It takes an extremely exceptional video game to defy the tests of time. Technological advancements coupled with ever shifting consumer attitudes and expectations have often seen classic gaming titles left by the proverbial wayside as the years roll on. The likes of Pac-Man, Tetris and Gradius are prime examples of video games transcending the various limits imposed on them - remaining extremely popular all these years later despite their ageing mechanics and antiquated graphics. Can Atari's bat and ball arcade hit - Breakout - be considered one of these timeless gems too? Well, judging by the enormous number of clones and reproductions of the 1970's puzzler available - it would appear so. Bigben Interactive's take - with the rather circumlocutory title,Best of Arcade Games - Brick Breaker - is the latest "re-imagining" of the arcade classic, but does it break our expectations or simply leave us banging our heads against a brick wall? Well - a little of both, really.
As previously mentioned, Atari's 1976 Arcade hit Breakout is no mystery to video game veterans, and Brick Breaker matches its older predecessor extremely closely. The object of the title is to deflect a ball with a bat (in the same vein as Pong) in order to gradually chip away at a solid block or "wall". Hitting each pixel or the structure with the ball destroys it, and the stage is completed upon removal of the every piece of the "wall". As with Pong the gameplay is fairly mundane by modern day standards, so when a forty year old concept makes its way onto a modern system, new features and mechanics are essential; Brick Breaker attempts to keep the experience fresh by providing a number of modern additions to the age old formula.
As one may expect when playing on a 3DS system, your bat is controlled with the stylus and touchscreen. Playing in this manner leaves you with a far greater sense of control over the ball when contrasted with the old iterations (such as Breakout or Alleyway) which instead required you to frantically thumb the Circle Pad or jerk at the joystick in order to keep the ball under your influence. Unfortunately, with greater control also comes a drop in the challenge - the masterful intricacies and slight of hand required to become a master of the arcade iterations are gone as a result of the quick and precise tap and drag action that the touch screen technology provides. Whilst this could be seen as a necessary leap in technology, it makes the whole experience a lot more straight forward than with its older relatives, and therefore removes much of the enjoyment.
As if having the touchscreen and stylus didn't provide enough sense of control, Brick Breaker adds a new ability to further overpower the player. Moving the thumb pad in any direction causes the ball to be pulled in that direction. This ultimately gives you free reign over the ball for brief periods of time, allowing whole sections to be cleared without needing to deflect the ball with the bat at all. There is a gauge preventing you from doing this repeatedly in a short space of time, but after leaving it idle for a few seconds you are able to do it again. The inclusion of this rather bizarre ability further simplifies the process and makes the need for the stylus-controlled bat redundant for lengthy sections of each stage.
Various power ups can be purchased before each stage through earned "money", or found through breaking blocks in the level itself. These include a number of upgrades such as extra paddles, extra balls and strafing. Unfortunately, these only serve to decrease the difficulty even further and the power-downs which are included to balance the multiple power-ups are easily avoidable - meaning you won't have to deal with them should you not want to. Playing Brick Breaker with the tight controls of the touchscreen, a host of power-ups, and the pad's magnetic pull on the ball feels a bit like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with your eyes open. Not so tough. Sure, purists can ignore many of the upgrades, power-ups and ball-controlling mechanics to play through an authentic run of the game, but that raises the question of whether it's not worth simply playing one of the original versions of this brick breaking puzzler instead.
Unfortunately, Brick Breaker isn't radical enough in its rejuvenation to really counteract that argument. As is the case with many old school puzzlers, there really is only so much you can do to freshen the gameplay after all these years - Brick Breaker suffers the same fate. It exists in somewhat of a trough, stuck between the original untouched experience and an invigorating re-imagining. Bigben Interactive has succeeded in making the odd addition here and there but ultimately fails to deliver any kind of "ultimate" edition for the Breakout category, as the likes of Pac-Man has seen in recent years with releases such as the sublime Pac-Man Championship Edition.
Best of Arcade Games - Brick Breaker isn't all doom and gloom, and there will be many who will get enjoyment from it. Critiquing it as a stand alone title, rather than one of many Breakout reproductions, allows one to see its merits. Anyone sticking with Brick Breaker past the first few stages will notice that the 50 levels gradually increase in difficulty, and are presented in increasingly unique and interesting arrangements the further in you delve. Brick Breaker is also put together in a rather attractive little package, with the visuals doing nothing wrong and the inclusion of stereoscopic 3D (dizzying as it will be after a few minutes) being another extra bit of aesthetic gleam. However, it would have been nice to get a few more varying backdrops for the levels, as the blue background and ever-observing Aztec totem characters soon lose their charm. Unfortunately though, Brick Breaker does little extra to warrant its rather steep asking price as a whole, especially when considering the dozens of breakout clones that can be found for as little as nothing on various other mobile devices, and similar options available on the Wii U and 3DS eShop stores.
It seems unfair to be quite so disparaging of Best of Arcade Games - Brick Breaker, considering that there is really not much wrong with the title. Bigben Interactive has shown great ability in putting together a respectable rendition of the arcade hit; instead, the main issue lies in choosing to produce yet another Breakout clone. In trying to enhance such an archaic video game experience, Bigben Interactive has merely formed a glossy patina on what is essentially an outdated video game experience, and despite its decent visuals and modern additions, this does little to break the mould; it finds itself lost in an ever-growing sea of Breakout clones.