Platform: PS Vita (Mini)
BreakQuest blew Breakout and Arkanoid wide open when it released back in 2004.
The paddle remained, as did the ball and blocks to break. That's how brick-breaking games work, and Nurium Games stayed well inside the pre-established genre formula. But instead of providing some boring square aggregations of destroyable walls, the innovative trend-setter introduced dozens of exciting and unique challenges to overcome. Some of the blocks were in fact skybound zepplins tethered to a cloud. Sometimes you were underwater battling an alien Newton's Cradle. With each level offering radically different design elements and physics modelling, working out what the heck you were supposed to be doing was just as important as keeping your ball in play.
Recognising how well BreakQuest would have worked on the PSP, Beatshapers summarily ported the cult classic to the Sony's handheld as a PlayStation Mini, where it floundered and failed due to unbelievably poor controls. Not content with the missed opportunity, they've returned with Extra Evolution: a full Vita revamp with newly updated graphics, boss battles and powerups festooned over its 101 levels.
Essentially, BreakQuest: Extra Evolution is the closest that brick breaking has ever gotten to becoming an interactive work of art. It's a true feast for the senses. It's a true test of your reflexes and mind. And it's still true to its Breakout roots.
As a brick-breaker a la Breakout and the aforementioned Arkanoid, BreakQuest Extra Evolution doesn't set out to redefine and remake the retro setup. You'll still bounce a ball around the screen and smash blocks to complete a level, using your twitchy reflexes to avoid losing a limited number of lives. However, it brilliantly challenges what it means to be a brick breaker with its 101 varied challenges. Upon entering a level, some of which are beautiful fields of flowers, some of which are under the sea or in space, or even inside a computer, you'll first need to work out the rules.
Each challenge boasts markedly different physics settings that affect how your ball handles, but your first objective will be to work out which blocks are destructible. Are the flowers my targets? The windmills? The aliens? What's going on?! After that, you'll then have to master how your ball interacts with them, sometimes bouncing off at odd angles or causing the blocks themselves to switch position. Or change colour. Or shape. As you continually unlock new arenas, you're constantly enjoying something different, unique and exciting, both from a gameplay and an artistic standpoint. Indeed, BreakQuest Extra Evolution often feels like experiencing a piece of interactive performance art despite its technical reflex-driven mechanics.
Beatshapers' graphical upgrade is nothing short of stunning on the Vita's OLED screen. It's an explosion of colour and vibrancy, always experimenting with new themes and styles. Unlike the original PSP port, the sprites are also incredibly crisp.
A selection of powerups, such as a spread gun, rocket launcher and all manner of bizarre physics-based game-changers (dealing with an ovoid Rugby ball is a far cry from your usual spherical projectile) keeps the action fresh and introduce their own challenges, bolstered by a new selection of esoteric upgrades. A new complement of boss battles also ramp the difficulty up to insane levels, but manage to introduce a feeling of challenge, progression and succeeding against impossible odds. Clever use of the regenerating shield system, accessible through the Vita's triggers, will help with some of the tougher engagements.
The controls killed BreakQuest's original PSP version, and though improved substantially in Extra Evolution, they're still not perfect. The analogue stick doesn't actually seem to provide analogue control, instead translating relatively small inputs into fairly large and sweeping paddle movements. That said, it's far less jerky and janky than the previous game - and more importantly, you'll get used to it before frustration sets in.
My other major gripe comes down to the length of the levels. Once the joy of discovering how each stages works wears off, completing many of the levels and hitting that one last damn block can take an age, often making the action drag on and providing a major annoyance should you fail at the final hurdle. I appreciate that this sounds slightly ungrateful, but it's possible to have too much of a good thing.
For £3.49, mind, you'll certainly get a lot of it.
- Riotously inventive physics-based challenges augment classic Breakout gameplay
- Colourful, varied and crisp visuals look fantastic on the Vita's luscious screen
- 101 levels makes for amazing value at £3.49
- Some overlong levels
- Analogue controls are still slightly jerky
- Global leaderboards would have been nice
The Short Version: BreakQuest: Extra Evolution refines and redefines classic brick breaking action into a true work of art, delivering the definitive portable version of Nurium Games' breakthrough classic.