Shatter Review: Breaking Down Walls
What happens when someone comes along and turns a genre you have loved your entire life upside down in a way you never thought possible? “Braid” did it with platformers, “Bioshock” and “Call of Duty 4” with FPSs, and numerous other games over the past few years have come along and completely upended their respective genres. Now, there’s one more title to add to that list; “Shatter.” It’s a PlayStation Network game developed by Sidhe Interactive, and it has completely changed my view on the brick-breaking “genre” (I guess it’s more of a subcategory of arcade games, but I don’t want to split hairs). In this case, change is good … so very good.
“Arkanoid” is one of the greatest games ever made. It’s simple to understand, easy for anyone to pick-up and play, and can be infuriatingly frustrating. It built took the “Breakout” formula from the late 70s, added on to it, and emerged a better game. It has stood to the test of time, and remains a great example of the pinnacle of 80s arcade and home gaming. However, after it sequel, “Revenge of Doh,” was released in 1988, it was like Taito completely gave up on the franchise; and why shouldn’t they? It’s not like there was a lot more you could do with what was basically, one-player “Pong.” So, for the last 20 or so years, this classic has been over-looked, with the only really notable release being last year’s “Arkanoid DS,” but even that didn’t really offer any level of innovation to the game. It was just another version of the game on a different platform. However, the last few years have seen a completely reinvention of another one of Taito’s truly amazing classics, “Space Invaders.” The recent, multiplatform releases of “Space Invaders Extreme” completely revitalized the franchise, and gave it a new life for a new generation of gamers. “Arkanoid” on the other hand, got “Arkanoid Live”; while it was a good game, and offered some new options to the franchise, calling it “innovative” would be generous. “Shatter” is innovative. “Shatter” is what “Arkanoid” could have been if someone at Taito cared about it as much as they did “Space Invaders.” “Shatter” the next step in brick breaking.
The game begins much like other brick breaking games; you need to clear a certain number of blocks from one side of the screen using only a ball and a paddle. Once the bricks are broken they leave behind little fragments for the player to collect for power-ups. And that’s where most games in this genre stop. “Shatter” builds on that gameplay by giving the player control of sucking and blowing air, which, in turn, alters the direction of the ball mid-flight. In terms of other genres, it might not be a noteworthy mechanic, but when it comes to brick breaking, it’s damn near earth-shattering. The one little mechanic alters the entire game experience by adding another level of strategy to the game. Do you want to blow the ball towards that last remaining block, pushing all your power-up fragments away, or do you want to suck the air towards you, potentially pulling the block towards the paddle which, if it hits, it stuns. It’s just this one small addition to the gameplay that makes “Shatter” so different, and so great.
There’s ten different worlds with a variety of different boards to play; you wont just be shooting at the top of the screen in “Shatter.” Some levels are tradition, where the paddle sits on the bottom of the screen, but others place it on the left, targeting bricks on the right, similar to a shmup. “Shatter,” again, manages to take the original, traditional way of playing, inside of a box, and tweaks that by making the board circular, with the lower third being the navigational area. So, not only will fans of the genre be adjusting to increased ball control, but they’ll also need to rethink the way that they control the paddle.
All gushing aside, there are a few things that “Shatter” could do a little bit better, and at the top of that list is the difficulty: it’s really easy, well, except for the bosses. Most of the levels just require you to put in the time to finish beating them, but each world culminates in a significantly more challenging boss battle. So, if you’re looking for a new challenge, “Shatter” might not be the place to find it, but it will help you pass the time.
Also, the music and graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. The graphics are clean and look good, but they may come off as unoriginal. I realize that making squares look new and exciting is a tall order, but it just seems like every new puzzle game these days looks almost the same. Also, the music could have used a little more time; the majority of the game is just really basic techno beats looped over and over. I’m not asking for John Williams in a brick breaker game, just a little something that doesn’t want to make me blast my own beats in the background, instead of listen to the game’s soundtrack. Fortunately, the gameplay makes up for some of the more frustrating parts of the design.
Honestly, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from “Shatter,” since I am such a fan of the genre that it turns upside down, but, it turns out that it opened my eyes, and gave me hope. Hope that someday, other classic arcade genres will have someone come along and breathe fresh air into them the way that Sidhe did here. The PSN has developed a bit of a reputation for fostering unique and creative titles, and it’s undeniable that this game is both of those things and more. “Shatter” is absolutely worth checking out, whether you grew up with “Arkanoid” or just play “Brickbreaker” on your BlackBerry.
“Shatter” was developed and published by Sidhe Interactive for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network and was released on July 23rd, 2009.