Reviewed: September 20, 2003
Released: July 12, 2003
Long before Tetris was a gleam in Alexey Pajitnov eye there was another block game out their called Breakout. Built upon the same ball and paddle design of the infamous Pong, Breakout spawned countless clones and variations on the underlying premise. I still remember playing Breakout on my Atari 2600, but even before that there were Breakout games in the arcade that were black and white and used colored pieces of plastic over the monitor to turn the bricks into red, blue, and yellow.
My how things have changed, but even though technology has redefined the way we live and play games there is still a hidden desire in a lot of gamers to relive those nostalgic days of the 70’s and 80’s. If you are too young to remember the games I’ve already mentioned perhaps you might be familiar with the Arkanoid series for PC and Mac that still has a healthy underground following even today.
The opportunity to review Break Ball 2 Gold (BB2G) couldn’t have come at a better time. I had just finished playing Ricochet Xtreme, another “breakout”-style game that had been packed in with Reflexive Entertainment’s recent Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusaderrelease. I was surprised that “breakout” games were still being produced by mainstream developers, so I was obviously curious to see how a small private designer could stack up against the “big boys”.
Breakout by any other name is still Breakout and Break Ball 2 Gold doesn’t stray too far from the proven formula of past games. The core concept of breaking away walls one brick at a time by bouncing a ball (or balls) with a paddle remains untouched. What has changed is the overall presentation and the wealth of special effects, both visual and game enhancing.
There are 18 variations of Break Ball that come with the full version and another 12 slots where you can add your own custom levels using the built-in level editor or download levels from other people. These variations are for the most part visual, both in backgrounds and brick design and layout, but some offer some interesting gameplay elements like having your paddled replaced with a fan to blow the balls upward.
Break Ball 2 Gold can be played with mouse, keyboard, or joystick (gamepad). Considering the extent of your control is the sideways motion of your paddle none of these inputs offer any real benefit, so pick what you like best. I tried all three and opted for the mouse control in the end.
One particularly exciting aspect to BB2G is your ability to put English (or spin) on the ball. Anyone who has played any of the other variations of Breakout will know that you could change the angle of deflection of the ball by hitting it closer to the edge of the paddle. BB2G expands upon this idea by allowing you to swipe the paddle beneath the ball to put a delayed spin on the ball very much like bowling or billiards. Naturally, this requires precise timing or you could inadvertently miss the ball entirely.
The most recent variations of Breakout have all featured a wealth of power-up to enhance and hinder your gameplay. Power-ups come in the form of capsules that fall from above when you destroy certain blocks. These are often color-coded to indicate positive or negative effects and they are also labeled, so if you have time to read them you can know exactly what they will do and whether you want to pick them up or avoid them.
There are way too many power-ups to list but a few include; increasing or decreasing the size of your paddle or the ball, turning your paddle or the remaining bricks invisible, turning the ball into a fiery comet or an icy ball or a toxic blob that will infect blocks with radioactivity that spreads to adjoin blocks. There is even a Power upgrade that will knock blocks loose and send them bouncing around the screen.
Many blocks require multiple hits unless you have your ball powered-up. There are also power-ups like Fire and Split that will create multiple balls. One totally original feature is the addition of the “Beach Ball”. When this ball is released you need to try to keep it bouncing for as long as possible up to ten bounces. Each bounce scores more points and shrinks the ball. If you keep it alive for all ten bounces you can earn a lot of points, but you must also keep the main breakout ball alive as well. Sometimes you can have 2-3 beach balls going as well as 3-10 breakout balls bouncing all over the screen while power-ups rain down around you. It can get quite intense.
Despite the countless number of boards and near-infinite combinations of background and brick designs, BB22G can get a bit tedious over time. Some levels are nearly filled with blocks and some take 2-3 hits to remove. You’ll be plinking away at these walls for minutes before a power-up falls and only when you can increase the speed of the ball or start to manipulate multiple balls at the same time will the walls clear away more quickly.
Break Ball 2 Gold doesn’t require a powerful video card; anything that supports OpenGL is going to offer some tremendous visuals. The backgrounds range from simple tiled textures (much like Windows wallpaper) to some pleasant images of snowcapped mountains, sunsets or star fields. The ball is transparent and offers some inverse mirror effects allowing you to see the backgrounds as they would appear when looked at through a crystal ball. While this effect is nice it can also mean losing track of the ball if you aren’t careful.
Special effects are extremely cool and include flaming comet trails on the fireball or wispy white spray off the ice ball. The radioactive green vapors pour off the toxic ball and infect nearby blocks with a radioactive warning symbols. Bricks that require multiple hits will usually indicate this by changing color and some bricks even have lights or symbols that change to indicate how many times a block has been hit.
The menu interface is simple but effective and you can easily pick and customize your game. The BB2 level editor is a bit more cryptic, but there is suitable documentation provided for those with the desire to stick it out and build your own levels.
The original music is surprisingly good and created specifically for this game. The selection is quite eclectic with an opening number that sounds a lot like the opening bass line from Seinfeld. From there you go into techno, trance, jazz, and some new age stuff. Some of it is cool and some will have you scrambling for the mute button. You’ll no doubt tire of the built-in music long before you are ready to quit playing the game so simply mute the music and pop in your favorite CD. Maybe we can get an MP3 jukebox included in the next version.
As you might expect, the sound design is as simple as the premise of the game. You have the “boing” of the beach ball and the twang of the main ball bouncing off the paddle. The bricks vanish with a suitable popping noise. I was hoping for a bit more special effects for the fire and ice balls, but what is there is more than adequate.
Break Ball 2 Gold is a fairly large game and even though every level follows the core rules of Breakout there is an impressive amount of variety in board design and the way you might approach each level. And as with any game that keeps track of high scores, there is that unavoidable compulsion to best your previous scores.
The level editor will keep aspiring board designers busy for months to come and those less inclined to design their own can download other user-created boards to add to their collection. For only $19, you won’t find a better variation of Breakout available for your PC.
It’s always nice to see that the independent software developers can still manage to hold their own against the big companies. Break Ball 2 Gold might not compare to the $40-50 games you see in stores, but it’s not meant to. This is merely a great diversion at an affordable price.
Whether you are looking to relive your misspent youth or just pass the time away with some challenging and addictive gameplay, you won’t want to pass on Break Ball 2 Gold.