‘Just Bricks’ sounds more like something you’d stumble over in a B&Q than the Xbox Store. Perhaps brought to you by the people who made No More Nails and Ronseal.
But ‘Just Bricks’ is appropriate because it offers almost nothing more than brick after brick after brick. It pulls up a wheelbarrow, pours some bricks onto your lawn, and shrugs its shoulders when you ask where the rest of the game is. We guess we were warned.
Just Bricks is a Breakout clone. But a clone in the sense that it’s a brainless, soulless reproduction of the original. You get a paddle (surprisingly large, incredibly slow), and a ball temporarily glued to it. Then you’re pressing A to thrust the ball into the upper echelons of the screen, where it plinks against bricks, disappearing them, before bouncing back to be dealt with. Then you’re bonking it back to the bricks, in the world’s dullest tennis match.
We’re being rude, but we’re actually Breakout fans. We’ve written a Top 10 of them on the Xbox, so we’re clearly into the genre. But none of them are as dreary as Just Bricks.
It should have been more positive. There are 200 levels here, which is an astonishing number for the 79p outlay. We’d love to know the percentage of players who reach the end of the 200: we suspect you can count them on a couple of hands. But the quantity is high, which should be celebrated.
Just Bricks isn’t ugly, either. There’s a basic Tron-ness to the neon display, and it’s all rather clean and legible. We weren’t expecting our breath to be taken away considering the genre and the cost, so we met Just Bricks halfway and appreciated it for what it is.
There are power-ups, which we shouldn’t necessarily take for granted. Since we’ve complained about its brutal simplicity, it could have dished up none at all. Regardless, there are only two: one which turns you into a wrecking ball, churning through bricks; and another which increases the size of your paddle, which was already pretty girthy. They’re welcome: the wrecking ball in particular, as it makes short work of levels that might have otherwise taken an age.
That said, the wrecking ball does break a Breakout unwritten rule. Just Bricks employs that old classic, the unbreakable brick, to add some difficulty to proceedings. But the wrecking ball bounces off them rather than destroying them, which denies you the simple joy of destroying the undestroyable. Schoolboy error.
But while they’re better than nothing, the power-ups are pretty darn close to nothing. We’re confident that a few more wouldn’t have taken long to code, and we’d have taken them over the 200 levels. Knock it down to 100 and give us a power-up that adds machine guns to our paddle and we’d have been in Arkanoid heaven. The priorities are off here.
When developing a Breakout clone, the topmost item on your ‘To Do list’ is to get the ball and paddle physics right. Without them, you’re done for. Unfortunately, Just Bricks is done for. As mentioned, the paddle is an oil tanker, long and unmaneuverable. When a ball can ricochet in a fast and unpredictable fashion, it’s important to be able to react, and you just can’t in Just Bricks. There’s no speed power-up, no button to press for an increased burst. You are bumbling over to the ball and watching it as it falls away, flicking you the bird as it disappears into the ether.
Just Bricks is capable of some physics-defying feats, too. It can feel like you are playing Air Hockey on a downhill tram, as wall-to-wall movements of the ball suddenly start bending upwards or downwards. We understand that the player probably doesn’t want to wait for a sideways ball to come to them, but suddenly jostling it in one direction doesn’t reassure you about the game’s physics.
The same goes for some brick-bounces. Hitting a brick at an odd angle can mean an inauthentic ping into a completely unexpected direction, leaving you with your pants down and holding onto an ineffective paddle. Which nobody wants.
And if the controls are the first thing to get right, the levels are the next. And they’re not good by a long shot. Just Bricks has two tools at its disposal: the common brick and the impassable brick that your ball just bounces off. It’s not enough material to create interesting levels, and Just Bricks wasn’t much of an artist anyway. Occasionally, we got a Space Invaders alien or a scene from Tetris, but most of the time they’re just a scree of bricks with no value in how they’re placed. With 200 levels to pad out, you can see where the problem lies.
Too often Just Bricks resorts to the unkillable brick, which is no fun. Bricks can be tucked behind them, or walled off, and it leads to prolonged bounceathons where you forget when you last hit a brick. Connected to the poor physics, it is incredibly, numbingly difficult to get any kind of angle on the ball: even if you bounce it on the last pixel of your paddle, the ball will still drift at a slight angle. All you can hope to do is catch a brick on its corner, which is the best chance of getting your ball to do the side-to-side.
What you don’t want with a 200-level, no-achievement blandfest like Just Bricks is to be lingering on anonymous levels, but there is a hell of a lot of lingering. Thanks to the lack of control over the ball, you can be staring at two or three bricks for up to ten minutes. You get three lives per level, which is more than enough, but it only prolongs the torture. Often, your best hope is that a wrecking ball power-up arrives, so that you can blast through the remaining bricks. But they won’t chew through the unbreakable ones, of course.
We are absolutely overrun by Breakout clones on the Xbox, and none of them are particularly expensive. It makes the sales pitch for Just Bricks muted: 79p for 200 levels is impressive, but spend a couple of pounds more and you can get a game that looks, plays and feels infinitely better.
Just Bricks takes minimalism too far. A game of this type needs more than some bricks and a paddle. We’d have happily chucked in a few quid for some extra power-ups, achievements and a less resounding feeling of boredom. But, then, it wouldn’t be ‘Just’ Bricks, would it?
You can buy Just Bricks from the Xbox Store