Apple Computer clearly has a thing for Atari’s 1976 arcade game Breakout. Perhaps it’s the fact that Apple’s co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked on the original title, which was remade for the iPod as Brick, or maybe it’s the fact that the game is so simple that any device with a rotary controller can play it. Whatever the reason, Apple’s latest iPod game Vortex ($5) is yet another Breakout clone, this time with two initial twists: now you’re firing the brick-busting ball down a tube-shaped well, and both your paddle (“bat”) and the bricks are rotating around the walls of the well. In essence, Vortex is what you’d get if you mixed Breakout with Atari’s classic 3-D title Tempest, then added a few extra pieces to spice everything up.
Borrowing ideas from Taito’s earlier Breakout clone Arkanoid, Apple has added additional, optional bonus items that can be found by breaking open certain bricks, including icons that make the bat bigger, smaller, or three at once, adhesive rather than instantly repellant, slower, faster, and in a very Arkanoid twist, gun-laden. There are also bricks that take multiple hits, ones that explode, and some that can’t be broken at all, and the ball can be powered up into multiple balls or a single, more powerful ball. Though the iPod’s Click Wheel is ill-suited to controlling many types of games, its handling of Vortex’s various control features is without significant flaws; given the “faster” and “slower” items, the user adjustment we’d prefer for the Wheel’s bat moving speed might well be considered unnecessary.
Similarly, to the company’s credit, this is one of the prettiest iterations of Breakout to date. All of the three-dimensional elements, from your paddle to the bricks and well, are convincingly rendered as curved surface 3-D objects, and an animated lighting effect creates glare on the well surfaces. Three-dimensional zooming and rotation effects are used often enough to remind you of the iPod’s visual horsepower, too. If there are any flaws in the graphics, they’re small – the colors and textures are on the boring side, with less vibrance than we’ve seen in other iPod titles, and the explosion animations could use a bit of work, too. An energetic but less than mindblowing score accompanies the on-screen action; like all of the iPod titles released so far, it could really benefit from a screen to let the user pick from more song options at the start.
Overall, Vortex is one of the most engaging iPod games we’ve seen – more than a bit familiar if you’ve been following Breakout and similar games for years, but a “best of” given the numerous bonus items, different types of bricks, and newly 3-D audiovisual treatment. We’re hoping for an even better-dressed update or sequel.
Company and Price
Company: Apple Computer
Compatible: iPod 5G