Reviewed: April 11, 2010
Released: March 15, 2010
The latest, and probably greatest, of the classic brick-breaking genre, Sidhe Interactive’s Shatter succeeds and revolutionizes pioneering videogames such as Atari’s Breakout from 1976. The original concept for this genre was very simple: the player’s goal is to break an array of bricks on the screen by bouncing a ball off a platform (called a bat) and into bricks that break upon impact.
Ten years after Breakout, Taito released another landmark for the genre – Arkanoid for the original Nintendo console, which introduced a science fiction storyline to the game, power ups, and several innovative variations (such as enemy “ships” and bricks that must be hit multiple times). Since then, brick-breakers have remained popular, especially overseas, but since Arkanoid, Shatter stands out as probably the first to introduce modernized mechanics to the well-established genre.
Shatter is played only using the mouse and a scant few keyboard keys, but its simplistic controls belie the game’s actual depth and complexity. Like Arkanoid, Shatter takes place in a science-fiction setting and involves a simple storyline of escape, with the protagonist robot acting as the game’s bat. Shatter, however, introduces physics forces “suck” and “blow” which, all juvenile humor aside, add a welcome and surprising level of challenge and interest to the game. These forces are activated by the left and right mouse buttons and affect both the ball and other physics-enabled objects in the game. For instance, shards, produced when blocks are shattered, can be pulled in and collected to increase the power bar, which can then be spent to unleash a powerful “Shard Storm” attack (useful for demolishing blocks or bosses) or to activate a shield around the bat.
The push and pull of the physics forces also greatly affects the trajectory of the ball, especially when the increased maneuverability power up is activated, allowing the player unprecedented control over the ball’s direction. This capability is especially useful in Shatter because levels are no longer limited to the traditional rectangular stage with the bat situated at the bottom; levels may be circular or turned on their sides, and judiciously applied forces can make all the difference when it comes to whether the ball will hit that last brick or remain in play.
Bricks, too, have different physical characteristics. Some bricks will shoot toward the bat or spin when struck (with the possibility of knocking the bat out of play for a moment), and some will drift aimlessly, while others seem affected by a force of gravity that causes them to topple when blocks below them are knocked away. Players can also expect a variety of power ups, as well as the potentially useful option to play multiple balls at once, given that there are extra lives to spend.
There’s also a bit more to Shatter. After several “waves” of satisfying brick-breaking action, each of the ten worlds culminates in a boss fight. These massive, slickly colorful mechanical creatures are a delight to fight and can be challenging, each requiring a different strategy to exploit its weakness. The Boss Rush mode, unlocked during play, allows players to fight all the bosses one after the other and keeps track of best times.
Other game modes gradually unlocked include Endless (a survival mode), Endless Co-Op (for multiplayer play), Time Attack, Time Attack Co-Op, and Bonus Mode. The Endless and Time Attack modes are different from the Story Mode in that rather than clearing separate stages, the player must destroy a constant onslaught of blocks scrolling toward the bat(s). The multiplayer modes involve two players on the same computer; the default controls give Player 1 the mouse and keyboard keys of the solo mode, while Player 2 must make do with the WASD keys and a few other keys on the left side of the keyboard. An additional online multiplayer mode allowing players to connect and play with friends on their own computers would have been a very welcome addition, as would have been a custom level builder or random level generator, but as it is, the game has a fair number of modes of play to choose from.
Shatter’s graphics are gorgeous, simultaneously simple enough to maintain clarity in play and brightly stylish with its sleek shapes and vibrant special effects. Each of the ten levels is introduced by a brief but beautiful cut scene from the perspective of a smooth aerial camera roving over the alien landscape, attractively setting the stage for each brick-breaking gauntlet. The interface and menus are also cleanly designed with the same futuristic aesthetic and are very easy to read and navigate.
The soundtrack, too, is absolutely fantastic. It features 13 tracks of probably the best electronica I’ve heard in a videogame since Einhander. I’d recommend the soundtrack (purchasable as a $9.99 download from Sidhe through Band Camp) even on its own, but even with its steady beat, the music is pleasant without being distracting in the game.
While the Story Mode isn’t especially long, and I didn’t find the other game modes quite as compelling, Shatter’s moderate difficulty and modular level design make it approachable by casual players and more dedicated gamers alike. It’s easy to spend a few minutes or a few hours on the game in one sitting, depending on your play style, and while the game certainly has an addictive quality, it doesn’t require a significant continuous time commitment to enjoy. Shatter is available as a download over Steam for an economic price of $9.99 and is definitely worth checking out for anyone who is at least remotely interested in the genre.
In short, Shatter is a really enjoyable re-imagining of a time-tested genre that adds the fun of physics, snazzy graphics, and a phenomenal soundtrack to a favorite classic. If you liked Arkanoid or have even just the smallest smidgen of interest in the brick-breaking genre, you’d be doing yourself a favor to give Shatter a spin if you haven’t done so already.