Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I've come to realize that the Playstation Network is home to some truly unique games, such as Flower, the PixelJunk games, and Critter Crunch.  This is a really good thing, and I hope indies games such as these continue to flourish.  Released at the end of last summer, Shatter is another valuable addition to the PSN game library.

Shatter proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks, by putting a surprisingly cool twist on a game that's been around for over two decades: Arkanoid.  Some people also know it as Breakout, others know it as BrickBreaker, but everybody's played it.  This is one of the oldest games in existence, and it's been copied, cloned and ported to hell and back on anything and everything with a screen and an electric current.

So why should people be excited about Shatter?  Well, if you never liked Arkanoid, there may not be enough here to convince you that Shatter is any more worth your time.  But if you like or are even just neutral on the matter, this game is different enough to merit a purchase, even if you've already played every other Breakout/Arkanoid game out there.

Shatter puts an interesting spin on the tried and true brick breaking formula by allowing the player to manipulate the ball's path by altering gravity.  You can either push it away from you, or suck it towards you.  This affects not only the ball, but every other object in the box.  Bricks can be detached from their static position, and points can either be pushed away or gathered en masse.  The game is built largely around this gameplay feature, with some blocks having different gravitational properties (like those that have their own, weaker push and pull abilities).  There are only a couple power-ups, so the player is mostly on their own.  As you gather points, you fill up a power bar that, when full, allows you to unleash a shard storm, where the bat fires dozens of small energy shards that break bricks.  It's a good last resort move when you're having trouble hitting certain bricks.  You can also use your power bar to shield yourself from enemy attacks and stray bricks.

Shatter is composed primarily of its story mode, which in turn is composed of about nine worlds, which each world featuring several stages and a boss.  Each boss is challenging and innovative, such as Bad Bat, who is a larger, more powerful version of your own bat and will hit back your own balls in addition to firing its own, and OverReactor, whose weak spot needs to be revealed by forcefully rotating its armor.

Though fun and engaging while it lasts, this isn't an especially long game.  Beyond the main story mode, there's a Boss Rush mode that lets you exclusively take on each boss in consecutive order, and a Bonus mode that throws three balls into play and challenges you to keep each one going for as long as you can (with just your batting skills--no gravity abilities or bricks).  And of course there are also leaderboards.  If you're an Arkanoid fan, to me that seems like a pretty acceptable amount of content, especially since each mode is highly replayable (particularly Bonus mode).  For $8, you could certainly do worse in the replay value department.

Shatter's music is composed pretty much entirely of eclectic techno, which isn't such a bad thing coming from an arcade game.  I didn't like or dislike the BGMs (I do really dig the Bonus mode track though), to me it just wasn't too outstanding.  The game looks great though, with each stage bringing forth a diverse palette of bright colors, and the HD resolution showing each detail with high fidelity.

Overall, Shatter is an excellent effort, and a celebration of an age-old game.  There's likely not enough here to convince people who never liked the game before to jump on the bandwagon now, but fans and veteran gamers alike ought to be delighted by the homage to the retro era this game presents.  And it's only eight bucks!  8/10.

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