Bust'em takes the old Arkanoid archetype, so prevalent in handheld
gaming, and quite literally shakes it up, giving the tired game some new
life. For those of you who aren't familiar with Taito's classic but are
reading this review, you've probably seen many of its clones, variants
and offspring before. It's the game where you use a single paddle to
bounce a ball in an attempt to clear blocks suspended in the air.
Often, these clones on PDAs are lacklustre mainly because they do
nothing but replicate the basic gameplay. Surely, some try to add
interesting components to keep the enterprise fresh. Some add intricate
designs of blocks. Some add an extra paddle or include bonus games.
All of these variants, however, include only piecemeal enhancements to
the original Taito classic.
Bust'em has a good chance in dethroning the Taito progenitor and its
follow-up sequel. While some clones merely include a few power-ups not
thought of in the latter, the designers for Bust'em have incorporated a
plethora of creative, unconventional power-ups. Furthermore, the
ability to stack power-ups and combine their effectiveness gives the
game energy not found in its stolid peers and predecessors. For
example, while there is the usual multi-ball power-up, you can pair it
up with a hyperkinetic power-up that speeds your playing pieces so fast
they leave trails. That's great for clearing boards with many bricks
but you also have to save at least one of them to keep yourself from
losing a life so not every power-up is worth getting. Some combined
together offer some devastating effects both on you and the level at
hand. That type of subtle strategy is the quintessential difference
between a redundant carbon copy and a watershed piece.
The 2Dream engine used here is reminiscent of the developer's trademarks
in RocketElite. In Bust'em, there's copious use of the particle effects
pioneered in RocketElite. Even though much time has passed since the
release of RocketElite, the particle effects exuded by 2Dream are
unrivalled to this date both on a performance level and artistic sense.
The use of particles is not merely a cosmetic trick though. They help
convey a sense of chaos and add to the frenetic pace of action. There
are exactly one hundred levels included in Bust'em. Each level seems
distinct in personality. They possess nuances that separate them apart
and the palette used here is in every sense equal to the action
portrayed; very vibrant and full of life. In spite of the pre-made
content included in Bust'em, there's actually a level editor that lets
you construct your own levels. In fact, you can use it to share your
levels with other players as well. Thus, Bust'em provides a
comprehensive package, letting you tinker with the stirring visuals.
One of the problems with RocketElite was the sheer difficulty and
learning curve involved. In Bust'em, the difficulty settings are very
charitable in comparison. It's able to cater to very simplistic
audiences like children all the way to levels that border fanaticism.
That's a great improvement over previous games from the same developer.
Controls are also intuitive and easy to grasp. You can literally play
the entire game with the stylus. The only thing mysterious is the
starting position of the ball. It always starts falling downwards,
rather than sticking to your paddle like in Arkanoid or going upward.
If you're inattentive for a moment before the game starts, you might
inadvertently lose a life. The game is very generous though. You are
allotted a fixed number of lives but after expending all of those, you
can start from the latest stage with a full supply again. In the
beginning, the game also informs of what various power-ups do with quick
pop-up screens to instruct you while in the game itself. This reflects
the meticulous care of the developers and also reduces the need to flip
through help screens or manuals to determine what exactly does what
during the play.
This title is augmented by a persistent soundtrack and solid effects.
Although they are not replaceable completely (customizable like in Worms
or Baldur's Gate), they do their job well. The aural effects should be
noted as they help portray the cacophony of the action. Unfortunately,
the soundtrack pretty much takes a backseat to this. Unlike the
graphics and the gameplay, it fails to add energy to the overall
picture, making it the only minor letdown in Bust'em.
Perhaps I've spent a lot of time going over some of the mechanical
achievements of Bust'em and not much on the gameplay itself. It reminds
me a lot of the highly developed Street Fighter series from Capcom
because gameplay in Bust'em is always fast and frenetic. Using various
power-ups in combination, you can clear an entire level within seconds.
Use them in the incorrect order and you can spend minutes trying to
preserve your last life. While the controls are inherently intuitive
and Bust'em itself is based on an oft-imitated game, the level design
and placement of power-ups lends a subtle sense of strategy that you're
forced to practice at an increasingly swift pace. Bust'em doesn't let
up in that department. It's an exuberant game that has the pretense to
become a canon like the spiritual predecessors (Arkanoid, Breakout,
etc.) it closely follows.
[09/10] Program Size
[14/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer