NINTENDO DS REVIEW: BREAK 'EM ALL

Break 'Em All attempts to break out of the Break Out mold, but does it succeed? by Cole Smith

June 26, 2006 - Break ‘Em All follows the well-trodden path blazed by BreakOut and even the original video game, Pong. This is a block busting, ball deflecting game that is so similar to Arkanoid that I’m sure a lawsuit was considered. As a basic puzzle-style arcade game it’s not terrible but it seriously lacks depth, especially with the unpredictable ball physics. Break ‘Em All might make a nice diversion but it’s clearly in the novelty category and should be rented first, even at its current budget price.

A simpler gameplay concept would be difficult to fabricate. Hit the bouncing ball with your paddle and have it destroy the blocks that it comes in contact with. It’s like a solo version of Pong. There is a multi-player mode, but it’s a free-for-all survival mode that is so chaotic it’s not even funny. Up to eight players can take part in it – and they all share the same screen. The tiny screen makes this experience impossible to enjoy. It’s further hampered by the ball physics which results in a random style of gameplay where the winner may as well be determined by a roll of the dice. It’s too bad because this multi-player mode has potential. Not only are you managing to stay alive by protecting your paddle’s weak spot but you have the ability to eliminate the other players by hitting their weak spots. There is also a four-player version of the Quest mode which is a lot less frenetic in which the players compete for the highest score. It’s kind of a letdown after you witness the wasted potential of the survival mode.

The control system is unique for a game like this and actually works very well, despite the irregular ball physics that makes some aspects of this game a game of chance rather than a game of skill. The paddle is controlled by placing the stylus on it and moving it back and forth horizontally across the bottom of the screen. This gives you direct control over the paddle rather than pressing a couple of buttons or twisting an oversized knob. You feel more connected to it.

Power-ups are the key to diversity in this game. If it weren’t for them, things would get boring very quickly. The power-ups allow the gameplay to become more challenging in a variety of ways. They can be used strategically to help you with the ever-changing levels and at the same time they also allow for the levels to become more diverse and challenging.

At the outset of the game you can choose the power-ups that you want to being with. They are presented in pairs, and you are allowed to choose only one of them from each pair. Some will make the paddle bigger, some will slow the ball down and others will cause the ball to become more destructive. To access the power-ups you just tap the icon on the screen with the stylus.

By choosing fewer, or no power-ups at all at the beginning of the game, you will be in a position to score more points and ultimately bigger, and better power-ups that will certainly come in handy for the upcoming challenges. The levels themselves become more interesting as you encounter various blocks that require different techniques to destroy them. Some blocks have to be hit five times, others can only be destroyed by hitting them on the side. There are blocks that are not solid in which the ball can pass through as though it were water, and then there are blocks that can’t be destroyed at all no matter what you hit them with. Arkanoid fans will enjoy the variety of these challenges. The difficulty level continually increases but after a couple of hours of play you have seen virtually all of the features. Although the game purports to have more than a couple of million randomly-generated level variations, only the die-hard Arkanoid fans will find favor which each slightly altered level. The changes are just not drastic enough to impress the casual gamer.

To add more diversity and a slightly different challenge there are boss battles at the end of each level. These can be unusually tough but not in a good way. The bosses will throw all kinds of things at you such as obstacles to protect their target which you only have to hit once. Obviously hitting this target is no easy task. It takes a great deal of precision not to mention forethought in figuring out how to bank the ball off of the various obstacles. The challenge in itself is not the problem, the problem is with the ball physics. While launching the ball off of your paddle on a hard angle is possible, it’s virtually impossible to do it with any consistency. As many times as I’ve had the ball line up at the end of my paddle and quickly jerked it away, I was often unable to get it to go in the intended direction. Sometimes it ended up going in the opposite direction. I don’t know what’s up with that but as I mentioned earlier, skill obviously doesn’t play a huge role in this game. When you’re facing off against a boss at the end of a level, and faced with the prospect of starting over, things can get unnecessarily tense.

Every aspect of the game, from the graphics to the sound and the gameplay is a textbook example of what you would expect from a generic budget title. There is little that is unique about this game with the exception of some interesting level designs. The music is quirky and has a bit of a fun, arcade vibe to it but it wears thin after a while due to repetition. The graphics, in some levels, are even more simplistic looking than the original arcade version of Arkanoid. The flat, 2D presentation looks more like an amateur Flash creation than something that Nintendo would be proud to have inserted into their coveted DS. The sound effects are also basic with weak sounding bleeps and pops.

Break ‘Em All is not big on presentation, and that could easily be overlooked if the ball physics wasn’t broken. I would seriously advise that you rent this game first because the more difficult it gets, the more control you will have to exert over the ball and that just isn’t going to happen. You’re guaranteed to have at least an hour or two of fun out of this title but after that you’re on your own.

Features:

  • Play in Three Different Exciting Modes
  • Players will break'em all in a variety of gameplay modes as Tokoton mode allows players to maneuver through more than 3 million variations of randomly generated levels; Survival mode lets 2-8 players fight for dominance; Quest mode lets the single player out-duel 12 challenging end-level bosses or allows 2-4 players to race to the end of each level and compete for the highest score.
  • Players will test their skills as they strive for multiple records to set and break: High Score, Maximum Rallies, Bricks Broken, Time and Stages reached.
  • Touch Screen Control Control your paddle with pin-point accuracy using the touch pad and stylus.
  • Become a Master of All Witness your evolution throughout the game as your score climbs higher. Go from a simple amoeba to the Supreme Break'em Master of All.
  • Single Player or Multiplayer Gameplay Modes Play through the game solo, or with up to 8 players using wireless competitive mode.
  • Choose Bonus Power-Ups Select from 12 diverse bonus powers for your ball: bombs, lasers, mirror, fast, catch, slow, 5-way, and more!

By Cole Smith
CCC Senior Writer

Rating out of 5
Break 'Em All (DS)
2.2
Graphics
Very basic looking game. Drab presentation all the way around. Certainly within the realm of the budget title.
2.3
Control
The ball physics is broken, and hampers the gameplay. Taking control of the paddle with the stylus is a great idea that works very well.
2.9
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is interesting but it’s repetitive. The sound effects are weak and cheap sounding.
3.0
Play Value
Breakout fans should enjoy the millions of randomly generated levels, but most of us will have had enough of this game in a couple of hours.
3.0
Overall Rating - Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: DS
Dev: Warashi
Pub: D3
Released: June 2006
Players: 1 - 8
Review by Cole

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best