Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Strike Ball 2 Review

Strike Ball 2, developed by Owl Studio and published by Alawar Entertainment.
The Good: One hundred creative 3-D levels, some original bonuses, special block types, polished gameplay
The Not So Good: Still too similar to the other 50,000 arkanoid games out there
What say you? An arkanoid/breakout clone where 3-D actually matters: 6/8

POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
One of the more popular arcade game genres out there is arkanoid, also known as breakout. You know, where you move a paddle, bouncing a ball upwards and destroying blocks? If you spend any time looking around on the Internet, you’ll find a flurry of these games floating around, probably because they are relatively simple to make and people seem to like them. So, it’s kind of hard to choose which one to spend your hard earned cash on. Today, we’ll look at Strike Ball 2, the sequel to, um, Strike Ball. Can Strike Ball 2 differentiate itself from the pack?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Strike Ball 2 has some really nice and clean 3-D graphics that are an integral part of the gameplay. Each of the game’s 100 levels features some sort of design that you must destroy, such as a dragon, fishtank, or windmill. The interesting thing about Strike Ball 2 is that the designs are in all three dimensions; instead of a simpler 2-D approach where after destroying a block that particular area is destroyed, the rest of the structure falls down to occupy the vacated space, which is a really neat effect. It’s quite astonishing that the developers were able to keep original ideas flowing over 100 levels, featuring some stimulating designs along the way. The effects are also well done for an arkanoid game, with nice fire effects, destroyed blocks, and the like. The sound in Strike Ball 2 is also above average, with some appropriate background music and some well-done auditory effects. Both the graphics and the sound are well done and above the curve for arkanoid games.

ET AL.
The gameplay of Strike Ball 2 is typical of an arkanoid game: use your paddle to bounce the ball and destroy the blocks. There are some things, however, to spice up the gameplay. There are 23 different bonuses in the game (a staple of the genre nowadays); these including changing the paddle size, changing the game speed, having three balls at once (which requires immediate medical attention), and various guns attached to your paddle and stationary along the wall. The power ball is a little too overpowered: it doesn’t bounce off the blocks, instead plowing through them, which makes clearing levels a little too easy. The bomber is an interesting bonus: an airplane flies overhead, dropping bombs on unsuspecting blocks. One aspect of Strike Ball 2 that I really like is the next level bonus: once you near clearing a level, a bonus appears allowing you to move on to the next one. Far too often in these types of games I’ve sit there for minutes trying to destroy that one last block stuck in the corner; in Strike Ball 2, this is not an issue assuming you can get to the next level bonus before it drops past your paddle. There are also some special block types, including destroyed blocks that can kill you and ones that can kill other blocks. There are also some moving enemies to make the game slightly more difficult. The gameplay of Strike Ball 2 follows the general trend of arkanoid games; it starts out slow, and once the bonuses start falling, the chaos increases dramatically, which makes it hard to follow the ball and collect all of the bonuses at the same time, which is essentially the difficulty of the game. Still, the pace of Strike Ball 2 is far slower than what I have experienced in other arkanoid games. There are no complaints about how the game plays: everything behaves like you would expect, which is a testament to the design of Strike Ball 2.

IN CLOSING
One of the better arkanoid games I’ve played (and actually bought) is BreakQuest, which features a full-on physics model and uses it to its fullest extent. That was it’s hook, and in order to separate yourself from the pack you need to have something starkly original in your arsenal. Strike Ball 2 features some pretty inventive 3-D levels and some original bonuses (such as the stationary guns and overhead bombers), but other than those two things, the rest of the game falls under the category of ordinary. Strike Ball 2 is not a bad game by any means and it retains the hectic feel that should be present in arkanoid games, but it’s still a little too conventional. There are other games that now have 3-D levels in them, so it’s really up to the consumer to filter through all the choices to discover the best game out there. Strike Ball 2 is a polished and above average choice to fulfill your breakout needs, and will probably entertain most people who enjoy the genre.