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Break 'Em All

Score: 98%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: D3
Developer: D3
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 2 - 8 (Single or Multi-card)
Genre: Puzzle/ Classic/Retro

Graphics & Sound:

Like many things in Break 'Em All, the graphics are just simple enough to get the job done and not overly flashy. Though there have been several other recent games that have moved the Breakout model into three dimensions (i.e. Magic Ball) -- Break 'Em All keeps the genre to its roots with lots of 2D goodness.

Blocks come in many colors, flavors and behaviors and each style of block has its own distinct look so you should always have a feel for what the block will do when your ball hits it. For instance, there are some blocks that don't bounce your ball back -- these are semi-transparent and have a ghosted look to them, meanwhile, the blocks that take a few hits before they are destroyed look a bit more chiseled and sharp. It amazed me how well the artists were able to not only come up with a such a wide variety of styles for these blocks, but also have those styles appear so well on the DS' small screen.

Audiowise, the game continues the "simple is better" trend. Sound effects are short, sweet and to the point and spend very little time cluttering up the speakers. The game's techno-styled background music also fits well with the overall feel of the game and really helps to add some energy to the overall experience.


Break 'Em All has three gameplay modes that will test your skills in various ways. With the exception of Survival mode, each one also uses the game's power up system. Unlike the aforementioned Magic Ball, Break 'Em All doesn't drop power ups on you as you break blocks. Instead, you choose the power ups that you want to be available to you before you start the mode. You are given five choices that define which moves you will use. For instance, you can choose to have your paddle bounce the ball back in the same direction it came from or you can catch the ball and re-launch it at your leisure. Another choice involves putting a barrier along the paddle's track that will bounce the ball back (for up to three hits) or putting out a second stationary paddle. While you might want to choose the safer option (the barrier), using the second paddle will net you more points. As you play through the game, the points you acquire fill up meters. When the first meter is filled, you can execute the first power up (slow down or speed up your ball) and that empties your bar. Or you can let it build up and eventually use your second power up, and so on.

The two modes that use this system are Tokoton and Quest. Tokoton looks and feels a lot like your classic Block Ball game. It's just you and the blocks and you can't advance until you've cleared the board. There are two modes within this one, Standard and Random. If you choose Standard, you will go through a series of 50 preset and increasingly complex levels, whereas if you choose Random, you will play to your heart's content against up to 3,000,000 randomly generated levels. In this mode, you are trying to evolve into the Supreme Being. There is a picture depicting your current evolutionary status as well as your level, points and other stats on the top screen. The mode starts you off with a picture of an amoeba and changes every time you evolve.

Quest mode is has a more distinct progression to it. The game is broken up into a series of worlds. Each world consists of three levels and a boss battle and has some theme or introduces some new mechanic (like the aforementioned water or switch blocks). Instead of forcing you to clear all of the blocks in order to move on to the next board, you just have to get the ball through a hole on the top of the screen. You can move to the next level with all, none or just some of the blocks cleared. The boss battles involve some "animal" that moves around the screen and requires some tricky bouncing in order to hit some target on the boss. Unlike the previously mentioned mode, you have an unlimited number of continues and can play until you get frustrated or beat the mode. Quest mode also supports a multiplayer game where you and some friends play simultaneously in order to see who can get the highest score.

Survival mode is a little different. Instead of controlling a ball in order to destroy blocks, the tables get turned around and you control a block trying to dodge and knock back balls. Basically, you use the stylus to move around a cluster of blocks and you are trying to prevent the flying and bouncing balls from tapping at the ones towards the center of your open-ended cluster. The longer you last, the more blocks build up around your precious heart block. There are four different configurations that play to your individual style. One is protective on the top, one on the sides while another starts off venerable but grows to be the most protective if you last long enough. This mode supports eight player games where you and your friends see who can last the longest.


Break 'Em All's difficulty has a nice, smooth gradient. Early levels and bosses in the Story Mode are fairly straightforward and require little thought, while later ones involve having to hit switch blocks before the exit is opened or passing through water that changes your ball's speed.

A lot of the game's difficulty depends on your personal preferences and the power ups you chose. If your style lends to wanting to rack up points faster, then you will most likely choose the Fast power up, but if you believe in slow and steady wins the race, then the slow power up is your style (besides speed, the difference is the amount of points the blocks yield when destroyed). So the game can get tougher if you are use to playing with a slow ball, but decide to switch to a fast ball power up for a change.

Game Mechanics:

Break 'Em All's control scheme couldn't be simpler, and farther from what you would expect at the same time. Where most games that fit this style require you to use the D-Pad in order to move your paddle back and forth, Break 'Em All simulates the mouse feel that you will find in games like Magic Ball with the stylus. Put simply, where you stylus is, that's where your paddle is, well sort of. Since the paddle cannot move up or down, the game only reads where you are to the left and right and puts your paddle at the bottom of the screen. The alternative to the stylus is using the shoulder buttons to guide your platform left and right. This scheme is a bit counterintuitive in my mind (it's like using the arrows on a keyboard instead of a mouse) and takes some fine tuning to get the speed just right (you increase the speed by pressing the Select button). Pressing the X button activates your current power up and the Y button launches the ball from your paddle.

The power up system is a good mechanic that really helps to differentiate this game from others of its style. Unfortunately, there is no save system, so not only can you not start a game from where you left off, but you also have to choose your five power ups every time you start a game. Because I found myself using the same combination of power ups over and over again, there were plenty of times when I wished for some sort of profile system that allowed me to skip that series of commands.

Overall, Break 'Em All is a fun game that can keep you entertained for as long as you want. The only real issues I had with it is it's lack of save capabilities as noted above. Fans of this genre should definitely pick up Break 'Em All for a retro game with a fresh twist.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Sony PlayStation 2 And 1 Streetball Sony PlayStation 2 NFL Head Coach

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated