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Break 'Em All Package Art
D3 Publishing of America

Break 'Em All

Time to drop some knowledge: Way back in the 1970s, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, developed a game called "Breakout" in four days. The game involved a trackball-manipulated paddle and a ball bouncing back and forth, up and down, smashing blocks to dust. Less than a decade later, the industry crashed, only to be revived by a little Japanese company called Nintendo, propelling us to where we are today. In 2006, we now have "Break 'Em All," a retooling of this classic concept. But, did developer Warashi do enough to make it worthwhile?


This title has an interesting mix of visuals. While the main elements are fairly straight forward and simplistic, they are not all the game has to offer. Playing in the Tokoton mode, in which the player smashes blocks in 50 different levels or in one of three million randomly generated levels, allows the player to evolve: next to the statistics about various scores is a picture of, at first, an amoeba. Then, as the player progresses, the amoeba evolves into such creatures as a dolphin and a stork. These avatars are rendered quite beautifully.

Outside of the avatars, the rest of the game lacks any great eye candy. The scrolling background is reminiscent of old Road Runner cartoons, with repetitive backgrounds that add a sense of motion and not much more.

The screen layout is fairly simplistic. The main action takes place on the touch screen with nearly all of the screen real estate devoted to the game. However, at either side is a bar for turning on the power-ups, with the number of balls remaining at the bottom left corner, and in the opposite corner is the speed of the ball.


The soundtrack is similar to the visuals, in that they work for what they need to do. However, it can be quite catchy, with synthetic beats and harmonies. Audio cues are sparse, but helpful if the player knows about them. A ping occurs once the player’s power-up option changes. The game, though, can be played with the sound off without much detraction from the overall experience.


There are two options for gameplay: the more awkward button controls and the intuitive touch screen paddle manipulation. Both methods can be used in any of the three game modes: Tokoton, Quest and Survival. Before the start of Tokoton and Quest mode, players can choose five of ten power-ups, such as speed increase or multi-ball. In Survival mode, players only choose one of four paddle types for use.

In Tokoton mode, players can either play through 50 levels or play through three million randomly generated levels. Once all of the breakable blocks have been turned to rubble, the player continues to the next level. As time elapses, the power-ups that the player selected prior to the start of play become available, each in its own turn. To activate them, players can either press the X button or tap either side of the touch screen, although removing the stylus from play can have disastrous results. As the player continues to survive, a bar at the side of the screen slowly fills with red. Once it gets to the top, the player evolves, working his/her way up from amoeba to invincible.

Quest mode shares some similarities with Tokoton mode, but for the level to be completed, players need only to pass the ball through an opening at the top of the screen, which is sometimes more difficult than it sounds. After three rounds of this, the player then fights a boss, its weakness displayed on the top screen. Even though the juxtaposition of a linear plot with a puzzle game is innovative, no attempt is made at presenting a story, which is actually beneficial to the overall experience.

The last mode available for play is Survival, which is about as simple as it sounds. Rather than trying to break bricks with a ball, the player tries to keep one of multiple balls from hitting the center piece of a geometric shape that changes as the game continues. At the start of the round, the player is given the option to choose one of four paddles, each with its own weakness, such as a top that is not well-protected. Then, the player controls his/her paddle in a large, square area, trying to protect his/her center. At the same time seven other players are doing the same thing, with the winner being the one that lasts longest. This mode is the most questionable, its experience mainly existing for multiplayer mayhem.

The use of the stylus to control the paddle is really where this title shines. The direct control is appealing and this is where the draw is. No more cursing an arrow key or a joystick or even a mouse for being not responsive enough. Control is at the player's fingertips.


The game has a multiplayer option for both Quest and Survival modes: up to four people competing for a high score in the former and up to eight fighting to live in the latter. Like most DS titles, the game features single-card download play, which is arguably one of the great innovations that the DS features. Without a doubt, the multiplayer mode increases the game's longevity, for breaking bricks can only create excitement for so long before either boredom or frustration sets in. Is there a better way to escape boredom and frustration than to share it? The developers at Warashi think not.


Frankly, the price of this game [MSRP of US$19.99] is its saving grace. A budget title is an acceptable reworking of a concept as old as the industry itself. Although the game isn't the most beautiful out there, the draw is based solely on gameplay, which is rare these days. Those considering the title should have DS-owning friends with a penchant for brick-busting and understand that there is only so much that can be done with a BreakOut clone. Knowledge of games past does not necessarily equate wisdom, but it is the right first step on a long journey.

final score 6.9/10

Staff Avatar Chris Boette
Staff Profile | Email
"Hmmm, kinda gamey."

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