As companies attempt to create more and more complex games, sometimes it's nice to remember the simpler times: days when a paperboy had to deliver the news while avoiding dogs and mailmen; times when invaders, possibly from space, attacked our planet in neat little rows and columns and our only defense was a single laser-blasting tank; and moments when we spent hours hitting bricks with a ball that continually bounced off a paddle for no good reason. It is that last experience that Sidhe Interactive has grabbed onto and blasted full-force into the 21st century with Shatter, easily one of the best block-breaking games ever made.
The game's premise is simple enough: break all the blocks in one level, proceed to the next, and rinse and repeat. If this had been all there was to Shatter, then it would have been a snoozefest, nothing more than a subpar title cluttering up the PSN. Thankfully, though, the game manages to do so much more than any other title in the genre before it, creating an entirely new experience that's sure to thrill players.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of any brick-breaker is the fact that getting that last block is nearly always an exercise in patience and frustration. Maneuvering the paddle and ball into the perfect position so you can finally move on is the very definition of tedium, and it's one of the reasons games like this rarely find much of an audience. Shatter immediately fixes that issue by offering players the ability to push and pull the ball at will, creating new angles and trajectories on the fly. It's a sorely needed improvement in the genre, and players will be overjoyed the first time they're able to nail the previously troublesome final brick with just a few quick puffs of air.
The push/pull mechanic extends beyond merely manipulating the ball, as it is also used to suck up the shards unleashed by shattered bricks. Collecting the shards fills a meter at the top of the screen, and once it's maxed out, players can unleash a devastating special ability that will clear out large swaths of the playing field in just a few seconds. You'll have to be careful, though, as sucking in shards may also jar some bricks loose from their moorings and send them hurtling toward your paddle. While bricks hitting your paddle won't cause you to instantly lose, they do knock you out of play for a moment, creating a perilous situation where the ball may escape the playing field, causing you to lose a life.
These free-floating blocks are but one of the special varieties you'll encounter in Shatter, as there are plenty of variants out there keeping things interesting. Some bricks create explosions destroying anything nearby; others act like rockets and blast off in different directions. Still more blocks can push or pull your ball or create barriers to protect themselves from your attacks. Though things start off simple, before long you'll find yourself actively strategizing the best plan of attack in any given level. This is a game that encourages a more complex strategy than "get to the top wall and wreak havoc," and that's something worth noticing.
In addition to all the block variants, the title also features boss fights at the end of each set of stages. These battles are easily the most challenging aspect of the whole game and range far beyond simply hitting the baddie until he breaks apart. Each boss has a specific weak point, some of which are kept very well protected. You'll find these stages testing all of your abilities, pushing and pulling the ball in every direction and even launching multiple balls at the same time in the hopes of gaining an advantage over your foe. Just when you think the game's starting to get predictable and boring, one of the bosses emerge to really tax your skills.
Thankfully, the game provides some respite from the crazy blocks and merciless bosses by providing you with a bevy of Arkanoid-style power-ups. Extra lives, double shards and the ability to make your ball more powerful or more maneuverable are but a few of the rewards offered, and many levels often turn into frantic battles to suck in shards, nab power-ups, keep floating bricks away and, of course, keep the ball in play. While it can get chaotic at times, it's a fun sort of chaos that will keep you glued to your couch for hours.
As if the game itself weren't good enough, Sidhe has also thrown in some of the best presentation you're likely to see in a downloadable title. First off, the stages aren't all vertical; sometimes things are flipped on their side, and occasionally you'll even be asked to tackle circular stages. This dose of diversity really helps matters along, as the different positions dictate different strategies, keeping things fresh. Furthermore, the game features some truly incredible HD visuals, and you may lose a couple of lives because you got so absorbed checking out the background art that you completely forgot to hit the ball. The cherry on the sundae, though, is the game's soundtrack, an incredible electronica mix that could easily sit alongside Rez or E4 as the best in the business. The total package is simply incredible, one of those rare feats where form and function meet flawlessly.
The major downside of Shatter is that you may not play it for long. The story mode takes a few hours to beat and beyond that, there's a boss rush mode and a bonus round where you try and keep three balls in play for as long as possible, but that's it. There is no multiplayer whatsoever, and online leaderboards are only motivation to play for so long before the incentive is totally lost. While what's present in Shatter is amazing, I greedily want more, and so should anyone else who plays it. Even add-on packs down the line would be nice, as right now the experience is simply too short.
Shatter is the rare game that takes a concept that's been around nearly as long as gaming itself and completely revolutionizes it. While the basic objective is still to clear all the bricks in a given level, Shatter goes above and beyond by throwing in power-ups, ball manipulation mechanics and even boss battles to spice up an otherwise dated formula. Couple this with incredible presentation and a soundtrack that can't be beat, and you have an easy purchase for any PS3 owner. Simply put, Shatter is the new standard that all other block-breaking games will have to meet.
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