You’d be hard-pressed to say that brick-breaker games are still relevant. While Tetris is getting 100-player versions and techno-infused VR editions, brick breakers just aren’t. At least, not yet. But while there’s no brick-breaker that you could point to and say “that’s what Breakout looks like in 2021”, the genre isn’t dead, either. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of making an Arkanoid clone, or the nostalgic glow it gives a small subset of players, but brick-breakers still arrive on Xbox every six months or so.
On a personal note, I love them. Arkanoid was released thirty-five years ago, almost to the day, and it was my gateway. There’s something about the flow of a game that gets me. You start claustrophobic but slow, with a wall of bricks batting your ball back, but then escalating to that end of game situation where the ball is at top-speed, and there’s only a few bricks to get. But you keep missing and missing and missing.
There’s also something about the moment where your ball gets caught at the top of the screen, obliterating most of the level while you do nothing at all. And while brick-breakers can be tense, they can be zen too, as you achieve a flow of bat and ball that makes you feel like the nerdy cousin to a pinball wizard.
If you’ve got that same impulse and feel those same joys, plus you happen to have an Xbox, then allow us to present the brick-breakers available on Xbox. A few are backwards compatible on Xbox One and Series X, others are dedicated to those platforms, and all can be played today. These are the ten that we’re aware of, so do let us know if there are others we’ve missed, and we’ll duly slot them in.
A bit of a cheat this one, but the 2021 action adventure game ‘Protocol’ has a brick-breaker sequence, which is used to convey a ‘hack’. We wanted to include this for two reasons: one is that it follows in the cute tradition of movies like Jurassic Park, Hackers and Swordfish where ‘hacking’ is a visual and exciting game, involving people screaming about worms, trojans and backdoors as they spin around on chairs. The second is that it’s the worst example of brick-breaking committed to a professional platform. It’s awful.
Imagine a basic Breakout game, but you control the paddle by moving an FPS-style reticule to the left of the screen to move left, and to the right of the screen to move right. Imagine the complete and utter lack of speed and control that offers you. Now make the Breakout game difficult, and lock the rest of the action-adventure game behind success. It’s like pausing Call of Duty multiplayer and asking a player to juggle four balls while wearing crab hands before they’re allowed to start again. Yeah, it didn’t go down well.
9. Radon Blast
In true Arkanoid tradition, we have a brick-breaker that sounds less like a game and more like a brand of bleach.
Radon Blast is a throwback to public domain and floppy disks, and it could have been bundled free with a magazine, alongside some extra Doom levels. It’s no-frills to the point that there’s a single audio track.
What damns Radon Blast to ninth, though, is the breaking of a cardinal brick-breaker rule. Bricks shouldn’t come back. Take enough time to complete a level and they just start reappearing, undoing all of your progress. Frankly, that’s not okay, Radon Blast. Back to the detergents cupboard with you.
You can’t beat that Ronseal naming. “We’ve got a brick-breaker game here, Neville. What shall we call it?”. “Good idea”, says Neville.
That will-this-do attitude carries over to the game, which is effectively Arkanoid but with a VFX intern on staff. It’s basic brick breaking but with a huge number of explosions. The explosions are the main source of Brick Breaker’s biggest problem, as it goes, which is the sheer amount of visual noise. Gain any power up and the screen is lit up like a game of Fantavision, which makes seeing your paddle, let alone the ten multiballs, a challenge.
Glaive: Brick Breaker, to its credit, looks the business. It’s got a chunky, tactile art style, and it doesn’t have the ‘firefight in a fireworks factory’ look that cripples Brick Breaker. What it does have, though, is wonky ball physics (and nobody wants that), as the ball refuses to careen off in wild directions when you arrive late with the paddle or hit the ball on the side of your craft.
The brazen dismissal of these core tenets of brick-breaking would be bad enough, but the complete lack of any high-score tables is somehow worse. Glaive: Brick Breaker looks good and has plenty of content, but there’s a misunderstanding of exactly what goes into a brick-breaker.
You could argue that classics like Marble Duel and Peggle wouldn’t be here without Breakout, Arkanoid and the like, so could feasibly have been added to the list. That feels like cheating – they’re probably a deviation too far – but if you were on a journey to those two games, you’d probably pass Magical Brickout on the way.
Magical Brickout is a polarising game. For some, it will be too willfully different. You control paddles on the outer ring of a circular game field, and you are batting balls into the centre of that circle. Bricks move around like they’re in a game of Asteroids, and you have to clear them out. It takes a lot of getting used to, and dubious physics plus a taped-on story don’t help things. But if you’ve got a bit of patience and want something different, Magical Brickout might be worth a dabble.
