Shattered Expectations

Arkanoid is one my all-time favorite games. When Taito introduced its version of a brick breaker game in 1986, it put a totally new spin that genre. It added new elements like power-ups and boss battles to what was a simple yet fun game. Shatter, a Playstation Network game and IGF 2010 finalist from the New Zealand dev team Sidhe, comes into the game space trying to both hold on to its genre’s roots while also turning it on its head. The usual suspects are there:  the “paddle” or in this case a ship, and the “blocks”. The spin that Sidhe puts on this is with a new gameplay mechanic. You now have the ability to pull and push the ball towards the blocks and back towards you. Since the playfield has physics the ball will travel not only in straight lines but also in arcs. This can be used to both your advantage and disadvantage but keeps the game moving at a blistering pace.

The gamefield will change perspective depending on what level you are on. Usually brick breaker games have the puck on the horizontal axis. Shatter plays on both, and while it takes a bit of getting used to, playing on the vertical definitely adds a nice twist. The wild card and most important tool at your disposal comes to you by the way of “shards”, small fragments that are released once you break a block. You can collect these by using the pull power to bring them to you; the trick is getting enough of the shards to fill up your “Shard Storm” meter while keeping the ball in play. If you do fill up your meter you can let go a barrage of bullets that will quickly empty a stage and rack up a bunch of points.

The power-ups come in extremely handy: they can make the ball even more controllable, add more shards to the playing field or give you a 1up. The pick-up-and-play feel makes the game challenging but not overwhelming. The pace seems just right and not super frantic. I will say with all those different dynamics going on I was most impressed with Shatter’s visual style and music. You can see that Sidhe took the time to add those small atmospheric touches that really makes this game stand out. This isn’t your run of the mill brick breaker, the geometric shapes that cover the field are all these great hues of yellows, greens and purples. They pop off the screen and make it a delight to look at and the music pulsates in these ambient techno rhythms. Bass hits seem to match the timing of ball strikes off your ship and push the action along.

Shatter has three modes to choose from: “Story Mode” which lets you go through the progress of the game’s 10 worlds with a boss battle at the end of each; “Boss Battle” which is a race to see how quickly you can beat each boss, and “Bonus Mode” which is a score- based challenge mode. Although Story Mode is the default I gravitated towards the Bonus mode because the quick pace and my OCD need to beat the scores of all my friends kept me wanting more.

All in all Shatter is a really good showcase of what can be done in the digital retail space. A full, robust, and fun game for under $10 is exactly what is needed to show that full game downloads are both reasonable and viable.

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