Thursday, September 24, 2009
Okay, I realize that this is a new thing and I got some 'splainin' to do. What I am attempting to do is create some recognition for downloadable titles that have been released for various platforms. The game horder in me loves retail releases (so much so that I will at times buy an import copy of a title that is download only in the US), but I'm not going to fight the entire trend because at my core I just want to play good games. It doesn't have to have been recently released, it just needs to be good. Furthermore, you will notice that my pics will tend to be console (that is: XBLA, PSN, WiiWare) centric because of my personal gaming habits but are not necessarily limited to consoles or original releases (0pening this weekly article up to the likes of GOG and VC titles). The title simply needs to have a legal digital release. I'm pretty sure this preface is enough so without further ado, my first pick of the week is Sidhe Interactive's PSN exclusive Shatter for the PS3.
Shatter is a Super Breakout-style bat and ball game. This genre is literally decades old and most entries do little to impress the hardcore crowd. Even recent iterations of fan favorites in the genre, namely Devilish DS and Arkanoid DS, presented very few surprises and barely deserved a glance. Shatter however adds enough style, new ideas, and enough presentation to satiate even the more skeptical hardcore palette.
The game starts off rather simply, providing little challenge and little variety from its peers. However, the game's mechanics tipped me off that this game would become more complicated quickly. The title's main gimmick is the bat's ability to suck and blow (I'm sure the devs were Spaceballs fans) wherein the player can add curves to the balls', powerups', and bonus shards' trajectory. Judicious use of this mechanic make the beginning of the game a cakewalk, however upon further play mastering the mechanic is necessary to score high, to complete difficult levels, and to survive. Your suck and blow abilities also affect some of the blocks on the map leaving for the possibility of them crashing into your bat and disabling your bat temporarily.
One of the most surprisingly deep features is the ability to add another ball at anytime: a player-controlled multi-ball if you will. Not only does this feature radically affect the pace of the game, but it adds to your score multiplier and totally affects the tide of the game. You have no certainty that you will not have a game over in any given level. Let's say you have 4 balls in your stock and you deploy 3 (you can deploy as many as 5). Your bat is knocked off the board by a stray block and all of a sudden all three of your balls in play are lost. You have now gone from a comfortable 4 balls to a sweat inducing 1 that you will have to play much more methodically in an effort to procure more 1ups.
Above all else, though, Shatter is a game that proves once again that amazing music can and will enhance a solid game and make it epic. I would go as far to say that Shatter's electronic trance steals the show and almost eclipses the game itself. The beats keep the pace of the game high and every boss battle feels like an epic struggle (and many times is). Like any soundtrack provided by a house DJ, the music cross-fades from that world's them to its respective boss theme and then onto the bonus round seamlessly. In fact, my only complaint on this end is that the music stops between levels for a load screen which certainly kills the player's momentum. In any case, the music is great even without the game and is available on the dev's website for only $10.
High score competition is also a fun aspect of the game. My main issue with high scores in arcade-y downloads has always been the impossibility of having the high score no matter how hard you try. You can even have a really awesome high score in Geometry Wars and only be 2000th in the world. It's discouraging because of the amount of competition and only a very small portion of the gaming population can reap any benefit from this setup. However, Shatter includes semi-local high scores, meaning you are put up against your friends on PSN. Climbing to the top of this hill is a fun (even if you have say 100 friends that play the game) and realistic goal that can create a constant friendly rivalry and add replay value to the game's several modes.
The game isn't without its problems, of course. The level design can become very samey and annoying (rather than simply challenging) with the multitude of swarming blocks that can decommission your bat. Sometimes the game is more fun in the middle levels where the challenge and fun are balanced just enough to provide an amazing experience.
Fans of Arkanoid, electronica, and classic arcade competition would do well to purchase this game in any case. Shatter currently retails $7.99 and with great reinvented classic gameplay, unlockable boss and bonus modes, and a bitchin' soundtrack you couldn't go wrong.
Images lovingly borrowed from www.shattergame.com the game's official website for purposes of review.