5. Arkanoid Live!
Aha, now we’re getting somewhere! The old lady of brick-breaking, Arkanoid, made its way to the Xbox 360 twelve years ago (twelve!). It’s backwards compatible, though, so there’s still the opportunity to re-live one of the classics of video gaming.
And reliving is exactly what will happen, as Arkanoid Live! makes barely any changes to the old formula. It’s multi-coloured bricks getting bashed by your ball and paddle, with power-ups like multiballs and paddle extensions making life easier, and power-downs like shrinking paddles making it harder. The sheer vanilla-ness of Arkanoid Live! might irk a few, but if all you want is to take down DOH again, it has your back.
Another elder statesman of the Xbox, Astropop came out in 2004 on PC, and 2006 on the Xbox 360. That makes it one of the earliest Xbox Live games, emerging among some classics like Geometry Wars, Marble Blast Ultra and Uno.
You’d expect it to be dusty and creaky, and you’d be right. It looks ropey, it doesn’t have a huge number of features, the levels are basic, and it’s on the slow side. But it also gets a lot of the basics right. It has a cracking soundtrack, is insanely colourful, the power-ups are solid, and it’s an ideal stepping-on point for youngsters. If you’re interested in bringing the next generation to the genre, Astropop is probably the best choice.
Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The great thing about an established genre like a brick-breaker is that you can go off in weird and wacky directions with it, and most people will still recognise its core. So it goes with Arkan: The dog adventurer, which transplants Arkanoid (thus the ‘Arkan’ of the title) to a platformer.
It might hurt the head to imagine, but the splicing works surprisingly well. You are the dog adventurer of the title, and you’ve got a magical ball that can destroy the defences of the enemy. To bat the ball back and forth, you are jumping onto platforms on the left-hand side of the screen, while enemies lob weapons at you from the right. You also have the ability to attack back, and you can do a quasi-teleport thing to get out of the way, so it’s not quite as difficult as it sounds. There are three difficulty settings to adjust regardless.
It might be slightly too quirky and far-removed from the genre for some, but we liked it – our review suggested it had “block-breaking thrills without too many spills” – and it’s a budget £4.19, so there’s that.
The thinking person’s brick-breaker, Twin Breaker: A Sacred Symbols Adventure has a lot going for it. It’s been created with (and features) Colin Moriarty of Kinda Funny fame, so fans of the podcast have a great jumping-on point. It’s by far the most story-literate of all the games here, and has a universe-ending plot that has genuinely good writing. It’s also got a great soundtrack, has been built from the ground up for co-op, and features some cracking bosses.
So why number two in the chart? Twin Breaker slips because its core innovation doesn’t quite work. You take control of two paddles rather than the customary one, with each analogue stick controlling paddles independently. It can feel like rubbing your belly and tapping your head, and the cognitive break is a little too much. The issue goes away in two-player, but in single-player, you sometimes wish that things were kept a touch simpler.
Doughlings: Arcade doesn’t look like a number one contender. It looks like an old 3DO game, a CD-ROM cast off. Its characters, the titular doughlings, are ugly, and – from screenshots – it doesn’t even look like a brick-breaker. Paddles shouldn’t have eyes and hands, dammit.
But what makes Doughlings: Arcade number one is intuitive controls and a constant, satisfying feeling of progression. As you destroy doughlings, they drop ‘likes’ down the screen; collect ten of them and you’ll be treated to various effects. The most basic of these is the colour-ball which will turn the doughlings a single colour (each colour needs a different number of hits and have differing effects), grouping them together, creating chain reactions. DNA strands will also drop, turning your paddle into one of six doughling gods, raining devastation onto the brick battlefield.
There’s so much content in Doughlings: Arcade, and that’s multiplied by a big old ‘infinite’ by a superb level editor. If you’re creatively inclined, the library of things you can add to a level is significant, almost tickling the lower end of a Super Mario Maker. Not what you’d expect from a shoddy-looking Breakout clone, eh?
Diving back into the library of brick-breakers that are still available on Xbox, it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of dross. It’s understandable: it doesn’t take a huge amount of time and effort to knock-up an Arkanoid clone and make a swift buck. But there are a couple of diamonds here, and hopefully this list has pushed them to the top for you.
If you have any comments on the list, disagree with the order, or want to highlight a brick-breaker that we’ve missed, then give us a buzz in the comments section below. We’re always eager to hear from you.