Thursday, 29 September 2016

Blockout (Atari Lynx review)

Developer: California Dreams
Publisher: Atari
Released: 1991

Blockout is a puzzle game that was first released in the Arcades in 1989.

The objective is to drop 3D cube blocks into a deep pit without them reaching the top; each time these blocks fill up an entire layer (with no holes) that section disappears from the playfield and the rest of the cubes drop down to create more space. Blocks can be rotated on their X, Y or Z axis using button combinations, and once you've moved one into position, pressing A drops it into the pit. Each game can be customised in terms of which block types you want to appear (Flat, Basic or Extended), their rotation speed (Slow, Medium, Fast) and the pit dimensions (Depth, Length and Width). Three predefined setups are also available that basically amount to Beginner, Advanced and Expert levels. Things start off well in the easier difficulties, with plenty of time to adjust to the block rotation, and it's enjoyable filling in the last hole to remove a whole layer. Each layer has a different colour which is handy for distinguishing how deep your block will fall and the outer grid works well for at-a-glance placement. The controls are fine, and some initial problems were alleviated by holding the B button before rotating a piece. While the 3D perspective is fun for a while, it gets unwieldy when you reach later levels or include anything other than Flat blocks; that's because the top-down angle obscures your view and makes it hard to see an accurate picture of the pit. The gameplay issues are similar to 3-D Tetris (1996, Virtual Boy), but at least the playfield rotated around there to give you a better view. As the speed increases, the controls become cumbersome and you'll spend more time wrestling the block into the correct position / axis; this stops you from being fully immersed as you're rarely in the moment, reacting and trusting your instincts.

Blockout is certainly innovative and can be moderately enjoyable if you play it on the easier settings where the gameplay is more manageable. Overall though, it just doesn't work as well as a 2D version, and it's tough to feel completely in control when the pit is only partially visible and you're always overthinking how to rotate each piece!

Random trivia: A prototype ROM of the unreleased NES port was recently leaked online.

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