Whenever I see the logos of eastasiasoft and Ratalaika, a specific kind of game pops into my mind. It’s a 2D pixel-platformer that’s less than a fiver to buy, which offers up its achievements in no more than a couple of hours, and it’s got a single gimmick that justifies its existence. It will entertain for an evening, and we’ll probably hand it a 3 out of 5.
Blitz Breaker couldn’t be more typical of everything I’ve just written. It’s the eastasiasoft and Ratalaika poster child. You could probably end the review there. But games, even the small ones, take a gargantuan amount of effort to make, and there’s the gimmick to talk about, so let’s do it the honour of a full review.
Blitz Breaker is an extremely simple-looking game, but it gets the job done. Everything is clear, bold and colourful, so there’s never any doubt in what you’re doing. You play the titular Blitz Breaker, who seems to be some kind of robot dude with a nyan cat-style rainbow coming out of the rear. Its chiptune-esque soundtrack is jolly and serviceable, and doesn’t repeat itself too.
Probably the most surprising element of Blitz Breaker’s presentation is that it only fills about a third of the screen. It looks like someone has taken a mobile phone in portrait mode and sellotaped it to the middle of the TV (there’s some truth in that, as Blitz Breaker started out as a mobile game). You can get away with those kinds of shenanigans if you are re-releasing an old 16-bit shmup classic and want to preserve the original resolution. But for a game that’s only a couple of years old? Nah, it’s a cheap workaround. There are countless better options, and it looks plain ugly here.
Jumping into Blitz Breaker’s gameplay, it’s the classic setup of discrete levels, with star ratings for how well you complete them. So, you choose your level, and your task is extremely simple: you have to get to the exit at the end of the level to unlock the next.
Which is where the gimmick kicks in. The Blitz Breaker robot can’t walk or run. It can jump, but only a tiny distance upwards, and it certainly can’t jump to the left or right. What you can do is ‘blitz’ in the cardinal directions, effectively a rush attack that only stops once it hits a wall. It’s kind of like the sliding puzzles you get in adventure games like Zelda, where you keep sliding until you hit a wall or block, and the puzzle is navigating to an exit.
Tacking onto this mechanic is gravity. If you were to fall off a ledge, you’d tumble down to the bottom of the screen. So, you’re not only managing the direction you ‘blitz’ into, but also how you incorporate gravity. Hit a wall, and you might let yourself fall for a bit before blitzing again, allowing you to reach platforms below you.
It’s simple and highly effective. We’ll admit to fumbling over the first few levels, as the lack of any kind of traditional movement felt alien. We popped the ‘50 Deaths’ achievement waaaay to early (it’s sitting there on TrueAchievements, unlocked before any of the other achievements. Our shame is real). But once the realisation kicked in that this is a series of sliding puzzles, we were golden.
Mechanics and obstacles keep layering on to make things interesting. Magnets allow you to stick to walls. Lazers spin around in catherine wheels. Switch-keys unlock doors, but also change the layout of the arena. There’s a new mechanic every few levels, which must be some kind of unwritten mathematical formula for how to make this kind of game. They’re well-considered, suit the gimmick, and the level design is generally on point. We never felt like levels were repeated, or that anything was too far out of reach.
There are collectibles in the form of coins, which give you more time to complete the level, and finishing the level with plenty of time will unlock stars (and stars mean achievements). Occasionally there are warp gems, which give you access to challenge floors, in case you felt the difficulty wasn’t quite spiky enough. And heads or hats can be unlocked for the Blitz Breaker, so childhood dreams of being a robot chicken can be realised.
At the end of each area (a collection of levels), there’s a boss, and they’re mostly manifestations of a time limit. You will have walls and octopi and various other creatures chasing you down, forcing you to do the level at speed. If we’re honest, we didn’t even realise that the first boss room was a boss: each level has a time limit anyway, so they didn’t feel particularly different. A few extra mechanics were layered onto latter bosses, but they were commonly disappointing.
One attribute of an eastasiasoft/Ratalaika game that we forgot to mention is that the gimmick usually creates a glaring flaw that stops it short of greatness. It’s true here. Blitz Breaker’s flaw is that it is supremely difficult, while also using the tiny screen as an excuse to ambush you.
A given level in Blitz Breaker is, most commonly, a series of game screens. You pass Pac-Man-like through a gap to move to the next screen, and the exit might be waiting on the second or third of those screens. This creates a problem, as you can emerge from an extremely difficult screen, only to plough immediately into spikes on the next screen. A level in Blitz Breaker can be a dozen different traps, so overcoming five of them and then travelling to the next screen, only to get obliterated immediately – without having time to learn what the next screen is about – is a continuous frustration.
Some will lap it up, of course. Game difficulty’s been a hot topic in recent months, and some of the levels here fall neatly into the bracket of ‘challenging but not impossible’. But when Blitz Breaker offers you such a small screen, which could have been bigger and hosted the entire level, it grates.
The nature of Blitz Breaker also means that you can’t pause and take stock. If you’re on the second or third screen, you have to formulate a plan on the fly, and you’re too busy being reactive to do anything of the sort. It creates the odd situation where the first screen is by far the easiest, because you can sketch a gameplan, while the following screens will almost always kill you, and kill you lots, until you’ve trial-and-errored your way into an understanding.
It feels like such an obvious and easy thing to remedy, through expanding the size of the screen, or allowing you to stop between screens, but Blitz Breaker has its sights on the Meat Boy crowd, and wants to offer something intense. Whether that intensity will feel earned or justified will be down to you. We never quite felt like it was.
Blitz Breaker is the archetypical pocket-money platformer. It costs less than a fiver, comes with plenty of content, and its gimmick – a character that can’t walk, but can jetpack its way to the far reaches of the level – is different enough to make it interesting. Just be warned that this is deeply difficult, and failures won’t always be down to you. If you have some leftover patience and a hankering for some Gamerscore, Blitz Breaker won’t break the bank.
You can buy Blitz Breaker for £4.19 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S