Game Over Online ~ Bust'em

GameOver Game Reviews - Bust'em (c) Digital Concepts, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Bust'em (c) Digital Concepts
System Requirements Pocket PC
Overall Rating 88%
Date Published Sunday, June 23rd, 2002 at 04:54 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

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] Addictiveness
[17/20] Gameplay
[14/15] Graphics
[09/10] Interface/controls
[09/10] Program Size
[03/05] Sound
[04/05] Discreetness
[14/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer


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