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Break ‘Em All Review

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Developer: Warashi Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: June 20, 2006 Also On: None

In the beginning of the video game era there was a game called Pong involving hitting a ball back and forth between two paddles. But the day would inevitably come when a one-player incarnation of Pong would be necessary, and computer AI was not very good back then. Thus, Breakout was born, and it then went through a series of evolutions through Super Breakout and Arkanoid to become one of the classics of early-generation gaming. And now, for the DS, another game in the Breakout vein is unveiled, Break ‘Em All.

Graphically, Break ‘Em All is pretty good. The graphics are nice, and the ball’s location can easily be deciphered against the background and the blocks you’re trying to break. And the different block types can easily be distinguished by their color. Granted, these graphics hardly push the DS to its limits, but for a game like this, limit-pushing is not really necessary. Suffice it to say that the graphics don’t detract from this game one bit.

On the sound front, the sound effects are approximately what you’d expect for a game of this type. The music is done well, and the song that plays is catchy, but, unfortunately, you’ll be listening to the same song the entire time you play unless you’re playing in the quest mode, in which case the music will change when you face a boss. The boss theme is appropriate for boss battles as well. Overall, I have no major complaints here.

For those of you who don’t know how a Breakout-style game works, allow me to explain the basic concept to you. You control a paddle at the bottom of the screen, moving it left and right. A ball travels around the screen, and whenever it hits a block, it destroys that block. The objective of the game is to destroy all the blocks on the screen, at which point you will be given a new formation of blocks to attack. You lose if the ball travels past your paddle through the bottom of the screen.

Sounds dull and boring, right? Wrong. In actuality, it can be quite addicting, especially in more modern incarnations, which add to this formula. Indeed, Break ‘Em All adds quite a bit to this formula. For starters, there are three modes of play: Tokaton, Quest, and Survival. Tokaton is your basic survival mode. Depending on your preference, you can either attack a set of 50 stages in a predetermined order, or you can select to play random stages, in which case the game will continually pick randomly from a couple million stages that it has to choose from. Either way, you’re given a set number of lives, and you try to rack up as many points as you can before you lose.

Quest mode is slightly different. This mode contains sets of four levels, three with block formations followed by a fourth with a boss. In the levels with block formations, you aren’t trying to destroy everything, only to open a path to the top and the exit. In the boss level, you try to defeat the boss by hitting its weak point or points with the ball. You can continue as many times as you’d like in this mode after you lose all your lives.

Survival mode is meant for multiplayer. In this mode, you control a paddle that has some areas vulnerable in an attempt to outlast your opponents. You have different formations of paddle to choose from, but, in the end, this mode isn’t particularly entertaining, even if the game does allow for single card download play for up to eight players. But then again, I only played against the computer since I don’t know anybody else with a DS. Maybe it’s more exciting with human opponents.

Anyway, back to the Tokaton and Quest modes. Gone are the days when one hit per block was the rule. Some blocks have to be hit multiple times to be destroyed. Some have to be hit in certain areas to be destroyed. And there are some that the ball won’t bounce off of, but will simply go through. Making matters even more interesting are some blocks that cannot be destroyed at all. And gone are the days when it was just a set number of rows all the way across all the time. Many levels, particularly the later ones, have more diverse designs comprised of multiple block types in interesting color patterns.

As if this isn’t enough, the game boasts power-ups. You earn power-ups slowly over time or faster by destroying large amounts of blocks. There are six levels of power-ups, each supposedly more powerful than the ones before it, so when you earn a first level power-up, you can use it or wait and upgrade it before using it. But woe unto you if you wanted to use the lower level power-up and wait too long. If the power-up upgrades, there’s no going back. Also, power-ups can’t stack, meaning you can’t use the same power-up more than once until the previous use has run out. All power-ups expire if your ball goes down past the bottom of the screen also.

Making the game even more diverse is the fact that you can choose what power-up you want at each level from two choices. The two options are usually related. For example, for your level one power-up, you can choose one that will slow your ball back down (it speeds up gradually as it bounces off walls, blocks, and the paddle) or one that will increase the speed of the ball and accelerate your point scoring. Experimenting with different combinations of power-ups can make for an entertaining experience, although you’ll quickly find that some are more beneficial than others.

So far as control goes, this game can be played with our without the stylus. Using the L and R buttons to move the paddle will suffice most of the time, but occasionally I’d find the paddle moving a little slower than I’d like. That’s nothing compared to the horror that is the stylus control though. You can put your stylus tip on the paddle and drag it back and forth, but that can make it harder to see what you’re doing or exactly where the paddle is and it’s also sometimes hard to move the paddle fast enough doing this.

If you’re really talented though, you can try the touch and transport method of stylus control. Touch any spot along the row where the paddle moves and the paddle will instantaneously reappear there without covering the distance in between. For those who knew what they were doing, this could work rather effectively, but most people will prefer the L and R buttons, and that is the way that the game is most entertaining in my opinion.

So, what is my final analysis? The Tokaton standard mode alone will take you a long time if you want to get to the point where you can get to and beat level 50. I’ve spent hours on this game and level 11 is the farthest I’ve gotten. Add to this the random stage option in the Tokaton mode and also the Quest mode and you’ve got a game that, even discounting the lackluster multiplayer mode, will still last a single person a long time if he’s a fan of this type of game. If you are a fan of the Breakout style of games, Break ‘Em All is a budget title, and there is no reason not to make room in your budget to add this title to your collection. If you’re not already a fan of the Breakout style of games, you should still give this a try to see if you like it.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7.7
Written by Martin Review Guide