Legend has it that none other than Steven P. Jobs worked on the original Breakout, way back in 1975.
He blagged the job from the head honchos at Atari, but he didn’t have the engineering skills to do it himself so he roped in his good buddy Steve Wozniak to help design it. Breakout was one of the first collaborations between the founding partners of Apple.
They split the $750 fee between them, but Woz did the bulk of the work himself. The story gets murkier when it transpires that Atari was greatly pleased with the final prototype, and awarded Jobs with a $5,000 bonus that he withheld from his partner in crime.
None of which has anything to do with Breakout: Boost. It’s just an interesting bit of trivia. But it’s supremely ironic that the game should resurface on a technological ecosystem, encompassing both the hardware and the software that Jobs orchestrated himself. Atari, meanwhile, has gone from being his paymasters to just another supplicant.
So, Breakout: Boost. A “reimagineering” of an arcade classic, which itself was an evolutionary refinement of the two-player paddle-and-ball game Pong. The franchise seems to intersect with many key moments in pop culture - Pong, Atari, Apple – but does the game itself remain engaging to modern audiences? Or is it just a historical curiosity?
The concept remains the same: bounce a ball against a wall of bricks using a paddle. The bricks crumble and disappear when hit, and the goal is to clear all of them from the stage. You can also collect power-ups that dispense temporary new abilities, like multiple balls or automatic fire, but if they miss the ball with their paddle they lose a life.
The formula is tweaked with several key features. The first, and most obvious, is the addition of a boost meter. Residing on the left-hand side of the screen, the meter can dial the speed of the ball up or down, with a corresponding increase in the score multiplier. There’s a risk-reward dynamic at play, where the greater score comes with a greater chance of losing.
The second addition is the adoption of the freemium model. The game itself is free to download, with five levels to play, but then you’ll have to purchase up to three expansion packs if you want to experience all 200 levels and power-ups on offer.
The cost of the packs isn’t that high, and it’s a good way to sample and understand the main thrust of the concept before investing in it.Arkanoid
Alas, even with these these improvements, Breakout: Boost isn’t a very thrilling experience. It’s rather repetitive, actually, and the no-frills packaging - retro-neon graphics, basic sound effects, no soundtrack - only add to the somnambulist effect.
We recall that clones like Arkanoid had more going on in them, and they played better as a result.
The controls are responsive on a touchscreen. Simply tap to launch the ball, and then drag the paddle back and forth across the bottom of the screen. You work the meter by pushing a slider up and down.
The only drawback is that you can’t really take your finger off the screen for the duration of a level, since you’ll be tracking the ball’s progress and you don’t want to miss its return trajectory.
Another design problem is the the placement of the boost meter. If playing one-handed, you’re shifting attention between the paddle and the slider, which might involve obscuring the action with your hand.
A tiny problem, but it’d be nice to have the choice to shift its placement in the options menu.
Alas, there doesn’t even appear to be an options menu. There’s a title screen, with the customary leaderboards and achievements, where you can mute the sound effects, but that’s the only tinkering the game allows you to do.
In both conception and presentation, Breakout: Boost is a confined experience. Though it's serviceable, we suspect you'll end up breaking out and playing something else instead before too long.