The humble block breaker has been stuck in a rut ever since Arkanoid introduced weapons and allowed you to shoot down bricks with Moonraker-esque submachine guns. BreakQuest: Extra Evolution, an enhanced PlayStation Vita port of last year’s well-received PlayStation Mini, aims to smash that sorry spate of stagnation by introducing an array of physics-based arenas – all while layering a freemium business model on top.
The game itself is like a chocolate box filled with as many flavours as you can imagine, and while it’s true that not every treat tastes as luxurious as the last, you’ll come away feeling satisfied on account of the sheer variety all the same. Each of the title’s 100 stages is totally unique, shunning the traditional grid-based design in favour of rose gardens, geometric shapes, and water melons. For every level that you complete, you’ll unlock a couple more – and the imaginative layouts will keep you hooked until you’ve seen them all.
Furthermore, the abstract arenas lend themselves well to the delicious display on the Vita. The game hardly pushes the portable’s processor to its limits, but it still puts every pixel to the test as it cycles between saturated colours like the disco lights at an upmarket dance hall. The audio is exceptional, too, with the SandS band creating an eclectic collection of giddy electronic hits. While it’s the perfect title to play while podcasting or watching television, you will feel guilty if you’re not bobbing your head to the beat.
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the gameplay, but it’s good at what it does. In addition to straightforward block smashing, you’ll find yourself flipping switches, creating rows of similarly coloured boxes, and batting aside pesky wasps that can’t help but get in the way. Power-ups range from homing missiles to mines, as well as impediments that change the shape of your paddle and ball. Playing with a triangular orb is not easy, believe us.
Targeting errant blocks can feel maddening at times, but the game does at least attempt to alleviate the frustration. If you haven’t smashed a block for 30 seconds, for example, you’ll be augmented with a GPS rocket that can be steered after deployment. The level design doesn’t always make this a viable option, but it’s better than nothing at all. The so-called Gravitor is not as effective as it should be either; the magnetic field allows you to pull the ball back to your paddle Shatter style, but can be a bit fiddly.
These niggles are perhaps most pronounced during boss fights, where obstacles litter the screen. While we appreciate the effort to augment some set-pieces into a traditionally simplistic genre, it’s infuriating when you’re trying to hit the last microscopic square on a rampaging dragon made out of LEGO bricks. At least you can unlock superior shuttles as you progress, but these can’t be equipped during the aforementioned battles.
Still, it’s hard to feel too irritated when the game is free to download. You get 33 balls with the core client, and can then supplement the gratuity with premium packs. There are 100 (£1.59), 200 (£2.39), 500 (£3.19), and infinite (£5.49) options on offer, with the latter essentially unlocking the full game. You probably won’t need to splash out on anything bigger than the smallest pack, though, because despite being challenging, the title is not impenetrable.
You unlock free balls as you progress anyway, which appear as fragments in the world. These remains can be cobbled together in order to increase your retry count, giving you additional opportunities to progress through the game. As long as you’re using your rechargeable shield, though – which allows you to defend against errant bounces even when your craft has gone AWOL – you should cope just fine. Even then, you can nab even more sphere packs from friends and strangers via Near.
The default controls work nicely, but there is a touch screen option if you crave something a little more tactile. Here you tap the sides of the display in order to move left and right, and caress the rear panel with two fingers to fire your weapons and launch the ball. It works adequately, but we’d be surprised if anyone actually preferred the touch option to the traditional button-based scheme.
Like a posh restaurant’s reimagining of a classic dish, BreakQuest: Extra Evolution serves up an inventive experience fashioned from familiar ingredients. It’s still a block breaker beneath the batter, but it tastes like nothing else amid psychedelic parallelograms and rainbows in outer-space. The freemium model certainly doesn’t detract from the experience – in fact, it makes it quite an inexpensive option if your ball batting skills outpace an Olympic ping-pong player. For all of its achievements, though, the release doesn’t quite eschew the one irritation that has plagued the genre since its very inception: hitting that last darn block.