Again I find myself playing remakes and ports of classic games from my childhood on modern consoles. Oh what a wonderful time to be a gamer where new and old are intertwined through a system of convenient digital downloads. Today’s classic is Brick Breaker by Sanuk Games. I remember when Brick Breaker, also referred to as Javanoid by many old schoolers like myself, was a default Windows game. Then it was an easily found browser title that I used to play in the library at school. It took me literally two years before I had mastered all the stages of the Windows version of the game. And that only had like 15 levels. This modern supped up version blows that old edition out of the water in just about every way.
What I didn’t realize till I started up Brick Breaker is that it’s actually meant to be played as part of a retro games collection by Sanuk Games. Visually, it’s very close to Tetraminos, another game I recently reviewed in the collection. The game has a mildly sci-fi feel to it with a smooth finish. Making use of mostly blues, but also some green and purple as well, the game’s main menu and few backgrounds are a blend of constantly moving patterns that look simple, but actually have a decent amount of detail. The menus are exactly the same as those in Tetraminos, with smooth-edged boxes and block text. As this is a simple brick breaking game, the gameplay isn’t that fancy looking. The bricks come in many different colors and a number of different types. They have a clean texture and fit together well, which isn’t that impressive in the first place.
The HUD in this game is very simple. You have level and lives in block text in the top left of the screen. On the top right you have score and ball speed. In the middle you see your combo which disappears when it ends and then quickly reappears when it starts up again. The font used for all text is an easy to read block text appearing in white or yellow in most cases. Unlike with Tetraminos, I can’t say that this game runs completely smoothly. In normal play you won’t experience any problems, but in certain stages where you can create large chain reaction combos, the screen will lag considerably often causing you to lose track of the ball and ultimately lose a life. This happened to me in several different levels. The loading times when starting and ending modes isn’t great either. Outside of the lag, Brick Breaker is a pretty decent looking game for as simple as it is. I was especially impressed by the multiplayer layouts used for games with more than two players. The placement is extremely well-balanced.
The gameplay is quite simple. It’s just brick breaking so you launch the ball with one of two fire buttons and then move the paddle with the stick or d-pad to hit the ball back up towards the bricks when it comes down. You also use the fire button to shoot the gun when you get that power up. All controller types work in Brick Breaker and they are all very effective due to the simplicity of the controls. You will at first have trouble lining up the paddle in sharper situations. But you will get used to it with practice. The ball can change direction sporadically during combos and that will ultimately be your downfall.
There are six different basic bricks, differentiated by color. Five of those can be destroyed without power ups but have different levels of endurance. Light blue bricks can be destroyed in one hit. Green bricks turn into light blue bricks when you hit them and then can be destroyed in one hit. This goes on with each color for a total of five. Dark blue bricks can’t be destroyed without the fire-ball power up. There are five special bricks. Explosive bricks destroy adjacent bricks and can be used to cause chain reactions when in close proximity to each other. These scenarios usually cause lag. Bonus bricks give an item. Reveal bricks make all dark blue bricks breakable. Locked bricks can’t be destroyed until all adjacent bricks are. Ghost bricks curse the ball and cause a de-buff when it hits the paddle. There are 13 different items that can be collected. Some help you by giving you upgrades such as multi-ball or enlarging the paddle and some hurt you by speeding the ball up or inverting controls. Upgrades can be stacked making it possible to have six balls on the screen all with fire if you can keep it all going. As you build combos, the ball will also speed up to a maximum speed of x10. This is very easy to build up to because the speed doesn’t decrease until you die and builds every time you get a combo even if the combo doesn’t last long. The max speed isn’t that fast though so it’s not really a problem.
The single player gameplay has two modes of play. Arcade mode gives you 100 levels to beat. You can continue from whatever level you’ve unlocked each time or go back to any past levels. You start every level with five balls. There is no time limit. You are scored based on combos and general performance. You can get a max combo of thirty which is really easy to build. Combo ends when the ball hits the paddle or you die. Each of the 100 levels has its own local leaderboard. There are prefilled scores that are easy to beat when you start each level. At the end of each level you are scored one to three stars and told the score you need to get the next star rank. Survival mode is exactly the same as arcade mode except you don’t get your lives back after each level and you always start from level one.
While this game has a simple, but fairly good single player mode, it’s the multiplayer that’s really impressive. This is probably the most innovative brick breaker gameplay I’ve ever seen. There are three multiplayer modes, each supporting up to four local players. Versus mode works by having all players control a paddle. The number of balls is equal to the number of players but all players can hit all balls. Every time a ball goes behind a player’s base line the other players add one point to their score and the player who missed the ball loses one point. At the end of the time limit, which can be up to five minutes, the player with the highest score wins. Rush mode has all players trying to destroy their bricks in order to hit the winning brick first. Each player has bricks corresponding to their color. The balls can only destroy bricks matching their color. The ball takes on the color of the last paddle it touched. Whatever color ball touches the winning brick first wins the game for the player of the same color. You can control multiple balls at once. Base defense mode has each player defending a set of bricks placed behind their paddle. You do not have to lose all your bricks to lose. You simply have to have the ball make it to the wall past your bricks. This was a smart choice because it prevents players from just camping and protecting one final brick. All in all the gameplay is good, but it’s not like you can really screw up brick breaker to begin with.
The sound in Brick Breaker is good, but not original. It’s literally the exact same one song from Tetraminos. There’s only one song for quite possibly the entire retro games collection. The effects are good, but simple. There are different sounds for hitting each type of surface in the game: bricks, walls, and paddles. There’s the same female robotic voice that gives you status updates like max combo and max speed. And that’s basically it for the sound. Most of the audio experience is the sound of the ball hitting bricks.
The only writing in the game is the five tutorial slides. They’re very simple yet informative. I found them to be perfectly written to efficiently and effectively explain how the game works.
As with Tetraminos, the single player is good, but will eventually get old. Brick Breaker has 100 levels so it will last quite a bit longer than the Tetris clone, but it’s the multiplayer that really makes this game last. The problem of course being that it’s local multiplayer only. Again Sanuk Games failed to deliver what could have been a very successful online experience that would have increased the value of their game considerably. While the $5 price tag is by no means unfair, the game will probably not last you very long once you beat the hundred stages unless you have people at home to play it with. The hundred stages will take you probably five to ten minutes each plus deaths so maybe about ten hours give or take.
Overall Brick Breaker works for what it is. Lag issues aside, it’s pretty well done. But it’s by no means a must buy. You can play a brick breaker game for free online at several different sites. This game basically comes down to if you have a desire to play a brick breaker game with a Nintendo controller or in a multiplayer scenario. Overall I say it’s a hard purchase to justify, but not a regrettable one.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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