The point of Brick 'Em All, it's sole reason for existing, is to be hardcore. HARDCORE. SPOnG is a little sick of self-proclaimed hardcore gamers. They can only play iterations of King of Fighters. And they can only play them on a Neo Geo. Or a SuperGun. They'll play Lumines for the art and because it's one of the only titles their un-upgraded PSP firmware will support. However, sometimes they come up trumps. Brick 'Em All is an unapologetic hardcore take on Arkanoid. When you first turn it on, you'll feel somewhat locked out of the game. It will feel as though something (like an option menu) is missing. You'll play a game. The game will end. You'll play another. That will end too. A slight frown will spread across your face. You didn't really get into it. No plot was explained. No intro at all was offered. You're probably used to having things explained to you a little better. You're weak and pathetic. You need to be spoon-fed. Ha! Prepare for a rude awakening. Brick 'Em all will rip the spoon from your mouth and shove it up your arse. Scores, times, performance
. Success. You write your own story, the story of how good you are. This is a proper videogame, a Caterham 7 on the videogame highway so densely populated with VW Passats.
Brick 'Em All's Record Mode remembers everything. Your score (a lot more on this to come), the amount of blocks you've destroyed, your longest rallies, the time it took you to do every stage, your progress in every mode. And it does the same for all modes in the game.
This makes it a highly adaptable game for anyone with a passion for self-improvement in videogames. SPOnG's office was brought to a halt with millisecond improvements in Driver's minigames. Brick 'Em All lets you concentrate on time, progress, score, performance in all areas of the game. Your save evolves with you.
The game also dares you to be better at it. The ability to jump your bat to any point on the screen with a tap, the addition of spin and the power-up mechanic. Power-ups make you push the game and yourself and offer a Gradius-inspired 'choice on rails' selection before each game. However, each decision impacts the points-earning ability for every game. There are 10 power-ups, though you take five into each game. The first option is to make the ball faster or slower. The second is the ability to catch or simply return it at the exact angle it was received. Then the option to either have the classic Arkanoid tipple ball or split the single ball into five balls which disappear on contact with a block. Next is 'safe' or the very
Gradius-inspired 'option', the former giving you a pinball-style blockout from losing the ball, the latter leaving a static bat in play. You may then choose to make your bat shorter or wider than standard. And finally, you get to choose between laser ball, a ball that passes uninterrupted through all blocks it meets or bombs, which destroys all connected blocks. For each option you take to make the game more difficult, you are rewarded with points.
More hardcore elements come in Quest Mode where every level has an escape hatch, giving play a Nine Ball Pool feel of working towards a quick win. Quest Mode also features some cracking bosses which must be beaten using a bouncing ball alone, unaided by power-ups.
A final honourable mention goes to the music Warashi dragged out of its MegaDrive development kits for BEA. You've simply not heard anything like this since 1994 and the sub-cheese inspirato-tunes are a perfect icing to a very sweet cake.
Brick 'Em All is an essential purchase. It's a perfect DS game and a truly wonderful evolution of the first true videogame. It's that game that will burn a hole in your pocket and you can enjoy it in 30-second or three hour hits. However, in the UK, we'd urge you not to buy it. Don't be ripped off. Take a stand. The game in Japan and the US is under a tenner. In the UK, you're going to be asked three times that to play it and it's simply not on. The most annoying thing about the situation isn't the fact that it's going to cost you a lot of money. It's the fact that you're not going to buy it because it's not as valuable a game as other you could pick up for the same price. New Super Mario Brothers, Mario Kart, Sonic Rush et al all come packed with brand value, representing little risk. You know what to expect and you know it's going to be good.
However, you need this game. It's simply the best of its kind to date. Get into the forums following the publication of this review. If you're in the UK, SPOnG will sort something out. You never know, perhaps we'll convince 505 Gamestreet to drop its stupid ransom to a figure that will mean people will actually buy what is a very important game release.
SPOnG rating at $20 shipped on import: A-
SPOnG rating at £29.99 at UK retail: U