Geometry Wars-style neon graphics have been as contagious as the common cold on the App Store, and the latest game to catch the bug is Disney Interactive Studios’ Breakspin. Adults, don’t worry: you’ll find no connection to children’s movies here. This is a modern hybrid of the classic arcade games Breakout and Pong.
The game takes place on a circular playing field, with two decently sized paddles that you glide around the perimeter. A cluster of gems sits in the center. To play, you set a ball in motion and repeatedly bounce it off the gems until they all disappear. A timer counts down in the corner of the screen, and letting a ball past your paddles penalizes you twenty-five seconds. Run out of time, and you’re toast.
It’s electric, boogie woogie woogie!
You control the paddles by either by sliding your thumbs along vertical bars at the sides of the screen, or by touching the paddles directly. Either works fine, and you may only miss the ball because your reaction speed is too slow. However, the basic gameplay feels a lot like playing air hockey by yourself.
As you progress, you unlock powerups, many of which we found to be problematic. For instance, the Energy Shield has you whirl the paddles around the circle as fast as you can to create an impenetrable forcefield. The forcefield hardly has any effect, and after it goes away, we invariably lost the ball, setting us back twenty-five seconds.
Another powerup stops the ball and asks you to shake your iDevice as fast as you can to build up power for an explosion. When the explosion happens, the ball starts moving again before mere mortals can get their hands back on the controls, resulting in yet another lost ball. Powerups are supposed to empower the player, but these left us frustrated.
Destroy the fish eggs!
Without the aid of powerups, the gems later in the game take an incredible number of hits to destroy. This wouldn’t be so annoying if you could just direct the ball more easily. Like the games that inspired it, the ball shoots to the left, right, or straight out depending on where it hits the paddle. But because the gems are round and the paddles are curved, we never felt like we had a whole lot of control over where the ball went.
Breakspin has a number of pluses. It has lots of levels, quality (if generic) music, iTunes compatibility, score-challenge Bluetooth multiplayer, and online leaderboards. But even if the powerups worked correctly, the problem remains that the core gameplay mechanic just isn’t very fun.
To paraphrase Jurassic Park, the developers spent so much effort figuring out how to update a classic, they never stopped to think about whether they should. Let’s face it, Pong is dead. If this is the best developers can do to update it, maybe it’s time to let it have a dignified rest.