It’s easy to understand the basic concept behind Gameloft S.A.’s Block Breaker Deluxe ($5): Breakout, the classic use-a-paddle-and-ball-to-break-blocks arcade game, needs an incentive system. This was missing from Brick, the clone that used to come pre-installed on all iPods, and Vortex, Apple’s subsequent 3-D version for video-ready iPods, and so your interest in making it through levels was purely score- and backdrop-motivated. What if there was something more?
So Gameloft added that something in the form of a light role playing game: transition screens tell you that you’re a cool young dude out to win a yacht from a gambling playboy, and the way to get it is to play this Block Breaker game. Just like Vortex and earlier, non-iPod clones of Breakout such as Arkanoid, the standard “break blocks” game is enhanced considerably through multiballs, stronger balls, paddle power-ups such as lasers and width-expanders, and power-downs such as paddle shrinkers and invisible paddles.
The twist is that money and gifts also drop down from broken blocks, boosting your ability to win the yacht and ply the game’s characters with luxury items that will make them tell you level-unlocking passwords. In fact, the game lets so many items appear on screen at once that you’re sometimes challenged just to scoop them all up—it’s not uncommon to have more multiball, shield, or paddle bonuses fall at once than the game can actually process, so collecting more than one sometimes doesn’t help.
We’ll give Block Breaker Deluxe’s incentive system some credit for revitalizing a classic game. In truth, the combination of unlockables—beat 10 stages and a boss to unlock a new level/backdrop, partially beat the levels to reach the big boss, and completely beat the levels to unlock a special level—works well, and the game’s option to use cash to buy items you can’t find in the levels is a smart move. There are also surprises along the way, such as levels where an on-screen slot machine influences the bonuses you earn, and a shop that gets populated with new items from a girl on a jetski. The cartoony art looks dated and second-rate, especially as a contrast with some of the digitized graphics found in Gameloft’s earlier Lost, but it’s not bad, and the music is pretty good.
Our favorite parts of Block Breaker Deluxe were the boss encounters: sudden death stages that put you up against a computer-controlled enemy that needs to be beaten without losing a life. Early bosses are progressively more dangerous floating objects at the top of the screen, but the game changes the theme up by stage 3, and keeps the levels interesting, if not visually mindblowing. An entire game could be crafted from these boss stages, and frankly, the world of Breakout clones might be better off if boss battles were more common.
Taking away from Block Breaker’s appeal are a couple of glitches. Yes, the music is good when it’s working, but it often randomly crashes, leaving you with only sound effects. And the controls, so often an issue with iPod games, are somewhat unpredictable rather than smooth when you’re trying to guarantee that your paddle precisely makes it from edge to edge of the screen. There are times—too many, unfortunately—when the paddle doesn’t go where you need it to go, missing a key rebound and wrecking your chances at scoring a bonus or completing a level. The game is forgiving, as it’s not so fast-paced as to turn off average gamers, but the controls really could have been better.
Ultimately, the iPod didn’t really need yet another version of Breakout, but Block Breaker Deluxe does a good enough job to rate our general recommendation. While we wouldn’t pick it over Apple’s own Vortex on graphics, pacing or variety of backdrops, Gameloft’s boss encounters and incentive systems make it an engaging enough title to actually play all the way through—something that Vortex may or may not do, depending on how much you’re interested in seeing new backgrounds or racking up points. Control and sound glitches are the major reasons Block Breaker Deluxe didn’t rate a stronger general recommendation, and bland art the reason it didn’t receive our high recommendation after that.
Company and Price
Company: Gameloft S.A.
Title: Block Breaker Deluxe
Compatible: iPod 5G, iPod nano (video), iPod classic