Oh bloody hell, not another Breakout clone. If I had a quid for every game I'd played that involved destroying coloured bricks by bouncing a ball off a bat, I'd have enough money to build a dungeon for all the game developers who'd rather rehash a game that's 30 YEARS OLD rather than create something new and original.
In fact, if we're talking about games involving destroying bricks with balls, us Brits invented it. It's called Wall Ball, and it can reduce a school's infrastructure to rubble in a matter of weeks.
But I digress. On paper, Vortex is yet another in the long line of Breakout clones. It's got a bat. It's got a ball. It's got bricks. And it's got a bunch of power-ups to help you through.
There's a saving grace, though. Instead of the traditional setup, where your bat is at the bottom of the screen and the bricks are at the top, this game is played in 360 degrees. Your bat zings around the outside of the screen, hitting the ball at the bricks that are arranged in circles in the middle. It's like looking down a tunnel – presumably the 'vortex' of the title.
As you may have already guessed, this is tailor-made for the iPod's scroll-wheel, which I'm guessing is what Apple had in mind when commissioning the game. Rather than fighting against the controls as you do with iPod Pac-man and, to a lesser extent, Tetris, this game wouldn't work as well on any device other than the iPod. Good thinking!
Let's consider the other good bits. Vortex looks nice, with functional graphics backed up by luscious 3D backgrounds, and there's a nice zoomy effect when you clear a level and head down the vortex to the next set of bricks.
It sounds good too, with satisfactory shattering sounds when you hit a brick (note, if you prefer to have your own iPod's tunes playing in the background, Vortex's sound effects will prove least intrusive if you're into electronica that sounds like a trolley full of crockery falling down a set of stairs).
You have five 'bats' (lives) but can get more along the way, and you also get power-ups by smashing bonus bricks and then catching the bubble that floats out. Benefits include growing or shrinking your bat, speeding up or slowing down the balls, making them stick to your bat, and so on. They're standard for this kind of game. There's also a frenetic multi-ball power-up that sends three balls pinging round the screen, although the 360-degree view makes it nigh-impossible to keep all of them in play for long.
The trouble with Vortex is that, well, it's a bit glacial. Perhaps taking into account the complexities of the 360-degree view, the developer has made the game slower than you'd expect. Fair enough, but you can feel a bit like you're tapping your toes waiting for the ball to come back – especially when it gets trapped between two rows of bricks and spends 30 seconds doing its own thing, while you watch.
Once you get accustomed to the pace of the action and progress further into the game, Vortex presents a decent challenge. It's certainly worth a look, although it's not quite in the first rank of iPod's launch games. Nevertheless, Apple should be applauded for commissioning a game that's so clearly designed for the iPod's controls.