Shatter Review

By Andrew Pfister - Posted Jul 27, 2009

Shatter is another brick-breaking game, but the good news is that developer Sidhe is following the same successful path that many other classic game remakes have recently taken: examine the formula, update it so that it makes sense by today's standards, and dress it up in beautiful HD explosions.

The Pros
  • An inspired re-imagining of Breakout
  • Excellent electronic funk-rock soundtrack
  • Very reasonable value
The Cons
  • A bit heavy with the circular levels
  • Can sometimes lose track of the ball when things get explode-y
  • When there's only a few blocks left, action slows down at the end

Odds are that if you've used a personal computer, a video game console, or even a graphing calculator in the past 20 years or so, you've played Breakout. Or Blockout. Or Block Smash. Or Block Smasher. Or Arkanoid. Or the thousands of other boilerplate executions of the same idea: bounce a ball toward some breakable bricks without letting it get past you on the rebound. Shatter is another such variant, but the good news is that developer Sidhe is following the same successful path that many other classic game remakes have recently taken: examine the formula, update it so that it makes sense by today's standards, and dress it up in beautiful HD explosions.

I Want to Break Free

Like we saw with Pac-Man: Championship Edition or Galaga Legions, all it takes is a few little twists to reinvent the game. While one can easily breeze through most of the game's traditional level structure, Shatter's primary motivation is something that most successful games of this type utilize: the high score. When blocks are broken, they emanate little floaty bits -- think of Geometry Wars 2. Using your bat's powers of sucking and blowing (Sidhe's terminology, not mine), you can collect these bits and increase your score multiplier. The key is to do this as early and often as possible in each wave, because the multipliers don't carry over and it's a wasted effort saving high multipliers for the last remaining blocks at the end.

The risk in doing that, though, is that almost everything on the playfield can be sucked or blown, including the ball and loose blocks. Letting the ball go by results in a loss of a life, and getting hit by oncoming debris knocks the bat out for about a second, which is just enough time to completely screw you. But the smart thing about Shatter is that everything has a check and balance. You can send out multiple balls to clear out the area quicker (you get a time bonus at the end), and while you're likely to lose them more often, the game is generous with extra life bonuses to compensate. To counter the blocks that get in the way, your bat has a shield that quickly destroys them. But using the shield drains the energy you'd otherwise need to activate the Shard Storm power, which unleashes a devastating attack on the playfield. It's this combination of small strategies plus the pursuit of the high score that gives Shatter that needed extra twist.

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Sidhe thought of the little details, too, like how the ball has a laser guide to show you how the gravity is affecting the direction. That's especially handy for when there's only one or two blocks left and you need to be precise with aiming, which is probably Shatter's biggest (unavoidable) weak point. Most of the game's random energy is front-loaded when there's plenty of breakable stuff left on the screen. When there's only a handful of blocks left to clear and the danger has more or less subsided, the pace slows down as you try to steer the ball(s) exactly the right way. It's especially evident in the circular stages where the ricochet angles are harder to predict, and those stages pop up a bit too frequently. There's definitely more room to be creative with field designs, given that you have some control over the general direction of the ball.

Electric Boogaloo


Shatter looks and sounds great, as is somewhat mandatory for a classic game remake these days. While the aesthetics aren't especially stylized (it's more Super Stardust HD than Everyday Shooter), the effects are still pretty and colorful, while mostly restrained enough to keep you focused on the action. There'll be times when the ball can get lost in the chaos, but its contrail is unique enough to prevent this from being a repetitive problem.

The soundtrack -- composed by Jeremiah Ross, aka "Module" -- is best described as guitar-driven 70s technofunk, simultaneously reminiscent of games like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Geometry Wars, and Rez. It's one of those soundtracks that stands well on its own outside of the game, and it's a great test of your next-door neighbor's tolerance for the low end.

At $7.99, Shatter is a great value. Sidhe followed the retro-remake gameplan and executed on pretty much everything they needed to.