In these uncertain times, gaming has come to the forefront as a pastime that people can enjoy fully whilst observing lockdown regulations. And sometimes you want those games to be calming and relaxing; an age-old brick breaker game seems like a perfect piece of digital escapism. If that is what you are looking for then Glaive: Brick Breaker is not the Breakout clone that you need in your life right now.
Arriving on Xbox One after originally releasing on Steam and Nintendo Switch, Glaive: Brick Breaker is the latest block-busting game in a genre that has existed for nearly 50 years. You control a paddle that patrols the bottom of the screen and must keep a ball from falling off the playing field whilst hitting oblong shaped objects and clearing them all out of the area. It’s like a cross between Pong and Space Invaders, and Space Invaders didn’t release until a few years after the original Breakout.
Glaive: Brick Breaker doesn’t deviate from this formula much, but it does try and offer some additional extras. The ironically named Pong mode has you control two paddles at either end – top and bottom – of the playing surface, with the ball able to fall out at both ends. Then, Shape Breaker mode puts 3D cubes behind several rows of defensive bricks and these need to be smashed to complete the level. There are also boss levels that consist of brick shaped enemies floating around the screen, but these are no trickier than regular levels. They are all very underused in a game that features over 200 levels.
Some of the bricks also act slightly differently to what you would expect: for example, black bricks require more hits than a standard brick, and white bricks cannot be broken, acting as more of a barrier to protect other bricks. Unlike the other modes, these white bricks appear almost far too frequently and in large numbers, blocking off most of the breakable bricks except for a few narrow gaps to squeeze through.
And when you couple this with the almost non-existent physics on the ball, most levels in Glaive: Brick Breaker are laborious slogs. A lot of the time it is pot luck whether or not you direct the ball the way you want it to go. You can let the ball hit the corners of your paddle for immediate influence on its direction but arriving late with the paddle to divert it another direction has virtually no effect on the path the ball is taking – something which is fundamental when playing a Breakout clone. Brick breakers have been around for a long time and you’ve been able to direct the ball the way you want it to go for almost as long in them, but in Glaive: Brick Breaker, there is very little you can do to manipulate the ball.
It is almost as if Glaive: Brick Breaker knows that some levels are poorly designed, as it has a number of steps to help speed things up. Firstly, by offering three lives at the start of every level, I’ve found it easier to let the ball fall off the screen and then hit the one remaining brick with the restart. Then there is a power bar that fills up with every hit of ball on brick – including whites – then when the bar is full it speeds the ball up and closes off the playing area for a period of time, giving you a moment of invulnerability.
These above methods would be useful if the game offered a scoring system – bonus points for amount of lives left or a time bonus – but this is crucially missing. In fact, the only reward in-game is additional colours for your paddle.
There are a host of power-ups to gather and collect, with some being more beneficial than others. What is meant by that is that there is a local multiplayer mode, where the less beneficial power-ups come in handy against your opponent. Sadly, even when playing single player, these power-ups are still present so you can end up shooting yourself in the foot with a faster ball and a shrunken paddle. There are little images on the power-ups to show you what they are, but considering how small they are and the fact they are constantly rotating down the screen, along with keeping your eyes on everything else on screen it can be difficult to see what they are in time.
Other than local multiplayer there is also an Endurance mode where you need to complete stage after stage until you lose all your lives. These are randomly assigned stages from the main game that don’t appear to follow a difficulty curve. Then finally there is a Level Creator mode where you can create your own brick breaker stages to play yourself and yourself alone. With no option to share these online this feature doesn’t add much at all.
Glaive: Brick Breaker has a total of 19 achievements to smash through and it should be very easy to unlock them all, providing your patience will hold out. Almost all of them will come through playing naturally, the only one that could prove tricky is for holding 5 lives at once. Considering you start each level with three you only need to find an additional two lives hidden away in the power-ups, but as these are randomised it is up to the RNG gods on how fortunate you are.
As gaming habits have evolved, brick breaking games have largely been consigned to mobile gaming. This latest effort doesn’t do much to make a case that they should return to arcades or home consoles. Poor level designs are compounded by bad ball physics and some glaring omissions such as scoring and the ability to share creations online. Far too often in Glaive: Brick Breaker on the Xbox One you are staring at a screen with only one or two bricks left without the proper tools necessary to hit the ball in the direction you want it to go. Not only is this tedious, but it requires zero skill to wait until the ball has angled itself around to be on target, a fundamental requirement of any Breakout clone.