The Breakout genre is in dire need of a good old gaming burial – a sending off into the heavens of video game past.
The fact that the concept's roots can be traced back to Pong, one of the earliest video games ever, should be an indication that it's time to move on.
Yet some developers don't want to let it die out just yet, trying to find new ways to put a spin on the dated idea. Sidhe Interactive's recent Shatter was quite the eye-catcher, with its gorgeous explosions and intriguing boss battles.
The humdrum nature of it all still lurked in the back of your mind, however – underneath all the flashy art direction, it was still basically a 35-year-old concept.
AlphaBounce is Motion-Twin's crack at bringing a fresh new element of the genre to DSiWare, by incorporating RPG elements into the action.
While it's a novel idea and Motion-Twin should be commended for its efforts, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, and eventually ends up sucking the life out of an idea which was on the brink of death anyway.
Time to bounce
Incarcerated in an intergalactic prison system, the protagonist is tasked with mining nearby space debris as a slave for ESCorp.
A map of the galaxy is provided with a grid overlay. Initially confined to a single square of the grid, you expand your reach by entering surrounding areas and cleaning up the space junk.
Here's where the ball and paddle come into play. Your spaceship is the paddle with a 'drilling ball' mounted on top. The ball is fired up the screen to destroy the debris brick by brick.
A novel storyline, but unfortunately it gets a little sketchy from here on in. You're thrown into this world with barely an explanation of what you're actually meant to be doing.
While the majority of grid spaces are empty, indicating a regular Breakout-style level, a few scattered squares contain ship pieces, so first instinct is to head towards those.
Once collected, these enhancements can be attached to your ship for a variety of upgrades and effects – paddle extensions, lasers and the like.
An upgrade selection screen, similar to the type you'd see in your average RPG title, can be used to chop and change between add-ons, enabling any combination of power-ups to be implemented together.
Still in the beta stages
It's a well thought out system with no meaty gameplay to back it up.
Play starts off as you'd expect, with you firing off the ball into the blocks above and rebounding it back every time it approaches, lest it strike your main ship.
As bricks are destroyed, a wide variety of collectable power-ups fall down the screen, carrying dozens of different effects, from changing the speed of the ball to adding a 'Chaos Field' below your paddle.
This would be all well and good, except that it's near impossible to see which power-ups you're collecting, let alone remember what each does. Not every power-up is good news, either, so it becomes a case of squinting to see what's coming.
Even with all the collectables, levels can still be long and tedious endeavours. Occasionally a nice power-up will obliterate the debris and clear the level quickly in a beautiful mess, but all too often you're left in the dull position of trying to hit those last few bricks.
To make matters worse, you're only given one life for each attempt – initially, at least. This becomes quite the problem once space creatures start shooting at you in later levels.
Your ship is extremely fragile and can only take a few hits before disintegrating. Again, this can be upgraded, but it's still a nuisance.
It's just much too easy to die, and coupled with the slow, tedious gameplay, this isn't exactly a winning formula.
Stopped by the bouncer
A smattering of other issues make AlphaBounce even more difficult to recommend.
Loading time between levels is pitiful – it should not take eight plus seconds to load some bricks. Even after dying, the game won't simply load the level instantly and instead takes you back to the world map. Select the same level and it will load it all over again.
The world itself is far too large and spread out. A more compact grid would have made collecting a more rewarding experience. Instead, it feels rather long-winded.
There's also a complete lack of statistics, which doesn't bode well for a game tipped as an RPG. There's no way to check how well you're doing in terms of numbers at all.
When all is said and done, AlphaBounce sounds fresh and intriguing concept-wise, but a flurry of flawed design choices renders the whole experience snore-inducing.