REVIEW: AlphaBounce

(as a digital release, it’s got no cover, so here’s one of the puzzles instead)

You know, sometimes I cruise through the DSiWare store looking for a game to buy. Something. ANYTHING. The store is not laid out in a way that is very conducive to browsing, and past knowing that the ArtStyle games are supposedly good, advertising has failed DSiWare, and I know nothing about it.

After downloading this game, everytime I browse the store, I realize that it’s this game that I want, and I just quit out and play it. It’s everything I am looking for in a DSiWare game: something I can play in short sessions, easy to grasp the hardest parts of, easy to play, deceptively long to finish, and above all, a Breakout clone.

There is a plot, if anybody cares, but it does make a good framing device for all the powerups.  The game is set in space, in a world where prisoners are forced to mine the galaxy in “envelopes” (the Breakout paddle).  There are three characters you can select that represent three different difficulty levels, though you do need to beat it once to unlock hard mode.

Upon selecting your difficulty, you’re kicked over to a map screen with a grid on it.  Each square is a Breakout game, and in order to move around the map, you have to clear each square in order to move in any of the four directions around it.  Some squares will have items on them, and beating the puzzle will earn you these items.  The goal is to move between the various planets and clear all of the squares on each planet in order to beat the game.

The items you find on the map screen are a few different types.  Most of them will be upgrades for your paddle/envelope, like lengthening segments, lasers and cannons (yes, you can manually blast the bricks), different balls (some of which break bricks faster, some bounce back up from the bottom of the screen, et cetera), and other things that modify behavior, but there are also tools, things that widen the area you can explore on the map, and even tools that help you navigate the map and puzzles.  And each completed planet will reward you with a new, awesome envelope.  Different envelopes can be more resistant to damage (you have a health bar, and some stages have obstacles or enemies), self-healing, build a temporary force field at the bottom of the screen, et cetera.

The stages come with tons of different types of bricks and obstacles.  There are several different types of enemies that do everything from block your path to fire vigorously at you, there are unbreakable bricks and bricks that break after several hits, respawn bricks, and lots of other things.  Breaking bricks also drops many, many temporary powerups, lettered from A-Z, and a few extras that are the same letters with different colors.  Most of them are helpful (A for attract, which magnetizes the ball to the paddle and lets you launch it; Z for zealot, which speeds things up; K for kamikaze, which fires a destructive wave of bullets from your paddle at the cost of most of your health, et cetera), but some harm as well (D dimishes the size of your paddle; W is for whisky, that makes the ball trajectory unpredictable; I is for indegestion, which just multiplies the number of bricks on screen).  Some letters do different things depending on their color, too.  I think.  P, for instance, can be Pyromaniac, which burns the bricks but doesn’t seem to break them; Autopilot, which relinquishes control and lets the paddle follow the ball automatically; or something else that inverts the paddle controls.

The envelope is on the bottom screen.  You control the position with the stylus.  You launch the ball initially with A, all subsequent launches are handled with the up button on the D pad, and you also control your bullets and other projectiles with that button as well.  If your ball falls, you are allowed to set yourself up with reserve paddles, and up to three extra lives can be called out of reserve, each with a custom set of gear.  Each of the 25 planets have their own environment too, like lava bricks, gargoyle attacks, stuff like that.

I won’t lie to you, I think a lot of people won’t enjoy this.  There’s no game clock, but I’ve been playing about 10 rounds a day for two weeks and I’m probably not through 15% of the content.  The puzzles can get repetitive, even with all the variation.  The load times are ridiculous, though they are somewhat alleviated by trivia that gives sometimes funny, sometimes badly translated hints about certain items, planets, and other aspects of gameplay.  And let’s face it, not everyone is up for a massive game of Breakout.

But it’s perfect for me.  I like it even better than the Art Style games, but again, I am completely nuts for Breakout clones.  It’s absolutely everything I want on DSiWare.  It will take me a long, long time to beat, but at the same time, I think that’s what I want.  And when I do beat it, I’ll probably just start over again on hard.  It’s awesome.

The tools and the map screen. Images from Nintendo Life.


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