Review: Breakout

A simple formula somewhat distorted by MacSoft's new 3D iteration (July 30th, 2001)

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Product Manufacturer: MacSoft

Price: $19.95

The Good

  • Multiple options for directing the ball, dynamic adjustment of difficulty.

The Bad

  • Mediocre graphics quality, uninteresting plot.

The original Breakout was such a wonderfully addictive arcade game for its time. Using a straight paddle, players directed a ball into a miriad of bricks, destroying them one by one in order to advance to the next level. It was such a simple formula that it earned itself the "classic" mantra. Unfortunately, you'll find no such simplicities in MacSoft's Breakout.

Moving from the standard 2D viewpoint, MacSoft's Breakout features a sort of 2D game board presented in 3D, OpenGL graphics. Players still only hit balls on a 2D plane, but the bricks, and other material deemed break-worthy, are stacked in 3D fashion. Although in 3D, hardware-rendered graphics, the result, even at the highest quality settings, is mediocre at best. Bricks are broken with little visual fanfare, and it's obvious that the graphics were held back in order to include a wider array of Macs in the system requirements.

In addition, the standard paddle has been replaced by "Bouncer," a stick figure with a girlfriend named Daisy, a nemesis paddle known as Batnix, and a host of friendly paddles who he can "call on" for help during the game. The game's attempt at adding a storyline to Breakout is utterly ridiculous, although it might help in attracting toddlers and young children to the arcade classic.

Also new to Breakout is a variety of ways for directing the ball, each of which is taught by "Coach Steel" during a tutorial level at the beginning of the single-player game. Players can leave the paddle as a straight one and use certain keys to angle the paddle at either minimum, medium, or maximum levels. Another option is using a key to switch to a curved paddle that directs the ball based on where the ball hits the paddle.

Players who want to just use the standard paddle without any extra angling involved will find no such luxury in this Breakout. Many of the levels, especially those in the latter part of the game, require that the player hit specific "bricks"--sometimes in a particular sequence--in order to advance to the next level.

Difficulty levels, based on how well players complete each level, range from beginner to superstar. Coach Steel follows Bouncer's progress throughout the game and is there to announce the player's skill level at the end of each level. The player's average skill level then determines the difficulty of the next level. In essence, the game will dynamically adjust its difficulty setting according to the player's abilities, which is a nice addition. Also, players can return to any previously completed level in order to try and raise their performance level.

The game advances through several different "chapters," offering themes such as a mid-western farm, an 18th century castle, and an Egyptian pyramid. Each chapter is made up of multiple levels that begin with a short cinematic following the story of Bouncer trying to rescue his friends and girlfriend Daisy from the evil clutches of Batnix. The classic Breakout gameplay is hindered by distractions of varying degrees, such as in one level where players must line up a series of pipes, by hitting the pipes to move them down, in order to get water flowing correctly. The goal of keeping the Breakout gameplay fresh was a noble one, but the end result was far more annoying than exciting.

Furthering the diversion was a completely unrelated game to cap off each chapter, such as running down a farm road as a wolf chased Bouncer in hot pursuit, or ducking and jumping as Bouncer scurried up a tall, spiraling staircase. Again, keeping gameplay fresh seemed to be the intention, but it's doubtful that many buyers of the game will be pleasantly surprised to find games completely unrelated to the brick-breaking forumula in a box labeled "Breakout."

Although the single-player game is marred by questionable revisions to spice up gameplay, three of the four multiplayer games are generally less divergent from the classic. Opponents go head-to-head in a brick-bashing frenzy. Certain devices can be used to hinder your opponent, such as using an acquired power-up to induce a standby dragon to scorch your opponent's paddle. Two to four players can compete locally on the same computer, or they can battle over a local Appletalk or TCP/IP network or the Internet.

Whether it was trying to capture a new generation of Breakout fans or simply an assumption that the traditional Breakout theme was in need of a renovation, MacSoft's Breakout falls far short of achieving a new, successful formula for the arcade classic. Those expecting a new Breakout utilizing the proven gameplay standards of the original with updated, modern graphics will be sorely disappointed.

by MacNN Staff


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