For anyone who doesn’t know (and that’s the majority of you, to be fair) I have a brand new PC with proper gaming capability and all. This means that, at long last, I can play some of those exciting post-2003 games everyone’s been talking excitedly to me about over the past near-decade whilst I ignore them and play Egghead 5 or something (which is very good, by the way).
Anyhoo, along with obvious games of the moment like Skyrim and stuff I’ve needed to catch-up on like Portal I’ve also been dipping my toes into modern indie gaming a little more with the help of the latest in the excellent Humble Indie Bundle series. Naturally, I thought it would be a nice idea to give a quick review of each game on it here in the order that I first played them.
So, we start with Shatter.
Generally called Breakout clones, this genre really owes its popularity to the arcade hit Arkanoid. The gameplay is deviously simple: the player controls a bat and has to bounce a ball (or, on some occasions, balls) around single-screen stages, hitting all the blocks until the screen is cleared and the player can proceed. Unlike most games in this genre, the playing area can be verticle, horizontal and even rounded on some stages so “up” and “down” the screen is relative. It also has a “story” mode separated into unlockable worlds with bosses to overcome. Shatter is very much a hi-tech, glowy, 21st century take on this genre and thus should have everything going for it. There is, however, a quite major problem.
On tackling the game’s story mode the first couple of levels introduce the player to a few game concepts. You might find this laughable given that this game is a Breakout clone but it does, in fact, have a few tricks of its own. We’re shown the “suck” button which, when held down, attracts things (including the ball) towards the bat. This might seem ridiculous were it not for the fact that destroyed bricks release dozens of “shards”, floaty, glowing blue things worth points. Pressing “suck” drags them towards your bat as well as the ball. Nice, a clever risk-reward mechanism.
Then, shortly after this, we’re introduced to “blow”. It has exactly the opposite effect. Meaning that along with the shards, your bat can blow the ball away. A little experimentation revealed that with the minimum of skill, this means that the bat will barely even need to touch the ball on many levels and the ball can be easily blown around the “upper” three quarters of the play area. This might have worked a little if the shards (which are also, of course, blown away) escaped out of the “top” of the play area, thus meaning points are lost. But, alas, they just gather in a big blue mass at the “top” until, when the ball is safely heading towards the “top” of the screen, they can safely be sucked into the bat just before the ball is blown back again or (occasionally) deflected.
I played the whole of the first world and part of the second and this mechanism seems to be there all the time meaning the game completely lacks the rush to deflect a speedy ball that makes Breakout games such a challenge and instead becomes a far simpler mixture of Breakout and Air Football. Add multiple balls that can be released at will and numerous power-ups (as well as that why-the-fuck-are-people-still-using-it “Continue” mechanism that makes sense in coin-op conversions but looks daft elsewhere) and this is a game with a lot of features but not a lot of challenge.
Shatter looks and sounds gorgeous, as so many indie titles do these days, but it’s a poor excuse for a Breakout-style game seemingly geared towards those modern “gamers” who care more about flashing lights and giving their fingers something to do than honing any kind of real skill. For those of us who actually like to be challenged and, occasionally, exasperated with a game that makes us work to proceed, to be honest you’re better-off digging-out Batty or Arkanoid instead.