“Argh, matey! The crazy ball power-up is like drinkin’ the Captain’s rum.”
Over the years, I’ve played my share of Breakout. As a kindergartner, I witnessed the proliferation of dedicated machines that brought a dozen variations of the popular arcade game to home televisions. During the Reagan years, I marveled at how Super Breakout for the Atari 2600 added a captivating multi-ball facet to gameplay, even if my maturing hand-eye coordination wasn’t up to the task. Later school age years brought the third wave of the brick-busting diversion, as Arkanoid appeared, adding power-ups to the formula. During the late 80’s I even programmed my own janky version of the game on my beloved Commodore 64. Breakout is in my DNA.
For the uninitiated player, the concept of the game is quite simple. The gamer controls a device that moves along the horizontal axis on the bottom of the screen. You move either left or right to reflect a bouncing ball toward the top of the playfield to eliminate all the on-screen obstacles. Once all the impediments are removed you move to the next round. However, if you allow the ball to pass under your ‘paddle’ you lose a precious life. Until now, Breakout’s elegance existed solely in its simplicity.
I bet you didn’t know Stonehenge was a monument to a gorilla-shark war.
With Magic Ball, a recent addition of the Playstation Store, elegance is found in this title’s graphical opulence. Although the gameplay itself is based on a three decade old design mechanic, the title’s high definition presentation adds new life to the familiar formula. CREAT games has crafted a Breakout variation that has eliminated the genre’s obstacle blocks, and replaced them with a delightful pirate and castle motif cribbed from the beloved Lego sets on our youth.
Magic Ball contains 24 power-ups (with a handful of power-downs) to add variation to gameplay. Picking up one of the falling cannons, lasers or machine gun icons, transforms the player’s paddle into an offensive tool. When these powers are activated, gamers can delightfully whittle away objects that litter the screen. Other icons make the paddle either grow or shrink in size, slow or speed the ball, or turn the ball into a spiked sphere of destruction. Power-ups are wisely limited in duration- a handy graphic in the top right corner shows how long each assistance will last. Typically, in Breakout-styled games, nailing the last obstacle can be frustrating. Magic Ball offers an icon when the screen in nearly cleared, neatly circumventing this nuisance.
Graphically, the title is an impressive showpiece for PS3 owners. Running in 1080P at a steady framerate, the game shows a meticulous amount of detail in its playfield. Three dimensional swaying skeletons, encircling sharks, and glimmering treasure chests are all part of Magic Ball’s charm. However, after 48 levels of gentle variation, some players may be ready for a radically different set of art assets. We expect the designers to create sequels or add-ons set in futuristic or Jurassic time periods.
No, this isn’t a Boom Blox HD Remix screenshot.
The title boasts both local and online multiplayer, and has cooperative and competitive game variations. Unfortunately, we were not able to test the latency of online play, as three different play sessions told us that no other players were available. Either a match matching problem exists or the title hasn’t sold enough copies to develop a strong constituency. Either way, we expect the problem to be remedied soon.
Overall, Magic Ball doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel- this is Breakout after all. However, this wheel is adorned with so much graphical polish it is unavoidably alluring. Fortunately, underneath all that style is a tried-and-true game mechanic; do us a favor and introduce Breakout to the younger generation. You never know, they may still be playing a variation of the game in another thirty years.
Magic Ball is currently available in the Playstation Store for $9.99