Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ricochet Infinity Review

Ricochet Infinity, developed and published by Reflexive Entertainment.
The Good: Lots of levels with unique designs, in-game download browser, useful recall ability, same computer multiplayer with two mice, fun and plentiful stackable power-ups, meaningful ship special abilities, varied difficulty settings, level editor
The Not So Good: Not terribly original
What say you? A content-heavy breakout game for any fan of the genre: 7/8

Breakout and its many clones have been around since, well, Breakout. Taking the basic mechanics of Pong and extending it to destroying things (a popular American pastime), numerous versions of this game have appeared in computerized forms. Nowadays, you need to add something new to the classic equation: alternative game modes, realistic physics, animals in plastic balls. The fourth game in the series, Ricochet Infinity brings together all of the features from the previous games and adds some new features. Of course, all of the features are new to me since I never played any of the previous versions. How will Ricochet Infinity stack up against the competition?

Ricochet Infinity is a 2-D game, but it tries its hardest to make itself look decent. The game features a good variety of graphical styles in all of its levels, exemplified even more in the community-made custom levels. The game is a little light on the special effects, but the chaotic nature of the gameplay does come through when the action gets intense. There are some nice touches present in the game, such as the alien watching the action alongside you and some of the weapon effects are nice. But the best graphical feature Ricochet Infinity is the amount of variety in the tile design: unlike some games, you won’t encounter the same style over and over again throughout the game. The backgrounds are as varied as the tiles, too, making Ricochet Infinity look a lot more interesting than most Breakout clones. The sound in the game is average for the genre: nice effects accompany each special weapon, and the background music fits the overall theme. Although Ricochet Infinity is rendered in 2-D, the game looks and sounds better than most games in the genre.

Ricochet Infinity is a classic Breakout game: use a paddle to shoot a ball at bricks to destroy them. However, it sets itself apart from the rest of the games in the genre by its numerous features. The game ships with about 200 levels divided over two campaigns that just vary the environments you will encounter during play. Ricochet Infinity has numerous levels of difficulty from kid-appropriate to complete insanity, so the game can be played by any aspiring brick buster. If the 200 levels aren’t enough, the game comes with an outstanding in-game download browser where you can acquire user-made content from this and previous games. There are well over 2,000 levels organized into packs, each with filter tags and user ratings. This takes a lot of the problems with downloading and installing user-made content completely out of the equation: playing new campaigns is so simple, download times are almost instantaneous, and your progress is saved for future attempts. This is possible through the game’s comprehensive level editor, which allows end-users to incorporate the same variety and motion seen in the game’s default content. While there is no online play, you can have multiplayer on the same computer if you have two USB mice handy. This is a pretty cool and, as far as I know, unique feature. You can choose between competitive, cooperative, and a tail gunner mode. Ricochet Infinity also keeps track of your progress, giving you additional ranks during the game and unlocking new ships with balanced special abilities. Each ship in the game activates several power-ups when you collect the “special ability” power up, and most of these are balanced (for example, a super powerful gun may be accompanied by a faster ball speed). Although the exceedingly high amount of content is enough to keep you interested in the game, Ricochet Infinity also offers some nice additional game modes to round out the feature list.

Controls, as you might expect, are very straightforward: use the mouse to move the ship horizontally, and the left mouse button to launch balls and activate weapons. New to Ricochet Infinity is the recall ability, which gives you some control over steering your ball towards you ship by pressing the right mouse button. I’ve seen this in other games before, but those simply brought it down instead of allowing for horizontal motion. You can really get creative with the recall ability, allowing for greater control and quicker finishes to pesky levels. The recall ability doesn’t make the game trivially easy, however, and it is balanced well. Ricochet Infinity features twenty-nine (!) power-ups that offer a number of ways to destroy blocks. They are actually quite different in their nature, instead of simply being more powerful versions of other power-ups. You can also stack most of the power-ups together (most Breakout games restrict you to one power-up at a time): having eight acid-laser-lightning-sighted-ball generators with safety bumpers and expanded shields at once is a feat unmatched in lesser Breakout games. This results in some really fun chaos in more complicated levels, with a whole bunch of stuff happening at once that appropriately feels a bit out of your control. The bricks in the game are not without their variety, either: they can alter the speed of your ball, explode, contain power-ups, trigger events, teleport your balls, or shoot other bricks. The skins for these bricks (and the backgrounds for each level) is varied enough not to become repetitive. While you are destroying bricks, you can also collect rings to level up your character. Ricochet Infinity also has open-ended speed, so there is glass ceiling of difficult like so many other Breakout clones. Ricochet Infinity is also distinctive because of the amount of motion present in its levels: rarely will you play a level where bricks are standing still and not moving in some challenging pattern. All of these features come together to form a comprehensive Breakout game that is pretty much everything you could want for a title in the genre.

The sheer number of features in Ricochet Infinity makes this a genre-defining game. The insane amount of user content shows what kind of following there is for this game. The editor allows for some really creative campaigns, and the user-made content compliments the lengthy campaign modes well. Getting these user creations is a snap through the in-game browser; there is no need to scour the Internet looking for new puzzles. There is some strategy in picking a ship offering the specific power-ups you enjoy, the levels are reasonably challenging, and you can adjust the difficult to any conceivable level. The addition of recall mode allows you control over your ball without being too important to the gameplay. This is probably one of the best-looking 2-D games due to the variety of backgrounds and tile sets present in the game. The number of stackable power-ups and brick types will keep you playing Ricochet Infinity for a long, long time. Once you have Ricochet Infinity, there is really no reason to play another Breakout game: this is the title that has it all and executes it very well.