Genre: Brick Breaking
Release Date: 07/23/09
One of my interests as a video gamer is gaming genealogy. I love to trace the roots of a game back to find out what influenced the developers during the development process. In the case of Shatter, these influences are more obvious than some other games, but does that make it a bad game or an awesome one? That is what I am here to find out.
In the swirling chaos that was the birth of video gaming, Pong, beloved ancestor, gave birth to Breakout. Breakout, that most addictive of Atari 2600 games, was the father of Arkanoid. Then the line sort of lies there. There have been Arkanoid games since the NES era, notably a pretty good SNES iteration and a DS game that has not left my DS for too long since I picked it up, but nothing has really moved the genre of brick breaking forward. To that end, does brick breaking even need to evolve?
The answer, of course, is yes. Brick breaking games have always had a special place in my heart, a sort of primitive thrill like an original Galaga machine in a rundown pizza place. Thing is, brick breaking games are seldom good for more than micro-bursts of gaming, little pockets of fun spread throughout a dreary day. An extended period of playing Arkanoid can be pretty bleak, to be honest. The beauty of Shatter is that it knows that it must evolve, so it took a big heap of some other great games and swirled them into the mix. There are chunks of Tempest, pieces of Ikaruga, and a dash of Geometry Wars, and you know what? It tastes pretty damn good.
Shatter’s basic gameplay goes something like this: you are a space paddle called a Bat, there is a ball, and there are blocks. The rest is pretty self explanatory. Only it’s not that simple, really. The shoulder buttons allow you to blow or suck with your bat. Blowing and sucking do not just affect the ball, but the whole game board, sending the fragments you collect from broken blocks, loose blocks, and swaying blocks to and fro at your whim. The balance between blowing away the ball to shatter more blocks and sucking in the ball, all the loose blocks, and the fragments you need to fill your power meter is the core of the gameplay. This balance is altered by the two uses for the power meter. On one hand, the meter can, once filled, be unleashed via the Triangle button to spout forth a mighty wave of fragments, letting you wipe out the niggling little blocks you cannot get to, or to blow past a stage in record time. The other use is powering your shield. By pressing Square, the Bat becomes invulnerable, but the meter goes away quickly. Like I said, it is all about balance.
Then things go wonky.
I should elaborate and note that I mean wonky in a good way. The biggest kink of Shatter is the change in orientation. Yes, there are stages that are traditionally vertical, like its forefathers. The thing is, there are also horizontal stages, and then there are the Tempest-esque round stages, as in a circle of brick breaking goodness. Of all the stage types, the round were the most difficult to pick up, but they do grow on you, or at least, they did on me. The strange physics and the odd bounces the ball takes make the round stages an especially dangerous place to be and add a special challenge to an already challenging game.
Also coming from left field is the ability to launch multiple balls, at the cost of one’s lives. The benefits of multiball are more destruction and higher multipliers, at the cost of increased danger and difficulty, which is a nice type of stress boost to include, I think. There are also power-ups, which increase the power of your ball or to make it a maneuverball or even an unstopaball. Amongst the blocks are dynamite blocks, strange triangular missile blocks, and even blocks with their own gravity. These touches of complication could make a good game great, if executed well, and this game does it very well.
There is something I deeply enjoy about the graphics for this game. The look is clean and sharp, very reminiscent of the sort of hard science fiction I enjoy. The backgrounds are bright and interesting without adding any confusion to the frantic onscreen action, a blessing since the action gets quite intense at times. The balls are visible and easy to differentiate from the debris, something that has to be spot on in a game of this type. Best of all are the bosses, which are something I will not spoil for a potential player, except to say that they are all great fun and nicely varied, and they were a pleasure to battle, one and all.
Above and beyond all other aspects of this gem of a game, there is something so special I had to save it for last: the music. Created by New Zealand’s own Module, the soundtrack to Shatter is one of my favorites of all time. Even without the game attached, I think this would be one of my favorite albums of the year. While my electronic music tastes are relatively shallow, not going much deeper than Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, I find Module’s work on this game to be exquisite. The pulsing, gnarly soundtrack, with 90 minutes of original music, makes the deep space theme work better than any BGM could have. Even as I type this, I have my browser open to the official website, so I can listen to “Granule Extractor” and the best piece of game music of this generation, “Boss Battle”. The boss theme is so good that I fight bosses over and over again to listen to it. There is something damn near magical in the score for this game, something that draws me in time and time again. Best of all, if you love it as I do, there is an easy way to buy it: just go to Band Camp and buy it for $9.99!
Game Modes: VERY GOOD
Final Score: CLASSIC GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
In my time reviewing games, I have never had such a positive reaction to a game. Simply put, Shatter would be a good game at $30 dollars. For $10, you get a game that might just be a classic, a reinvention of my favorite game genre, and a game that is a blast to play. For less than many, many lesser games, you can pick up Shatter, its amazing soundtrack, and a pizza. There might not be a better deal in video gaming. If you own a PS3, you need to buy Shatter.