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NDS Review - 'Break 'em All'

by Katarani on July 20, 2006 @ 1:28 a.m. PDT

Break 'em All offers classic arcade puzzle-solving action as players fight their way through multiple levels and out-duel challenging bosses. Players will control their paddle with pin-point accuracy using the touch-screen and stylus and select from diverse bonus powers to power-up their ball.

Genre: Puzzle/Action
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Warashi
Release Date: June 20, 2006

President Ronnie has been kidnapped by ninjas completely random Aztec drawings a bunch of vaguely metallic blocks! Are you a bad enough dude to Break 'em All?

All right, I apologize for that last paragraph, but it was a test. If you're confused already, perhaps Break 'em All isn't the game for you. However, if you smirked, chuckled, or even rolled your eyes at the blatant reference, you likely have been gaming long enough to remember a classic by the name of Arkanoid, or even more archaically, Breakout!. Similarly, you've likely been gaming long enough to realize the sheer nauseating amount of clones of the classic one-man Pong genre.

Break 'em All, obviously, is another one of those clones.

There's no story to speak of – it's classic arcade-style Breakout!. Heck, it took more time to think of a vaguely stupid Bad Dudes reference than it would to deduce the "plot" of Break 'em All. You're a paddle. You smack a ball around to break a bunch of blocks. When those blocks are gone, you're finished with a level and go onto the next, with even more blocks to break. It's not exactly rocket science.

A lot of games have tried to reach the plateau of addictive gaming in the genre reached by Arkanoid, and many have failed. What makes Break 'em All any different? The answer, in a single word: stylus. Break 'em All is played entirely on the touch-screen, with the top screen displaying the score and stats (how many blocks you've broken this playthrough, how many successful "rallies" you have since you last died, and so forth). Moving the stylus back and forth on the touch-screen allows you to slide the paddle to and fro, giving a level of precision missing in pretty much every incarnation of Breakout! clone since the original arcade machines with their dial-turn controllers.

The precision is marred only by two things: activating power-ups and slightly unsteady hit detection. On a few occasions, the ball has skimmed right through the corner of the paddle, turning a corner shot into a "barely missed." In addition, the precision of the paddle makes the ball bounce off of it in odd ways; many a level will be spent with the ball burning time by bouncing from wall to wall in the most inefficient zigzag ever. Not helping matters is the fact that once the ball gets into such a pattern, it's nearly impossible to get it back on a more typical bouncing course without spending some time trapped above unlucky blocks.

Blocks are typical Arkanoid fare as well. The generic silver block takes a single smack to demolish; the golden, red, and purple blocks that take progressively more hits to eradicate; and the black blocks are indestructible. Levels also bear blue blocks, which vanish when touched and allow the ball to go through them instead of bouncing right off, and combination blocks, which are breakable silver on one half and impervious black on the other.

When simply breaking blocks becomes too boring, Break 'em All has two additional modes. In Quest Mode, instead of demolishing everything, your goal is to get the ball into a small hole at the top of the screen, getting progressively further until you face a boss level that typically involves breaking blocks that serve as the boss's "barrier," and then attacking its weak spot for massive damage. In Survival Mode, your paddle is your weak spot, as you compete with up to nine other players – human or computerized – in the vacuum of space. You try to bounce a never-ending hailstorm of balls away from the unprotected sections of your paddle and towards those of your adversaries. Sadly, Quest Mode is mostly the same as the normal game, and Survival Mode, while unique, isn't really all that fun, and seems like it was thought up after somebody smoked a lot of wacky weed and started playing Warlords.

Much like its ancient ancestor Arkanoid, Break 'em All bears a wide selection of power-ups. However, unlike Arkanoid, where power-ups were capsules that fell out of demolished blocks to be caught by the paddle, Break 'em All bears an almost Gradius-styled power-up system. The player chooses six out of 12 progressive power-ups, which can be employed when needed. These power-ups range from slowing down and speeding up the ball (the latter increases the player's score while it's active) to wider paddles to powering up your ball, which allows it to cut through blocks like a hot knife through butter.

After a preset number of impacts (be it against the paddle, the walls, or blocks), the "Power Up!" bars to the side of the playing field will flash, allowing you to activate the power-up highlighted on the top screen. If you choose not to activate it, the next power-up in line will be selected when you gain your next Power Up "point." Naturally, less useful power-ups, such as adjusting ball speed and activating a pinball-like multi-ball mode, are lower in the progression than the power-ups that allow you to demolish several blocks at once or widen your paddle.

Strangely, that's not the only part of the game that's reminiscent of the shoot-'em-up genre; The soundtrack, even past the average futuristic tings and twangs, bears that same futuristic techno music that would be more typically found in something like Thunder Force or R-Type. It's a bit odd, but not at all unwelcome, adding a much-needed bit of energy to the title. Graphically, Break 'em All is ... well, Arkanoid. Really, it doesn't take thousands of polygons or a 38 bazillion colors to render a paddle, a ball, and some blocks, and the folks at Warashi knew to take the "simple is better" approach and put some of the space otherwise needed for graphics into the random level generator, an extension of the main mode that allows you to play over five million (yes, that's 5,000,000) different randomly arranged levels.

Break 'em All may not be the perfect game, and it still may not dethrone Arkanoid as king of the block-breaking hill. However, if you've been itching for another game for the DS to play on those long road or plane trips, give it a try. It's the only Breakout! clone on the DS to date, and it shows a remarkable amount of polish. Who can really hate a game where the highest rank you can achieve is that of God himself, complete with corona-esque halo?

Score: 8.3/10

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