Brick and cybernetic mortar.
The style of the Breakout game has certainly inspired a myriad of wall-smashing iterations over the last thirty years or so. What is essentially a reinvention of the primitive bat-and-ball mechanic quickly became a gaming pillar of the arcade generation during the late ‘70s. That quintessentially retro experience of chipping away at an overhead barricade of blocks is a trope many a gamer can identify with; given the persistence of the Arkanoid games on mobile devices in recent years, too. With that said, these versions opted to replicate the tried and tested formula of Atari, Inc’s seminal brick-breaker without bringing anything new to the archetypal paddle – a pitfall that Beatshapers largely avoided with this year’s BreakQuest: Extra Evolution for the PlayStation Vita.
Having originally smashed its way onto PC platforms in 2004, BreakQuest was initially developed by Felix Casablancas in collaboration with Nurium Games. It was a game that retained the age-old arcade legacy while implementing something novel to the common experience: fully responsive physics. From dynamic obstacles to interactive environments, Felix Casablancas’ creation acted as a new lease on life for the sub-genre, which by this stage, was teetering toward stagnation. Six years later, Beatshapers reproduced the game as a PlayStation Mini, before launching the definitive BreakQuest: Extra Evolution this August on the Sony handheld.
Hosting 100 levels – 101, if you count the secret mission – 17 unique shuttles to pilot, and an extensive arsenal of in-game power-ups, Beatshapers’ take on the popular title is by no means lacking on content. Across the century of interstellar stages, players will encounter everything from watermelons to entire planes of geometric shapes. It’s a notable variety of level design and one that doesn’t feel like a hollow quirk. The nuanced differences between stages feel substantial; from the interactive wind in the Forest level to the reticulating arm in the Energy Generator stage, each environment feels unique down to its microscopic core.
The titular Extra Evolution encompasses PSN connectivity, HD visuals, trophy support and a brand new business model for the Beatshapers’ property. Adopting the in vogue freemium service, BreakQuest: Extra Evolution comes bundled with 33 balls when downloaded, which act as your proverbial tally of lives – mind you, there is the option to buy additional ball packs digitally for a nominal fee. While many people are initially put off by a free-to-play design, during the course of the game, players will be able to collect spare parts which can be activated through the in-game shuttle base to grant an additional ball. These collectible ball parts are discovered in quarters and bestow players with a new life a la Zelda.
BreakQuest: Extra Evolution is an arcade title through and through, and one that feels right at home on Sony’s portable console. In mapping the means of interaction to the Vita’s analogue sticks, the studio has designed an accessible control scheme that is fluid from the get go – one which can also be controlled via the front-facing touchscreen. Guiding the ball through the littered environments is a challenging feat, and the satisfying destructibility of those decisive obstacles is a testimony to the game’s precise physics engine. Levels that start as a colourfully static playing field will explode into a dynamic tapestry of segmented bricks that respond to your orbital sphere – which weans its way through levels like a neon-lit comet.
Speaking of which, Beatshapers has also implemented a system that will grant users with the ability to manipulate the movement of the ball after it ricochets off your platform. This magnetic feat is referred to as the Gravitator and can be activated by hitting square or circle during gameplay. In particular, this feature becomes a blessing during the latter stages of a level when that last remaining block eludes your careering projectile.
Though traditional brick-breaking serves as the base foundation for the game, there are instances when Breakquest: Extra Evolution incorporates elements from other genres. For example, there are levels where the game rids itself of the arcade genre and its predisposed limitations by implementing small puzzle elements, which essentially prevents it from slipping towards arduous and repetitive brick smashing. The Quad Colors level is a case in point, wherein players are tasked with matching the corresponding colours of the bricks before they can be destroyed. It’s a nifty addition to the tested formula, and one which effectively injects some tactical play into the brick-smashing norm.
This particular mechanic is placed front and centre for the game’s boss fights, which you will find lurking on the perimeter of the world map. These encounters are a welcome change in pace, and while they play out like a lurid firework display, it feels as though they could have been shoehorned in a little earlier to maintain the level of engagement. After overcoming any given boss, players will unlock a new shuttle via a congratulatory gift. These ships in particular come tethered with a weapon; from energy walls to missiles, these items will be automatically equipped should you pilot one of the new shuttles.
Not only does this provide the game with added replay value – essentially aiding your quest for a better high score – it also underlines the array of items available in the game. Furthermore, the arsenal within BreakQuest: Extra Evolution feels directly inspired by the genre’s legacy, with standouts including the guided rockets and larger/smaller paddles tokens. In saying that, the game also adds some fresh power-ups, such as one which provides players with three miniature ally balls that whizz around the screen like the bludgers from Harry Potter.
As you delve further into Beatshapers’ title, the tech-savvy milieu of the game becomes fully apparent. It’s a style that is wholly compounded by the in-game soundtrack, which bears a resemblance to Sound Shapes in terms of its musical style. With its futuristic, yet arcade-y menu system and sophisticated weapons, BreakQuest: Extra Evolution balances the striking visuals with a smooth gameplay experience. The controls are intuitive and simple, making this the type of game that takes seconds to learn but hours to fully master.
The level selection grid acts as your navigation system through the abundance of stages. It’s a neat structure that not only highlights your progress, but allows you as the player to plan your own path through the world map. Upon finishing any given level, though, the load time from the completion screen to the main menu can be tedious at times, which breaks the otherwise fluid experience. One thing that is missing, however, is a level creator. Giving the endless potential brimming within the game’s framework, user generated content and the ability to share bespoke stages with your friends via PSN would’ve provided BreakQuest: Extra Evolution with a crucial sense of longevity.
Still, it’s hard to deny the entertainment value that this game provides and if you’re looking for an arcade title to pass the time, definitely check it out.
This review is based on the PlayStation Vita version of the game, which was provided to us.
With a staggering array of levels – each with their own commendable and challenging design – BreakQuest Extra Evolution is brimming with creative ideas. And though they may not have reinvented the primordial formula, Beatshapers' creation establishes an addictive environment where twitch gameplay reigns and reflexes are king.