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BreakThru! (SNES) artwork

BreakThru! (SNES) review

"Despite what you may think, BreakThru is, in fact, not a game about falling blocks. "

Despite what you may think, BreakThru is, in fact, not a game about falling blocks.

Oh, there are falling blocks in it, but thatís beyond the point. Whereas games like, sure, Tetris are designed to test your instincts in increasingly more intense situations involving simple shapes, BreakThru really puts the term ďpuzzle gameĒ to literal use. Itís a slower type of puzzler, the kind like Picross thatís meant to make you stop and think about whatís going on. In fact, quick moves and gut reactions are discouraged. And yes, there are falling blocks in it, but theyíre only in there to keep the game running at a consistent pace. Put it out of your mind.

You know what the best thing about BreakThru is? It was designed by none other than Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov Ė a fact the developers were so proud of, they decided to slap his smiliní face on the title screen.

Thatís right, kids! Pajitnov made this game just for you! Surely it will be every bit a addicting and mind-bending as the legendary Tetris itself!

Again: Tetris and all those other falling-block puzzle games? Put them out of your mind. BreakThru is nothing like them. You start out with a full screen, and your objective is to reduce it to nothing by slowly chipping away at whatís been given to you. Blocks come in four colors, and can only be removed in groups. Click on a block, and it will disappear along with any surrounding blocks of the same color. The only blocks that canít be removed are singular ones.

This red block, for example, canít be touched, because there are no other red blocks around it. Weíll just have to rearrange its surroundings to eventually extract it.

Included in the mix are additional blocks that drop from above, power-ups that make block removal easier, and backgrounds that Iím fairly certain carry a WWII theme. (WTF?) It sounds easy, and at first, it is easy. With a full table of blocks in front of you, your options are numerous. Most blocks at this point come in groups, so clearing away large portions of the screen at once isnít hard. Youíll start off with something like this:

You see what I mean? Just look at all of those possibilities! Surely this will be over in no time at all. As you move your cursor around the screen and extract large sums of blocks with the kind of glee that could frighten those around you (as youíre led to believe youíre actually making progress), it becomes more and more apparent that you are Ė quickly and painlessly Ė screwing yourself. In a matter of seconds, youíll have narrowed it down to this:

Shit. Now what?

Simple: You wait. And then you wait some more. And then thereís some waiting involved. It seems youíve come to a dead end, when in fact thereís a way out. Remember how this is not a game about falling blocks? Yeah, well there are still falling blocks in this game as Iíve mentioned, and they might just save your ass. But you have to wait for them as they move very S-L-O-W-L-Y across the screen.

If there are literally no more groups of blocks Ė i.e., all blocks are in singles Ė then no progress can be made until more groups are formed. And the only way thatís going to happen is by waiting for the obligatory falling blocks to plummet to the earth and join the party. And this takes long Ė too long, perhaps. BreakThru has a time limit, and often youíll be stuck waiting for something to happen while the timer ticks down to your doom.

If only I hadnít been so reckless in my block extraction! If only Iíd taken the time to figure out all the possible outcomes and formulate a plan to avoid such a pitfall! I DONíT HAVE TIME FOR THIS!

Thatís BreakThruís lesson. If you try to rush and clear every level as quickly as you possibly can, youíre going to either (a) lose, or (b) wind up sitting back and watching as block after slow-ass block inches across the top of the screen until an opportunity to progress finally opens up. But if you plan things out, maybe you wonít reach either of these outcomes.

So on that level, BreakThru makes sense. But this just isnít the kind of ďfunĒ I expect when I play a puzzle game, or a videogame in general. Yes, itís great when games get me thinking. But push me too hard, and all I get is frustrated. BreakThru politely asks me to toss aside my gamer instincts and carefully map out the logistics of every single gravity-propelled block, with the pressure of a time limit forever present. I play games for different kinds of thrills.

Iím almost inclined to treat the game charitably because I understand what Pajitnov was trying to do, and I can see the game holding appeal for heavy thinkers. It didnít quite work for me. Maybe it will for you. What else can I say?

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (October 06, 2007)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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