Smashbreak (Video Game Review)

Video Game Review
Playstation Portable (PSP Mini)
Developed by: Sony
Published by: Sony

While most of the games produced by Sony under the PSP minis system have been extremely disappointing, Smashbreak is a nice treat. Although, it too is plagued with problems and ultimately will leave you shaking you’re head, it’s not bad enough to leave you violently frustrated. It helps that Smashbreak takes the simple concept of Breakout and turns it on its head. There are a lot of interesting aspects within this small game but the execution could have been handled better. Still, it’s not a bad purchase for only a few bucks.

Smashbreak takes the idea of Breakout and makes it more complicated in a good way. The game is played horizontally with the player controlling two paddles; one each on the far left and far right of the playing field. There are a bunch of blocks in the middle of the playing field. Using the two active balls, the player must ricochet the balls back towards the blocks while preventing the balls from passing by their paddles. Hitting the blocks make them disappear. Some blocks have power-ups that can make the paddle bigger, for example. Players can also make their paddles spin which launches the balls at such a high speed that they will not bounce off broken blocks but smash right through them. Once all the blocks are gone, the level is completed. However, once the player has lost all their lives from balls making their way past their paddles, they’ll end up with a game over screen.

The gimmick of the game is that players must control both paddles at the same time which can get very confusing. This is especially true when spinning the paddles to smash through the blocks because it ramps up the speed of the game. Controlling the left paddle is done by pressing up or down on the d-pad while pressing left or right will perform a smash. The triangle and x buttons, respectively, move the right paddle up and down while the square or circle buttons will perform a smash for that paddle. However, while it sounds and, at times, can feel complicated to control, it not something that you can hold against the game too much. The whole point is for the control scheme to be challenging because it takes skill to control both paddles with perfect timing. If there’s one complaint about the single player controls is that there is sometimes lag when trying to perform a smash which feels awkward and shouldn’t happen. However, performing smashes are risky and I preferred not doing it at all unless I really wanted to send a ball to the other side of the playing field.

Graphically the game could have looked better. Like most of the PSP mini games, the graphics look somewhere between PS1 and PS2 calibre. It’s got this cel-shading thing going on that looks more distracting than aesthetically pleasing. It would have been nicer had they gone with a completely different style. It would have been interesting had made the game look like something out of the 8-bit or 16-bit eras (and it would have been nicer on the eyes). It’s not an eyesore but if feels like the screen is throwing up rather than the designers actually choosing a decent art style. It seems a bit on the slow side at times. While that can be a welcome thing when you’re trying to get accustomed to the game’s unique controls, it does make the game a bit on the boring side once you’re used to everything.

The sounds are acceptable although the sound effects can get annoying quick. While the tunes aren’t necessarily my cup of tea, they do sound like something you’d expect to hear if you found this game in an arcade today or even ten years ago. Still, I preferred playing this with the sound lowered because even though the game’s soundtrack wasn’t bad, the sound effects were.

The game comes with a two player option that’s fun for some quick play. Both players play at the same time on the same PSP. It’s done very well although it would have been nice to include an option for download play so two people could play on two separate systems. The goal of the game isn’t to break all the blocks (although they are still in play) but to score five goals against your opponent. While it won’t be the best ever game of Pong you’ll ever play, it’s still a lot of fun and good for a couple of quick games with a friend when you’re stuck waiting in line for something.

Unlike many PSP Mini games, Smashbreak actually has some substance to it and it doesn’t feel like a cash-grab from Sony. The single-player game has many levels that will keep you occupied for more than a couple of minutes and the multiplayer option is fun. The controls can be confusing at times on the single-player side but that’s the whole point of the game; to get both sides of your brain working together. It could have looked and sounded better but for only a few bucks, you could do a lot worse than Smashbreak.



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