Content Test 3

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Hyperballoid HD
Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 7.9
Sound: 7.2
Control: 7.7
Replay Value: 7
Rating: 7.3

Online services like the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live have allowed veteran gamers to relive old-fashioned formulas and new gamers to appreciate the good ‘ol days when simplicity and purity reigned. This is why we’ve already seen slick, highly entertaining nods to the past like Shatter and Magic Orbz. The reason I mention those two specific titles is because the current game in question, Hyperballoid HD, is yet another brick-breaking title that builds off the likes of Arkanoid. It’s certainly fun and reminds us a lot of the aforementioned downloadable goodies, but it seems to lack a bit of pizzazz; Shatter boasted a bad-ass soundtrack and the unique gameplay twist of controlling the blocks by “blowing” and “sucking.” Magic Orbz provides us with specially-themed levels, even though it was admittedly simpler and not as stylized. Hyperballoid HD, while it works just fine, doesn’t really boast anything special.

The graphics are an interesting mix of two distinctly different worlds; one is darker and based on concepts like Egyptian history and mythology, while the other is closer to Shatter and features a futuristic, sci-fi setting. The latter is quite nice and at least a little flashy but the former really lacks a lot of spark, despite the interesting addition of moving, “bustable” pictures. For instance, there’s one stage where you have to break apart a ship that sails across the screen. It’s a nice visual alteration to the standard formula and it does add a bit of flair, but the colors in that first world are really quite bland and unappealing. It almost reminded me of ‘70s fashion with a lot of browns, grays and dark greens. The futuristic side of the presentation is a little better and the special effects are decent, but nothing to get too excited about, so while these graphics are somewhat lively, they’re unimpressive. It may not matter if you’re really brick-breakers, though.

The sound isn’t much better, despite a few flashes of greatness in a few of the later levels. The thing is, past games on the PSN have really spoiled us when it comes to fantastic soundtracks and effects, so even though Hyperballoid HD produces decent sound overall; it doesn’t stand up well to the competition. Music is awfully subjective, but one can fairly judge diversity and variety, and there isn’t quite enough of it, here. The sound effects, on the other hand, are sharp and relatively engaging, especially when things get a little loopy in a certain level. When you begin to snag a bunch of power-ups and the bricks start disintegrating beneath multiple projectiles, the game sounds quite good. And in fact, it should be noted that it certainly sounds better than any of the old-school brick-breakers of the past; that’s what modern technology does for you. But the point is, it really does pale in comparison to similar titles.

It’s not hard to describe Hyperballoid HD. If you’ve played Shatter or Magic Orbz, you know what a “brick-breaker” is, even if you never enjoyed the classics on which such games are based. This one adopts a vertical look like Magic Orbz, and it actually includes a lot of the same power-ups and gameplay features. For instance, there are both positive and negative pick-ups; the positive ones will grant you helpful things like multiple balls, a larger paddle, fiery balls, and sticky balls that you can catch and “throw” with the paddle. Such good pick-ups are denoted by green spheres; the bad ones are red, and can shrink the size of the ball, speed it up, or cause some other hindrance to your breakin’ progress. Therefore, you’ll want to keep the ball in play while continuing to pick up as many green spheres as possible, which is always an entertaining endeavor. Then there’s the visual differences in what we see, as mentioned in the graphical rundown.

There are also more environmental differences. For instance, there are many different kinds of blocks, and several different types of obstacles that must be bypassed in different ways. This is the one highlight of the game that sets it apart from the competition; it keeps the player playing, level after level. It makes us want to see what’s next because we don’t really feel as if we’re doing the exact same thing on each new screen, which is indeed an achievement, considering the simplicity of the gameplay. And while the visuals are hit-or-miss, I almost always enjoyed the various looks in each new level and when I finished one, I looked forward to the next. That’s a good sign, no? It’s tough to put down the controller when one is playing a game that utilizes a tried-and-true premise, which is why this game likely won’t disappoint. Furthermore, there are lots of levels within each of the stages, so you could spend a good deal of time with it, and at only $5.99, it might be worth a purchase. But we still can’t ignore the shortcomings…

The paddle really doesn’t seem to move fast enough, it can be very difficult to keep your eye on the ball in particularly cluttered levels, and with a decided lack of flash and intensity, it sort of feels a little bland. Remember, we really do have to compare this to other titles of a similar nature and while I’d say it’s on par with Magic Orbz (which I also had fun with), it can’t stand up to the excellence of Sidhe’s Shatter; technically our runner-up for Downloadable Game of the Year in 2009. On the other hand, I suppose if you’ve had your fill of such titles already, Hyperballoid HD is a fairly safe purchase; you know what to expect and it’s a guarantee that you’ll enjoy yourself for a while. The question is whether or not it’s worth your six bucks and how long you think you’ll spend with the latest brick-breaker. The variations of backgrounds and objects is what makes it worthwhile in my eyes, but I’m willing to admit this may not be the opinion of others.

5/1/2010   Ben Dutka