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Shatter (PlayStation 3) artwork

Shatter (PlayStation 3) review

"Release ball! Crush block! Catch ball on return! "

Release ball! Crush block! Catch ball on return!

A lot of games were made over good programming concepts rather than anything else. Breakout, Crackout and Arkanoid were games like that - based on very simple mechanics, and then increasingly dressed up in nicer clothing with each new iteration. Sidhe's "Shatter" is another and yet more beautiful remake of the breakout concept - but with enough unique twists to make it a very worthy tribute to the classics, as well as a good game on it's own.

While I expected the game to be an Arkanoid clone and a retro-tribute, the first thing that struck me when starting up Shatter is the presentation. From the first menu-screen, it's more of a composition of sound and graphics than simply a breakout game with intricate level-design. The re-imagined arcade music by Mode sets the stage, and complement the flowing 3d shapes that make out the background of each "world". When you progress, the view of the background shapes rotate, and the next level opens up.

The levels that open up are still 2d planes with the "bat" on one end, that throw balls at the blocks on the other. But afterwards, Sidhe's twists change the gameplay from the old concept completely. Apart from mixing up the 2d plane direction (and adding a sphere layout), all the blocks have physics, rather than staying stuck in black space. So if you break the anchor blocks, the blocks that give off the most points can fall out of the level (or hit your bat, pushing you off the stage for a short time). To counter this, your bat can push some force ahead into the level, and keep the blocks floating. But you should also harvest "fragments", or released kinetic energy, to increase your point-multipler and your energy charge - by pulling objects towards you.

At the same time, the trajectory of the balls are also affected by the pulls and pushes, which make the tricky shots much easier (or at least more elegant, and avoiding the impossible to hit last block). This also replaces the need for the evil accellerating balls during the game to keep things interesting - instead you have curving balls, and floating and falling blocks.

Similarly, losing a ball is a short pause to plan ahead before continuing the game, rather than a restart of the level. The game also insists on dropping extra lives more often if you run short on balls, preventing you from simply losing the game from a streak of bad luck - while rewarding you for playing more risky.

The strange thing is that none of this actually makes the game easy. There is some strategy to solving the levels - you can destroy most of the blocks, gather fragments to increase your multipler, and gain the most points on the remaining few blocks. Or harvest some of the "kinetic energy" early, and increase your points more steadily.

But if you pull the fragments early, the level blocks can fall lower in the 2d plane so that it's more difficult to predict where the ball hits or make it easy to lose blocks and balls. Meanwhile the action is always fast paced enough, thanks to the amount of events on the screen, that you need very good reflexes to keep several balls floating. Even if you might want to sacrifice a few balls to trick some of the more difficult bosses.

So unlike in the originals, the challenge is less about being able to pass the first level. And more about progressing through the levels with a high score, while keeping the momentum going.

Shatter can be played stage by stage, through the "bonus-levels", or in a "boss-rush" mode. It's easy to dive in and sink many hours into this game in small bits and pieces. The very well made soundtrack can be bought (together with a dynamic theme) on the PSN, or on Sidhe's web-pages. Also available for PC. The PC version has a few multiplayer co-op modes, all of which work surprisingly well. There is apparently planned a patch for the ps3 version that will add these modes (but there is no word on when at this point).

fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (July 25, 2010)

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