As far as general concepts go, the Arkanoid-inspired brick-breaking game has practically been around since the beginning of the video game medium. Using a paddle to hit a ball against a wall of blocks is a simple premise, but when executed correctly, it has nearly limitless potential to entertain. Those who wondered if the genre could still flourish in the modern era were blown away by Shatter, and now Hyperballoid HDis taking a turn at the plate in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle twice. Although the game stands on a strong foundation, there just isn't enough here to really set this one apart from the pack.
Hyperballoid's campaign features two themed areas with 50 stages each. One group of levels focuses on ancient history, while the others are based on planets and outer space. What's cool about these themes is that the game utilizes them very cleverly, arranging the bricks to resemble the Trojan horse or an alien spacecraft. Furthermore, many levels unfold in stages, so after you break open the Trojan horse, for example, a bunch of power-up blocks will fall out to extend the level. This is a fun wrinkle in the game's design, as what you see may not necessarily be what you get. At its core, this is a vertically aligned brick-busting title, and while there's nothing wrong with that, nobody will be giving the developers any awards for taking risks or pushing the genre outside its comfort zone.
One of the more entertaining aspects of Hyperballoid is the dozens of power-ups, all of which are unique and offer various degrees of usefulness. Fortunate player may crack open a block containing a brick-vaporizing laser or the ability to steer the ball for a limited time, while the unlucky will be dodging nasty power-downs, which might send balls flying in unpredictable (and un-returnable) patterns or downright siphoning off one of your lives. Furthermore, the abilities are stackable, so it's possible to build up one badass paddle before a level ends. Just make sure not to miss your ball, though, because all the new skills go away when you lose a life. One of the most entertaining aspects of the game is actually setting off a big chain reaction around some power-up bricks and sorting through the rain of powers to snatch the good ones before they disappear off-screen. In a lot of ways, it's a sort of homemade minigame.
The only problem with the power-ups is that it can be a bit hard to read and remember all the symbols on each one, so you may not realize which one you're getting until it's already been collected. While the red, yellow, green coloring system makes it easy to identify which pickups are good and bad on sight, it's tougher to discern exactly which abilities are bearing down on you at any given time.
Unfortunately, the cool level design and fun power-up system are overwhelmed by a lot of negative aspects, thus dragging down the whole product. First off, while many of the levels are nice to look at, they aren't very fun to play. The game sticks to the traditional pantheon of blocks (ghost, multi-hit, standard and unbreakable), meaning that as soon as the ball leaves the paddle, this title becomes just as generic as all the others that came before it. Sure, it's pretty to look at, but the glossy sheen is just trying to cover up for a general lack of substance. In short, the game dares not venture into unfamiliar territory.
Another big hang-up is boring backdrops and repetitive music, both of which make playing the game a chore after a while. Even though there are 100 different levels, it feels like there are only 10 different wallpapers, so players can expect to see the same Roman fountain or Egyptian hieroglyphs over and over again. The music is just as bad, with bland "Arabian Nights"-style music for the history-themed levels and cheesy sci-fi tunes for the space stuff. In many ways, you can say that Peggle is a lot like Hyperballoid in that it utilizes the same mechanic over an extended period of time, but at least in Peggle, the backgrounds are integrated into the levels themselves. Thus, what PopCap does feels fun and exciting, while what Hyperballoid offers up seems lazy.
Another knock is lack of replayability, as this is easily the type of game you play through once and then forget forever. There are no other modes or stages outside of the campaign, and a lack of multiplayer or even online leaderboards makes it hard to justify hitting the same stages over and over again. Trophy hunters may be pleased, though, as you'll most likely snag all the title's digital awards as you play through all the levels. It's faint praise to be sure, but at least it's something.
What ultimately dooms Hyperballoid HD to relative obscurity is the fact that it doesn't do anything to stand apart from the crowd. The reason Shatter was so successful was because it implemented tons of new concepts into the genre, such as boss fights and a push/pull mechanic. Furthermore, it produced a thumping soundtrack and created a mesmerizing space in which to play. Hyperballoid offers none of that; it's content with being a no-frills experience that relies on old conventions for success. Unfortunately, that formula no longer works, and in a world with seemingly infinite choices, there's really nothing about this title that would make someone stand up and take notice. Sure, it gets the fundamentals right, but nobody pays to see Kobe Bryant pass or Albert Pujols field first base. Games, like sports, need some flash, and that's one thing sorely lacking in this title. Hyperballoid is ultimately a mechanically sound, yet supremely boring, game.
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