“while I understand this is currently a free game, I have to review it like any other and it pales”
Platform: iPhone, iPad
Genre: Puzzle, Bat-and-Ball
Release Date: Dec 01, 2010
Since the 1970’s we’ve always had a fascination and a compulsion to play what is now known as the ‘bat-an-ball’ genre, when video games such as Tennis on the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong on the Atari were being played in arcades across the globe. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from preventing that pixilated sphere from passing by your paddle, going mano-a-mano against a basic computer program and coming out the victor. My favourite sub-genre has always been those that involve not only keeping your ball away from a perilous screen edge, but also having to smash away blocks while doing so. The idea originated from Breakout in 1976 when two guys decided to take inspiration from Pong and give it their own unique twist. Since that time many, and I mean many, have emulated its core design – most notably Alleyway for GameBoy, which saw Mario piloting the paddle.
More recently we’ve had the critically acclaimed Shatter on PSN and Windows. If you take away the ‘how good it was for its time’ factor then I would be as bold to say it’s probably the best the genre has seen in terms of its all-round polished package. This brings us on nicely to the iPhone and Oldschool Blocks that takes us back to those retro days, instantly filling us with that feeling of nostalgia and longing for a simpler time.
It’s bright and vibrant colours ooze from every orifice, almost as if someone went crazy with the contrast settings, turning them up to eleven. The game also stays true in its pixilated presentation, with even the ball showing noticeable jagged edges, the backgrounds sending you into a fluorescent trance and the menu fonts looking like something pulled straight from the Amiga 500. The only problem is everything tends to grate on you after long periods of play, and while it’s great to remember the glory days, graphics have moved on for a reason.
The game is accessible and easy to jump into, and the paddle responds well to your movements. It also provides you with an area for your finger that doesn’t hinder your vision when zipping quickly across the screen. Even when you have up to three balls in play you always feel that you can get them back up in the air and any failings are down to you and not a shortcoming with the interface or controls.
The power ups on offer are pretty basic, with your usual extra ball, increase or decrease of ball speed, extra lives, and the aforementioned triple ball, but apart from these there is little else to keep things interesting. There are so many ideas that could have been incorporated, such as the screen mirroring, or flipping, or the ball spinning, or the paddle getting larger and smaller, but there’s nothing of the sort. Not to mention the drab ones we do have are hard to distinguish as most of them look almost identical to the ball itself.
Oldschool Blocks does provide nice level variety and a good progression in terms of difficulty, but a major negative is that you can fail a level and then begin again from that same level if you so wish. This takes away any sense of achievement in reaching a certain stage and doesn’t provide much in terms competition or completion status. There also aren’t any Leaderboards or social integration and that is something gamers crave now, especially with a game of this simplicity, with people wanting to share their impressive feats with their peers.
It’s all well and good going retro, but for me it is usually done best when you keep that great gameplay of old and recreate it with updated graphics and inventive level design, much like Nervous Brickdown did on the Nintendo DS. That game is gorgeous with plenty of cartoon-style personality yet still possesses that same charm the original had nearly four decades ago. I’d go as far to say, it’s a little half-arsed from BrushGames.com, and while I understand this is currently a free game, I have to review it like any other and it pales.
If you’re looking for a good solid ‘bat-an-ball’ game on the iPhone then why not try Action Block Buster, which for me is a better alternative with a cool twist (literally) and holds your attention for longer periods, without destroying your corneas in the process.
Craig Bryan, NoobFeed