There are several top-notch PlayStation Network exclusives available, and that includes the likes of Wipeout HD, Flower, and echochrome; all of which are well worth the relatively small investment required. Well, you can add yet another gem to that expanding list of excellent downloadable titles on the PSN, as Sidhe Interactive’s Shatter is wonderfully slick, ceaselessly entertaining, and absolutely some of the most fun you can have for $7.99. When we gave you the full preview last week, we had high hopes for this title and thankfully, those hopes were realized as soon as we completed our first world in Shatter. For all you old-school gamers out there, perhaps the best way to describe this title is to say it’s a combination of Arkanoid and Breakout; but you must make room in your mind for the advances of modern technology. Although it’s only a downloadable title, Sidhe really went all out in producing one of the flashiest and most visually pleasing games to ever hit the Network. Really, for eight lousy bucks?! This is a no-brainer.
Right from the start, the slick, robotic-style presentation might remind you of the aforementioned Wipeout HD, with it’s super-clean lines and painfully smooth frame rate. The level design is excellent, as you will rarely – if ever – be tackling identical levels twice in a row, and the special effects and background visuals add another dimension of beauty to an already impressive production. We could’ve used a bit more in the way of imagination and creativity when it came to designing the actual blocks and shards in those levels, but we’re not about to complain about the bosses…those were definite highlights. Some may wish to be anal and complain about a lack of diversity within the gameplay screens for each level, but one has to consider the premise; we’re not looking at a blockbuster production. For what it is, and what it offers, it’s very difficult to locate any significant drawbacks in the graphics, although I suppose would’ve used a bit less in the way of that robotic style a bit more in the way of lush color, but that’s more of a personal preference.
The sound is some of the best you will hear in arcade-based action games like this, and we can’t make it any plainer than that. The soundtrack is just completely bad-ass, especially if you’re a fan of electronic beats and other techno styles, and the corresponding sound effects synch nicely with the music. Of course, when you focus on one style of music for a particular game, you may alienate those who really dislike the chosen soundtrack (as it doesn’t suddenly switch to heavy metal, or something), but hey, that’s part of the game. Besides, the music fits the entire attitude and style of Shatter perfectly, and to complain about it because you’re not a techno fan is really splitting hairs. The combination of those crystal clear effects and the awesome music is what really enhances the overall experience, and you’ll definitely want a decent sound system to fully appreciate the sound. For brief moments, we were almost like, “okay, the music is kinda over-the-top,” but such sentiments evaporated quickly as we lost ourselves once again in the gameplay, which matches the driving tracks so well. In short and without any fancy description, the technicals are niiiiiice.
So here’s the gameplay concept: you control a “paddle,” which is actually a spaceship, and you must keep at least one ball ( we say “ball,” but it looks more like a tiny futuristic boomerang) in play if you wish to retain your life. This ball flies out and shatters bricks and other obstacles, and breaking those blocks will reward you with shards that will build up your power meter. You can also score interesting power-ups simply by catching any that come your way. Now, on the surface, this may appear fairly traditional and even clichéd, but there’s a lot more to talk about. First of all, your angle of view will frequently change; sometimes it’s vertical, sometimes it’s horizontal, and sometimes…it’s circular (yeah, that’s right). Also, as those balls represent your lives, you have full control over them: if you wish, you can toss all three out at once, thereby increasing your bustin’ power, but at the same time, if all three get by you, that’s Game Over. It all depends on the situation; there are times that call for one approach and other instances where it’s better to go the safe route and just deal with one ball. Keeping them going is as simple as using the left analog to direct that padde/spaceship.
But you’re not merely at the mercy of physics; i.e., how those balls respond to anything they hit, which of course alters their path. No, you can drag them to you or push them away; the L1 button “sucks” and the R1 button “blows,” which allows you to have a lot more control over any balls in play. Much of the time, it’s not a bad strategy to just keep holding the R1 button so the ball stays away from you and knocks into as many bricks as possible, and you may be asking, “why would I ever ‘suck’?” Well, because you’re gonna want those shards you just freed. Sucking in broken fragments of blocks increases your power bar, and once that bar is full, you can unleash a Shard Storm which destroys most anything in its path and is typically best reserved for bosses. Yes, bosses. There are some ingeniously designed bosses in this game, and in the later levels, you’ll have to throw everything you’ve got at them to emerge victorious. Also, don’t forget about your Shield, which you’ll need to guard yourself from boss attacks, and also from free-floating blocks that can knock your spaceship for a loop.
Everything just works together extremely well. The lone complaint we have is that it’s often difficult to keep track of the ball(s) when it gets lost amidst a sea of special effects on the screen. The developers should’ve made that ball a bit more distinct somehow; you know, give us a way to pick it out of the visual maelstrom with greater ease. We also thought the circular levels were a little too small and didn’t give us enough room to maneuver, especially in comparison to the more standard horizontal and vertical levels, which were all notably larger. It’s enough to have the fresh dimension of the circle to spice things up; it’s our opinion that it didn’t need to be smaller to ramp up the difficulty. But outside of these drawbacks, we really have nothing but positive things to say about Shatter. It’s fast, fluid, surprisingly diverse, imaginative, and ultimately pleasing to the senses. You would think that such a game might get frustrating during the more challenging portions, but even the increased challenge will leave you with a smile on your face. Provided you’ve got a knack for keeping your eye on a quick-moving object and a solid set of reflexes, you should be just fine.
There are ten worlds in total and I suppose that some critics could penalize the game for not offering much more in the way of gameplay, such as additional modes or special multiplayer variations on the basic premise. But I’m not one of those people who needs a hundred options to add to my enjoyment of a game, and the ten worlds available is plenty in my eyes. It’ll definitely take you some time to complete them all, and let’s not forget that Shatter’s value can’t be denied: for only $7.99, you get a title that could’ve been successful at double the price, and no, you won’t just zip through all ten worlds in two hours (I don’t care how good you are). Therefore, taking everything into account, we can’t come to any other conclusion than the following-
For the cost and time involved (it won’t take more than a few minutes to download), Shatter is an absolute must-buy. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
7/25/2009 Ben Dutka