April 11th, 2012 | By Gerrard Winter
This boi gonna be honest with ya, bro. He don’t know whack about breakdancing, b-boying or whatever you want to call that fancy jig that all the youths like doing on top of cardboard sheets. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t find the idea of combining it with rhythm action and puzzle solving mechanics a pretty intriguing prospect. Think of it: two athletes strutting their stuff, competing for the crowd’s praise in a war waged through sheer spectacle – what could be more entertaining than that? Playing pseudo-Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move at the same time, of course!
Well okay, that descriptor is slightly misleading. Rather than having you both puzzle and break simultaneously, the game switches between the two connected modes play on the fly. In the puzzle mode, you’ve gotta drop piles of multi-colored blocks onto the play area without the resulting heap getting too high. Then, after lining up several blocks of the same colour, you can make your b-boy do a “power move,” a dance move so goddamn dope that it destroys all the matched blocks and gives you a proportional boost to your crowd approval rating (health basically).
What blocks you have at your disposal is determined in the rhythm mode, in which *spoilers* you have to correctly press the direction buttons in time with the music! Timing every beat perfectly will get you a huge wad of same coloured blocks, ideal for adding a huge boost to your next power move. Flub your tempo, however, and you’ll end up with a mish-mash of colours that’ll be almost impossible to neatly fit anywhere on the board without ruining your technicolour masterpiece.
On paper, the puzzle side of things sounds rather low-key, but when you’re juggling it with the rhythm mode it actually becomes quite intense. This is especially true in the later songs, where the stop-start nature of the gameplay can make keeping with the beat a pretty challenging endeavour. Things only get more complicated once the game starts introducing hybrid colours, a type of block that can only be used in a power move if they’re adjacent their two parent colours. e.g. red and yellow make orange, so an orange block needs to be accompanied by both a red and a yellow block before it becomes useful.
As you can probably imagine, keeping track of all that junk at the same time is a good way to give yourself a headache, but it’s also the (only) thing that makes Break Blocks fun in the first place. Nailing every beat, then lining up a massive screen clearing combo that chains together every colour, is an immensely gratifying achievement when you finally manage to pull it off, one that requires a good measure of both spontaneity and pre-planning. It’s a shame, then, that actually getting to that point isn’t anywhere near as exciting as it should be, mainly thanks to something that should’ve been the star of the show: music.
Just to reiterate, the extent of my knowledge on this subject starts and ends with a Wikipedia article, so I ain’t got a clue if the jams in Break Blocks are appropriate to the sport or not, but what I can tell you for sure is that they’re all kinda boring. It’s not *bad* music by any stretch; I’m sure they’re quite pleasant tracks to listen to on their own, but that doesn’t necessarily make them much fun to ‘play’ in a game context. Sure, they’ve got a nice steady beat in most cases, but – if you’ll pardon the vaguely druggie speak- I never managed to get much of a ‘buzz’ from trying to synch up with ‘em. They all just kinda plod along with the same simple riffs repeated over and over, never really reaching any satisfying melodies or meaningful crescendos. And that would be totally fine if it was merely background music and not, you know, something intricately connected to the entire premise of the game!
In fact, the whole breakdancing angle is a bit of a dud; there seems to be almost no connection between gameplay and the supposed dance battle that’s going on in the fiction. For instance you’re not really “battling” against anyone. The game presents you with rivals who are allegedly trying to out-groove you but, in practice, they do little more than arbitrarily reduce your crowd approval rating every now and then. And should you tear your eyes away from the action for a moment, you’d realise that neither you avatar nor your opponent is really dancing anyway, more shuffling around awkwardly like a confused teenager at their first party (i.e. dancing like me). Honestly, you could rip out the entire dancing element from this game and it would have absolutely no effect on how it’s played. Hell, it might even improve it!
To be clear, I do genuinely commend the developers for attempting this fusion of dancing, rhythm action and puzzling. But when the dancing side is almost non-existent and the rhythm parts are distinctly underwhelming, all that’s really left is a fairly okay puzzle game. The current price point for Break Blocks sits between ~£0.65 if you buy at the minimum price from the developers’ “pay what you want” campaign, or £3.50 from Desura. I’m gonna say that its true value as a game lies much closer to the former than the latter. A little harsh, yes, but while a fairly okay puzzle game can still be fun and all, In this case it’s been so diluted by the game’s other failings that it’s not really going to provide much lasting entertainment to anyone but the most stalwart puzzle fans. It’s an interesting concept piece for sure, but little more than that.