Review: Absolute Brickbuster (DSiWare)

Bustin' used to make me feel good

Absolute Brickbuster is not an easy game to review. For starters, it gives a reviewer so little to work with: it snuggles itself into the cozy framework of other, better-known brick breakers, and falls asleep before it thinks to introduce anything new. That doesn't make it a bad game, but neither does it make it particularly good. No aspect of the game really stands out to either extreme, making the "absolute" in its title a misusage of high degree.

One good thing about brick breakers is that you, as a buyer, already know whether or not you will enjoy them. Unless the game is horrendously broken or brilliantly innovative, you already have a pretty good idea of how you'll respond to it. Absolute Breakbuster is neither of those things, but its constant erring on the side of caution might cause it to gravitate just slightly toward the negative end of that spectrum.

Booting up the game, you will be treated to some adorably cute character designs by Tasuke: enjoy them, because you'll never see them again after the title screen. The actual in-game graphics are passable, but far from memorable, and they are not remarkable in any way. The paddle might be a bit too thin to keep track of when the screen gets hectic (or what passes for hectic in this game), but otherwise the graphics are so unlikely to leave an impression that you probably won't even remember that there were any. (Now there's an innovative idea: a brick breaker text adventure!)

Two options for gameplay are available, and we'll cover each of these in turn, so you don't have to.

The first, and meatiest, is the alarmingly misnamed Free Play. This is far more of an adventure mode than anything even remotely "free"; in fact, although there are 62 levels in the game, "Free Play" locks you to a rigid, restricted progression through less than one-sixth of them, opening certain paths to you and forbidding you from others based upon your performance. We recommend that Tasuke returns to the book shop for a refund whichever dictionary it used to look up the word "free."

The aforementioned 62 levels might sound like a lot, and, arguably, it is, but the restricted advancement is what kills it. As in Puzzle Bobble, paths branch away from completed levels, allowing you to progress in a different direction each time, thus presenting you with a different experience as you play through the game. Unlike Puzzle Bobble, however, the game does not allow you to choose your own path: instead, every second level offers you a challenge in addition to completing the level, such as accumulating a certain amount of points or losing no more than one life. If you complete the challenge, you go one way; if you don't, you go the other.

On paper this might not sound so bad, but in practice you may find yourself unable to complete an early, difficult challenge, but easily able to complete all subsequent challenges, thus restricting you to the same 10-level course each time you play the game, and rendering the remaining 52 levels unplayable. Hooray!

A much better way to handle the branching paths would be to allow the player to select his or her own course through the game if they complete the challenge, pointing themselves in the direction of levels they have not had the chance to play through yet. Instead, the game makes that decision for you, and if you really want to play those unexplored levels, you will find yourself intentionally failing challenges and letting balls drop...not a very rewarding or exciting way to play.

When you begin Free Play, you get to choose one of eight characters to play as. As you highlight each character, you'll get a sense of what's meant to define them: the number of balls they start with, power-ups etc. Regardless of who you choose, you are brought to an options screen that asks you to adjust many of these values and more anyway, rendering your selection more or less irrelevant.

If you do manage to complete the game (and you will, in about 15 minutes total), your character will blurt some Engrish non-sequitur and you'll be warped back to the menu. Conglaturation indeed.

Should you invest the time to work your way to each of the 62 levels, you'll come very soon to the unwelcome realisation that no level is really any more challenging or exciting than any other. There are no interesting gameplay mechanics to break up the already-repetitive nature of brick breaking, and the various unstimulating arrangements of coloured rectangles don't exactly reward the effort of exploration.

Interesting, however, is the choice to have the ball always bounce away from your paddle at the same angle, regardless of the speed or position of the paddle when it connects. In many brick-breakers, hitting the ball with the center of your paddle will send the ball away at a calm, safe angle, while catching it with the tip of your paddle with bat it away at a sharper, more difficult angle, but not in Absolute Brickbuster. It's always the same gentle brush onward, regardless of where or when you hit the ball. This simplifies things to such a degree that we can provide you with a walkthrough of every stage right here in this review: press right a little, wait, press right a little, wait, press right a little, wait, press left a little, wait, press left a little, wait, press left a little, wait. Repeat. Congratulations – you won!

You can tilt the paddle with the L and R buttons, which should – and to some degree does – complicate the angles at which you can send the ball sailing, but the clicky nature of those shoulder buttons means you can only ever achieve full tilt in either direction, and reaching for them mid-game is neither comfortable nor even necessary.

The closest thing to a wrench in the simplicity is the introduction of "viruses," which trigger when you collect a particular purple item. These viruses weave around the screen, and can cause the ball to bounce off them if it connects. This can either help or hinder you, and though it does add an element of unpredictability (or less-predictability, we should say) there's no way it can carry the responsibility of making the entire game interesting.

Also worth mentioning is that extra balls are earned so frequently that the reserve might as well be unlimited. You can use this to your advantage by firing a few extras onto the screen mid-round, but this is never necessary, nor is it particularly exciting. Even playing with one ball in a right-wait-right mindset, you're guaranteed to accumulate so many extra balls that you could probably fall asleep while playing, and wake up a few hours later to find that you haven't lost yet and have probably beaten a few more levels to boot.

A Challenge mode is also available, which features a variety of one-level achievements to earn based on beating the clock, avoiding the use of power-ups, and a spare few other variations on the rules of the main game. So, you know, if you ever feel like 15 minutes is too much of an investment to complete the entire game, you can turn to one of these microscopic chunks instead, and turn the game off sooner.

Conclusion

Absolute Brickbuster is by no means bad: it controls just fine, and it does everything it promises to do, but unfortunately that isn't much, and it doesn't deliver anything surprising in addition. We're not exactly sure who this game was made for; fans of the brick-breaker genre already have better, more challenging examples to play, and if non-fans are ever to convert, it won't be because of Absolute Brickbuster. If you end up buying it, you'll probably get a few minutes' worth of enjoyment out of it. We're just not sure why you'd end up buying it.

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