Sunday 18 October 2015

Block Buster (Microvision review)

Developer: Milton Bradley
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Released: 1979

Block Buster is a Breakout clone (1976, Arcades) and the pack-in game for the system at launch.

You control a paddle at the bottom of the screen and your objective is to use it to bounce a moving ball onto a grid of blocks at the top. If you manage to clear the entire screen the grid returns and the whole process simply repeats. You lose lives by missing the ball (i.e. letting it land below your paddle) and once you run out your score is displayed to show the total number of blocks hit. Before starting you can select how many lives you want (either 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9), the speed of the ball (Slow or Fast), as well as whether you want your paddle to consist of two or three pixels. The gameplay is incredibly challenging and even breaking half of the blocks is a major achievement! The main reason is that even in Slow mode the ball moves at stupidly high speeds; as soon as you press the Serve button it comes flying out of nowhere towards one corner of the screen and you have very little time to react. Another issue that hinders gameplay is the severe motion blur, particularly with your on-screen paddle. As mentioned above it can be made up of either two or three pixels but as you move it around from side-to-side it frequently appears as if your paddle has four pixels; as a result you'll miss many balls even though it appears that you hit it cleanly. It's a constant source of annoyance and you'll feel as if you're fighting against the game due to the lack of control. Finally, if you move your paddle to the extreme left or right it disappears out of view apart from a singular pixel; it's a ridiculous design decision as you're left helpless at times as you try to quickly move the controller knob to reach for a ball. If you do happen to get on a roll it's likely through luck rather than pure skill which isn't very gratifying.

Block Buster is a great idea that's let-down by underpowered technology (specifically the poor LCD screen) and some questionable control decisions. Perhaps if the difficulty and speed was lessened to cater to the handheld's limitations it could have been fun but instead the developers tried to make it punch way above its weight.

Random trivia: The game was released in France as Casse Brique.

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