If I’d somehow perfected my time-travelling gymnasium to the point where I could return back nearly 30 years to have a word with my younger self about how games have progressed, I’d have to break it to the pimply-faced Peej that sadly, in 30 years time, people will still be playing Breakout. Crestfallen, my younger self, fresh from an extended bout of Manic Miner, would probably wonder how some of the oldest and simplest game ideas can endure for decades.
Though comparing Shatter to Breakout is like comparing 3D Monster Maze to Grand Theft Auto 4. Sidhe have taken the basic idea of bashing bricks with a ball and given it a serious Tron-like makeover.
In Shatter’s futuristic world, blips and beeps are replaced by Rez-style thumping breakbeats accompanying the dazzling visuals. Crisply defined play areas are filled with shards of light, and the simple bat / ball core dynamic is replaced by something hitherto more strategic.
Come and have a go if you think you’re shard enough
Shatter starts off by providing you with a vessel of light. This vessel is effectively the “bat” and after a short cutscene setting up the minimalist storyline of security breaches and fudged protocols, you’re thrown into a grid of levels, each one of which must be cleared to see you through the next phase.
Your “bat” controls several energy globes, and these are propelled into the play area to destroy the shards within. So far so Breakout / Arkanoid but you must then manipulate your globes with the shoulder buttons to place them in the most devastating areas of destruction.
As you do so, energy is released that can be sucked towards your ship and harvested. Get enough of this energy collected together, and with a swift stab of the Triangle button you can unleash a shard wave, destroying everything in its path.
The first few levels of shatter are played side-on, which is a bit of a switch for a Breakout clone (though a few on the C64 attempted to do a similar thing to great effect). You’ll soon learn that there are other level configurations too, including my personal favourite, a circular area containing moving targets.
Clear a grid and you progress to the next security breach area. And so on, and so forth – and here’s where Shatter transmogrifies from something that sounds really interesting on paper, to something that becomes very repetitive very quickly.
The on and on song
For all shatter’s different areas, and powerups to help you clear each grid more quickly, the game swiftly descends into a rinse-and-repeat effort that dulls the senses. Presentation wise, there’s not much to pick on – but in games like Arkanoid you’ve got the thrill of a new pattern to look forward to. Here, because you’ve got very few variations on the same theme, things are pretty dull and lifeless – and it doesn’t help that the game’s music could’ve been farted out of a sequencer program entirely at random. There’s no licensed music and nothing that sits well enough with the action to keep you engaged.
So far we’ve seen a few other Breakout-style games hit the PSN Store, and Shatter joins their ranks as one of those titles that looks initially promising, but swiftly becomes a bit of a chore. When the whole idea of playing games is to enjoy yourself, then there really aren’t enough hours in the day to tackle something that’s got such a short burst of appeal tacked around an age old game dynamic. Slick it might be, but essential it isn’t.