Balls are a bit ‘in’ at the moment. Especially, it would appear, when they are smashing multicoloured bricks to pieces. Breakout clones are suddenly appearing in vast quantities and judi poker spreading faster than Word star or Knight Lore clones did. Richard Eddy gives a personal run-down.
Taito, the company which produced the corky coin-op ARKANOID are probably to blame for unleashing the craze, and then Ocean for producing a series of very competent conversions for the home micros. The ST version is undoubtedly the superior, retaining all of the arcade’s original features – if it wasn’t for the small screen you could almost think it was the arcade original. Imagine have just released it for the IBM PC.
Following in Ocean’s footsteps comes Gremlin’s crack out, which was somewhat jollier but slower and really didn’t have the addictiveness ARKANOID provided. Not to be outdone Elite agen poker shoved in their idea in the shape of Batty which now features on Hit Pak 2. Written by an ex-Ultimate programmer. Batty was polished and showed greater graphical sophistication than ARKANOID and then everyone breathed a sigh of relief thinking that it was over.
Apart from the games, comparing inlay storylines proves most interesting. Pirate’s budget Smash Out! Goes for a desperately try to be convincing story where the bat is supposed to be a spaceship lost in space and bricks are blobs of plasma, while Ball Breaker claims the ball is some chap called Ovoid on a mission of annihilation. Personally I prefer Impact’s “Trapped in a 1970s arcade machine” or Alligata’s straight for the throat approach with I have difficulty imagining a bat is a spaceship, so let’s call things a bat, ball and bricks – it’s much easier!’ And so it is.
I think you can quite happily disregard Smash Out! It is little more than a poor man’s ARKANOID with measly graphics, nauseous sound and the excitement of drying paint. Okay, so it may have screen designer thrown in. but even this is fiddle to use and does nothing to push up Smash Out credibility.
There’s a lesson to learn here – if you are going to produce a clone you have to do it very well, or devise a novel twist on the formula. Which is what CRL did with Ball Breaker, originally released for the Amstrad CPC range; it took Breakout into 3-D and worked well with some great sound effects and a colourful layout. Ball Breaker is just released for the Spectrum and retains its playability – although to avoid colour clash the monochromatic graphics can make it difficult to see exactly where to position your bat. Complete with all the typical features, it also includes a laser gun which stays with you throughout the game. Ball Breaker adds up to a worthwhile buy if you fancy a different twist on the rest – and soon to be available on the Atari ST and Amiga.
AUDIOGENIC, quiet for some time, return to our 16-bit screens with the elaborate Impact for the Atari ST and Amiga (and hopefully soon for the Spectrum and Commodore 64/128). Impact is quite the connoisseur’s ARKANOID cleverly topped off by some great sounds (each brick, alien and the bat produces an individual sound, so occasionally it sounds like a decent tune gone wonky!). Graphically, it is what you would expect from 16-bit, utilising colour very well and sharp definition to add that extra bit of class to the aliens.
What gives it that little extra push is the novel way in which features, such as lasers, bat expand and catch are collected -Ala Mamesis. Yellow tokens spin down from selected bricks when destroyed and. if collected, are stored in the power select pad at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. Pressing the mouse button when one is collected makes the ball slow down, collecting two and then pressing the button gives you the catch effect and so on through divide (3 balls), expand, torch (to see hidden bricks), laser, smart bomb (to destroy aliens), missile and force field, which doesn’t have the rebound effect off bricks, but simply continues to smash its way round the screen until hitting a wall where it bounces off.
With 80 screens and 40 more you can design yourself using the easy-to-use screen designer. Impact definitely wins my approval as being the best just for sheer excitement.
Coming close second is Addicting ball from Alligata which doesn’t quite make it to the very top for the simple reason that it falls down on presentation and graphics. The use of colour is very dull on the first levels – mainly greys, greens, and blues used for the bricks and surroundings – which doesn’t do much to create an exciting atmosphere.
However addicting ball proves to be quite novel in the way the bricks slowly scroll down the screen in one long trail – it’s great saving grace. The trail can prove to be frustrating when, having died, you are returned to the beginning, or one of the internal stages within a level. Two weapons, laser gun and thrusters (which allow you to move up and down the screen) can be collected at the very beginning, though they have to be replenished frequently by hitting the correct bricks.
Along the bottom of the screen is a barrier preventing the ball from disappearing but this gradually gets destroyed by the shower of fireballs which come down the screen, unless the fireballs are destroyed with the bat before they reach the bottom. There are cars, bikes and the like to be battered along the way which, if nothing else, adds a bit of humour to the game.
So now what? Do we dare breathe a sigh of relief or is the next parcel we open going to be Revenge Of The Mutant Bouncing Balls From Jupiter.