Sometimes old games retain their charm. But more often, they simply feel dated, or worse, raise the question, “How did people find this entertaining?” The latter is the case with Block Breaker Deluxe, a sad attempt to revitalize the 1976 arcade classic Breakout (or if you prefer, the arcade classic Arkanoid from a decade later).
Of course, it’s a familiar setup: there are some blocks on the screen, with a Pong-style paddle at the bottom; the player moves the paddle horizontally to meet a ball and bounce it into the blocks. If the player misses the ball and it escapes via the bottom of the screen, they lose a turn. When all the blocks are gone, it’s time for the next level. Even the low-resolution graphics and terrible funk/disco music evoke times past.
But BBD is a WiiWare title, not a Virtual Console download, meaning that it’s a new product rather than a port from a classic system. Indeed, there are some innovations that, for a few minutes at least, can hold a cynical gamer’s attention in 2008.
First is the weird, tacky ’80s theme. After the very modern-looking, 3-D introduction of the Gameloft logo, one gets the sense he’s playing a fighting game from two decades ago. The story is that there’s a Block Breaker tournament with a high entry fee, and to raise the money, you have to overcome a series of challenges in nightclubs for profit. Each nightclub is a level, and success unlocks various items (including a statue of a naked woman) and additional clubs. To go with the old-school-fighting-game atmosphere, the club’s owner taunts the player before each set of blocks, and blurts out annoying exclamations during play.
Second, and more important, there are many types of blocks. Some take several hits to disappear, and others are metallic and nearly unbreakable, serving mainly as obstacles – the player must angle the ball around the metallic blocks to take out the more fragile ones and pass the level.
Some of the blocks contain power-ups though, and that’s where the problems start. To control the paddle, players use the pointer function of the Wii-mote, and it works pretty well for the most part (sometimes it can be hard to hold the paddle steady). To control the icon that collects the power-ups, players use the pointer function of the Wii-mote again. Horizontally, the paddle and pointer are always in the same place; players can move the pointer vertically as well.
As a result, if a power-up is on one side of the screen, the only way to get it is to move the paddle to that side, whether the ball is there or not. Especially if the ball is moving quickly, doing so will often cost a turn, which kills the power-up. Having the pointer as a second option for collecting power-ups is nice (on the old games, players could only catch them on the paddles), but it ends up being more of a distraction than an aid.
Also, the power-ups just aren’t all that innovative, with many coming straight from Arkanoid. One clones the ball twice, leaving three balls bouncing around until, inevitably, a few seconds later, two are lost down the bottom of the screen. Another equips the paddle with a laser that’s fired with the A button. A third makes the ball stick to the paddle each time the two make contact, which is more time-consuming than useful (as it was in Arkanoid). The most annoying makes the paddle invisible, while the most clever turns the ball into a yo-yo the player can call back. Still others are bizarre bonus items, like jewelry.
The level designs are interesting enough, with the different types of blocks used to good effect. Some setups even evolve – when the player hits certain switches, more blocks pop in. Boss battles add an extra element.
But when it comes right down to it, the player is still just chasing a ball with a paddle, and it’s a bit too difficult. Continues are unlimited, but one forfeits a lot of money in using one. Advancing through the game without re-playing old levels for cash, it’s not at all hard to bottom out at $0.
If there’s a particularly generous or easily entertained friend nearby, they can grab a second Wii-mote for a competition. The second paddle runs across the top of the screen, and each player’s goal is to take out as many blocks as possible without losing the ball, which can escape past the paddle as in single-player mode, but can also head to the other side of the screen, where the opponent can use it to collect points.
The pointer gets even more frustrating here because if one player unlocks a power-up, it’s all but guaranteed that the other player (who doesn’t need to worry about rebounding the ball) will get it. And one imagines that younger siblings will be tempted to wave the icon around in an attempt to annoy and distract an opponent.
Most obnoxious is that each multiplayer level has only two rounds, and the tie-breaker round is a few rows of normal blocks sandwiched between rows of metallic ones. It’s sufficiently maddening that each competitor hopes the other will win just to end the misery.
These underwhelming modernizations raise the question: Why make a whole new title? Even if the ’80s-style presentation succeeds in invoking some nostalgia, it’s reminiscent of a completely different kind of game, and regardless, it’s just not the same as having the original Breakout or Arkanoid on the screen. A straight port would have been more likely to capture older gamers, familiar with the classics; hopefully, that’s who Gameloft was going for, because the 21-year-old we enlisted to help test the multiplayer mode commented dejectedly, “This is what parents who don’t want their kids to make friends or have fun buy them.”
The bottom line is Block Breaker Deluxe is a boring Breakout/Arkanoid rip-off in a long line of boring Breakout/Arkanoid rip-offs. There is a place for such a thing: it’s nice to play this type of game for free online, or on a cell phone during a commute to work (apparently, BBD was quite successful as a mobile download before coming to Wii). But as a WiiWare title costing 800 points, BBD has to compete with every Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis port available on the Virtual Console – and just about any of those games would constitute a better use of $8. It’s not that tough choosing between a mind-numbing, 30-year-old timewaster and Super Metroid.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 1.3 Graphics
Low-resolution, outdated visuals are more of a distraction than a throwback to days of old. 3.7 Control
The Wii-mote works decently to control the paddle, though the pointer function can be frustrating. 1.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Awful music and obnoxious voiceovers are tempered only by the listenable sound effects. 2.1
Would be fun on a cell phone, or free online, but too monotonous to hold its own as a WiiWare title.
1.8 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.