You know the saying about 1,000 monkeys, 1,000 typewriters, 1,000 years? Well, get a man, a ball, and a wall and the predictable result is instantaneous.
There’s something immensely satisfying about the repetitive nature of bouncing a ball against a wall. Throw in the block-destroying nature found in most bat-and-ball games and the reward is only amplified.
BreakQuest (originally released on PC in 2004) is one such game, and within it 100 levels await your finest ball bouncing skills. The set-up is relatively standard: you control the horizontal movement of the bat (and with it, the ball) and above you are a number of obstacles that must be hit in order to disappear.
In play, you regularly get served with power-ups and power-downs and it’s up to you to exploit these to your advantage. Clear the screen and it’s on to the next.
Where BreakQuest differs is in its reliance on real-world physics. The ball interacts fully with the playfield, its trajectory affected by contact with any of the objects on-screen (power-ups included).
When not anchored in place, the objects themselves react, leading to some lovely inventive level design on the part of the developer - certain stages end up looking more like a crazy physics demo, with all of the elements jiggling wildly around after some encouragement from the ball.
Unfortunately, that also causes one of the game’s most immediate issues. Although it's an impressively dynamic spectacle given how rigid most bat-and-ball efforts have traditionally been, too often an obstacle will deflect the ball in a manner that causes you to lose a life (in a neat twist on the standard formula, you get two balls for each of your three lives).
It can work the other way, of course, although in practice any luck you benefit from will still seem insufficient the moment the physics work against you. Some of the levels, refreshing as they are, just feel unfairly difficult.
More important than any of this is the fact the level of control isn’t as refined and precise as it should be. There is the option to tweak the sensitivity down (which anyone who isn’t a cyborg will need to) but the dead zone when using the analogue nub is too great, meaning that any nuance in movement is crammed into too narrow a band.
The D-pad is useable and actually provides a far more balanced and responsive option, but it lacks the top speed of the analogue control, meaning that you’ll miss any balls that are quickly heading too far from the paddle.
And before you think it, switching between D-pad and analogue in play - even on the PSPgo, which offers a button arrangement that can theoretically accommodate such a notion - isn’t a realistic solution.
Additional annoyance came in the form of two full system crashes and, bizarrely, three occasions when the screen went black while the game kept running. While we can’t directly attribute these incidents to BreakQuest (and are therefore not taking into account in this review - even if no such occurrences have happened with any other game on our PSPgo so far), they are nevertheless mentioned here for the record.
A lot of practice and tinkering with the sensitivity level eliminates much of the frustration, and clever touches such as being able to retain a power-up even after losing a life ensure that other irritating aspects of the genre are eliminated. But aggravations due to control issues that are never fully resolved remain, and the crawl through the levels can at times be arduous.
You’ll bounce back into BreakQuest sporadically because there's definitely enjoyment to be had, but those hoping for this game to represent some great bat-and-ball evolution will be disappointed.