Shatter. You might even find yourself downloading the soundtrack, so that’s something to keep an eye out for.
Make no mistake – Shatter is quite the looker visually, with its retro-but-futuristic style. Crisp, sharp colours feature prominently in the graphics and all look gorgeous in HD. Your own ball is followed by streaks of orange, comet-style and backgrounds are littered with dots to give it that space-age feel. Each level has its own colour scheme ranging from cool, electric blues to vibrant spinning strobes. In short: not such a good idea if you have epilepsy. Bricks shatter into streaks and explode into ripples, not to mention the shard storm; it’s some of the prettiest carnage you’ll see. But add to this the dozens of blue shards which are spilling out of bricks, and the ball occasionally gets lost in the mess. It sometimes feels as though there is too much going on in such a small space, and this is my biggest concern in Shatter. As we already know, concentration is crucial in a game like this.
In essence, Shatter’s goal is all about the scores, and there sure are plenty of them: you’ll get a total level score after each stage made up of shard bonuses, time bonuses, a boss bonus and a bonus for the end-of-level mini-game. Yep, pretty much anything you do will rack up the numbers. For point-perfectionists, Shatter will provide a good opportunity to repeat stages to improve on their own record and beat their friends’. A ‘boss rush’ mode is unlocked after completion which means that you tackle each end-of-stage boss in the quickest time possible; so more achievement-chasing here too. Other than that, though, there’s a lack of replay value and your only regret will be that the experience was longer because Shatter’s seven levels are fairly short and the whole thing can be breezed through quickly. Some form of multiplayer mode would have been a desperately welcome addition; such as local split screen which sees two players competing for the highest score.
On the bright side, Shatter doesn’t run the risk of becoming stale, and is a recommended addition to your PSN library. Shatter is modernised, yes, but is so much more than just a newer ‘clone’ of a classic
game brushed over with flashy graphics – it brings a different angle on an older genre and breathes new life into it. None of Shatter’s ideas are wasted or feel included for the sake of it; they actually help make the game a genuinely enjoyable experience. Shatter is a short ride, but one that never stops being fun while it lasts.
The Bad: Short length; Occasionally too much going in a small space.