|System: PS3 (PSN), PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Sidhe||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Sidhe||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 15, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by J. Matthew Zoss
Chances are that you've played a "Breakout clone" game before. There are dozens of them out there, from well-known games like Arkanoid to cell phone games like Brickbreaker. Every one of these games has the same basic gameplay: you bounce a ball with a paddle to break a series of bricks at the top of the screen. It's a simple formula that usually works, but with so many games in the sub-genre you may wonder if there's a need for any more. Developer Sidhe set out to prove that there was still room in the formula for innovation, and did it masterfully with its PC (and PSN) game Shatter.
Shatter may be a Breakout clone, but just because it borrows from established games doesn't mean that it should be dismissed. Without question, Shatter is an excellent little game - deep enough to keep veteran gamers involved and simple enough for new players to enjoy. That success is based on the fact that Sidhe paired classic arcade gameplay with some clever new ideas. As you can imagine, the heart of Shatter's gameplay is as simple as any block-breaker's: you use a sci-fi inspired paddle to reflect a ball and break bricks. Clear all the bricks and you've completed the stage. Like Arkanoid and several other similar titles, there is a series of power-ups that grant you extra powers, and you've always got a clever trick at your disposal: the ability to control the arc of the ball itself.
By clicking the left and right mouse buttons, you can affect the trajectory of the ball by sucking it towards you or blowing it away. You may wonder why you'd ever want to increase gravity in a game where you're trying to keep a ball from falling past you, but you'll quickly learn how useful the ability really is. Sucking the ball towards you doesn't send it plummeting straight down - the spatial relationship between the ball and your paddle affects how the ball moves. If you're on the left side of the screen and the ball is on the right, activating the suction effect will make the ball curve to the left. After a few levels of practice, you'll be able to shoot the ball up alongside a mass of bricks and cause it to arc over the top, destroying bricks from the top down. In a game style known for a degree of randomness, Shatter gives you more control than ever before.
Of course, suction is only one half of your arsenal. Blowing the ball away is equally useful. Not only can you prevent many untimely deaths by pushing the ball away from you, you can also fine-tune your shots with the ability. If your ball is bouncing too low to hit the brick you need to break, hit the blow button to adjust its trajectory upwards and take out your target. Blowing also is a defensive move - several brick types will fall towards you when knocked loose from their neighbors. Falling bricks that hit the paddle won't cost you a life, but they will knock the paddle out of the game for a moment, which can cause you to miss a ball. Blowing will push these rough blocks back up, if only long enough to get out of their way.
Sucking and blowing are also essential parts of collecting power-ups. Broken bricks will release bonus items that make the ball unstoppable, more maneuverable, and so forth. Suction will send these pickups right towards you. Shattered blocks also release shards, tiny fragments that fill a power meter at the top of the screen. When filled, your paddle releases a storm of bullet-like projectiles that clear bricks and damage your enemies during boss fights. Oh yes, there are boss fights. Shatter features a wordless story mode that basically pits your benevolent paddle against invading bricks, and at the end of each world you'll face off against a boss character. These fights are basic - you need to hit each boss in the weak point a certain number of times - but that doesn't mean that they're not creative and entertaining. One boss is an octopus with brick tentacles that need to be cleared in order to nail it in the head with the ball. Another is a giant evil clock. Some require you to expose their weak points with your sucking and blowing abilities. None are particularly hard, but all of them are a blast and show off just how much mileage Sidhe was able to get out of a simple game formula.