Brick-breaking games return every few years with a title that takes the gaming world by surprise. Arkanoid charmed players back in the 80's with specialized projectiles, laser cannons, and other power-ups that crossed genres with other popular game styles.
Ricochet was another notable title, with its stylized visual effects and thumping trance soundtracks. Shatter (£6.99 inc VAT, buy-only) is Sidhe software's take on the Breakout formula, enhanced with 3D visuals, cooperative game play, and a bag full of tricks borrowed from classics old and new.
The basics are familiar. Confronted with a pattern of blocks, you use a paddle and a ball to clear the entire field before moving on to the next level. You can destroy bricks several ways: directly with the ball, via power-up attacks, or by ramming with the paddle itself once the bricks are released from their formation.
The power-up mechanic is streamlined reduced to just two types of upgrades; a shoot-em up inspired bullet attack and several ball enhancements that improve penetration or maneuverability. You can also increase the game's tempo by releasing multiple balls at will, up to the limit of your remaining lives, if you feel like pressing your luck.
When bricks are destroyed, they leave behind shards, which free float through the playing environment. Collecting these fuels the storm bullet attack and the paddle's shield. Players can influence the physics of the ball, block, and fragment motion using the suck and blow functions, which either repel or attract the game elements toward the paddle depending on which button is pressed.
With practice, ball motion becomes highly precise as players can apply suction or air at will, and the game provides a small on-screen hash mark to indicate where the ball will impact. Bricks that strike an unshielded paddle will cause a brief loss of control, but the designers chose not to penalize players with power-ups that shrink your paddle size or cause you to explode. Extra life tokens are also fairly common. This player-positive game philosophy is one of Shatter's charms, and a main reason you'll find yourself coming back for more.
Music and visual effects take a page from the Ricochet series, featuring lush production and imaginative art. The patterns look striking, but also require a bit of study to understand the puzzle behind the designers' block array. The circular playfield can turn carefully planned bank shots into self-inflicted wounds, and end-of-stage boss monsters require patience and mastery of the physics model to overcome. The challenge is satisfying however.
Shatter throws a lot at players, but the symphony doesn't last long. By placing most of the gameplay tricks in your hands from the start, the game sacrifices long-term discovery for instant charm. It's not a bad trade-off for a game of this type, but it's a choice that has consequences.
By the time you're halfway through its short run, you've seen - and gotten pretty good at--most of what Shatter has to offer. Sure, bonus modes, group play, leaderboards, and other garnishes make for some variety, but the feeling of familiarity comes early and sticks around. Some late-game fireworks with novel mechanics would probably help here.