Breaking bricks has, quite literally, been around since the Stone Age. In video game terms it’s been nearly as long, but what we grew up with as kids will never leave us and so whenever a remake, remaster or reimagining of our favourite childhood stuff pops up, it’s very hard not to cast a sly glance its way. No matter how much we wish we didn’t.
That is most definitely the case with Brick Breaker.
Arriving on Xbox One – you know, that all powerful all conquering super console – you may initially wonder why something so basic has been transported into modern times. But if we go back to my opening statement, all becomes clear. Ish. It’s quite obviously for the memories but perhaps it was best to keep it that way.
I’m not really sure what I need to say in order for you to grasp the concept; once you’ve looked at one block breaker you’ve basically seen them all. But for what it’s worth, here goes. Brick Breaker sees you take control of a solitary pad which moves slowly in a left and right fashion across the bottom of your screen. Above you are a ton of bricks to break. It is up to you to fire your single ball skywards, crashing it into the blocks before bouncing it back up again for more of the same. Remove all the blocks without dropping the ball too many times and Bob’s your uncle. But hey, you knew all that already didn’t you?
It all starts off slowly – painfully slowly in fact – as you hit each blue block and remove it. Progress through the levels and you’ll find different coloured bricks that need multiple hits in order to be smashed, a good variety of different patterns for you to get your head round and occasionally some special powerups to mess around with. It is pretty much what you would expect to see in a game from this genre, and at no point does anything stand out with the wow factor that we are looking for.
It is with the powerful additions when things get a little crazy in Brick Breaker as the introduction of multi balls, guns, flame balls and more ensure that your screen is filled with a veritable feast of visual fireworks. That in itself would be okay, but when you need sharp reactions in order to hit the sometimes fast moving ball back into play, the sheer number of explosions on screen at any one time causes too much confusion; at least for my 40 year old eyes and brain to be able to comprehend.
When you combine this with some physics that occasionally see your ball ping off in god knows what direction, all too often you’ll find yourself staring down the barrel of defeat even after what seems like an absolute age of trying to finish a stage. You will shout at Brick Breaker and you will curse the moment you ever thought a purchase was a good idea, but if you can manage to get through the frustration, will find the odd joyful moments to cherish. The vast majority of those will come about when you somehow find yourself magically completing a level, earning a scarily high score and picking up a huge combo bonus with what appears to strangely be with relative ease.
To complement the Arcade mode, if you can call it that, is a tacked on Survival section which gives you five lives and just leaves you to get on with it. Seeing as I’ve had to attempt the same levels in Arcade, but with five chances for each stage and still been found wanting, there is little chance I’ll ever be able to worry the survival gods. Which therefore makes it a completely pointless addition to all but a few brick breaking badasses. There must be some of them out there. Somewhere.
Now, no game is complete without giving us the chance to smash some bricks with a friend and Brick Breaker gives us the opportunity to play through three different modes with a local sofa bound mate. Versus Mode, Rush Mode and Base Defense Modes are all in play and give you and up to three friends the chance to battle it out to the death.
The former of the modes does exactly as you would expect, but Rush mode mixes things up a bit, bringing coloured balls into play – coloured balls that can only break their correspondingly coloured bricks. Base Defence works in the exact opposite way to everything else found in Brick Breaker, urging you to stop the balls hitting your coloured fortress below your bat. You’ve got to applaud the developers for trying something different but unfortunately, the best that either three modes come across as, is as a souped-up Pong. They will in no way draw anyone back for more, although admittedly the opportunity to play around with four players is a good, albeit short lived, laugh.
Perhaps if there was a hint of online multiplayer involved then we could indeed give it more of a go – if only for five minutes. But hey, there is no online option and even the global leaderboards which can be used to test yourself against the world are hidden away just enough for you to even forget that they were there in the first place.
Brick Breaker therefore delivers a fairly decent, but very annoying take on ball bouncing and brick breaking. Powerups, explosions and fireworks are all well and good when you wish to show off, but in the grand scheme of things just ensures that things get a bit too messy, far too hectic and murderously manic for the fun to take hold. With some stages completed in a matter of seconds, and others taking an age (and a ton of attempts) to even get anywhere near finalising, if ever there were a game left to frustrate you, then this would be it.
If you want to relive your youth or just need something a bit different then by all means it may be worth a shot, if only because the huge number of levels will keep you going for some time. If you can beat them that is.
Related: Let’s Play Brick Breaker on Xbox One