Mento's May Madness More: #9 - Shatter

May the Ninth

The game: Sidhe Interactive's Shatter

The source: Humble Indie Bundle 6.

The pre-amble: Shatter is a modern update of the Breakout/Arkanoid bat n' ball subgenre which heavily relies on modern shoot 'em up scoring and a fantastic electro soundtrack to set it apart from its antecedents. The game uses a gravity-changing technique in order to effect the ball and the various free-roaming blocks and the goal is to destroy everything on the screen without letting the ball or too many of the blocks leave the arena. The action switches angles from horizontal to vertical to cylindrical (like Tempest) and follows Arkanoid's example by including bosses and power-ups.

The playthrough: Shatter's quite something. Bit.Trip Beat pulled off a similar trick a few months earlier by introducing rhythm to the then cobwebby Breakout subgenre that had once ruled the Arcades and home computers of the late 80s. I seem to recall a game of that formula coming out every other month back when I had an Atari ST, to the extent that "bat and ball" became one of a handful of genres the magazines used to describe whatever new releases were out that month. As such, I have something of a nostalgic appreciation for this type of game, if not one that has quite crystallized into the kind of actual affection that would cause me to seek those games out.

The parts when the game goes all Tempest on you are cool, but it's really hard to gauge where the ball's deflections are going to go. (Also, hey Sparky_Buzzsaw.)

But Shatter pulls off its masterstroke by borrowing several of the more important elements of the (semi) recent wave of psychedelic dual-stick shooters with pounding soundtracks and twitch gameplay, and introducing them to that humble "one-player Pong" archetype. The result makes for a game that is a darn sight more appealing than, say, BreakQuest, as charming as that game could occasionally be. The soundtrack, as stated earlier, is fantastic to listen to and the visuals are a mix of the colorful geometric shapes of, well, Geometry Wars and backdrops that almost seem to resemble interplanetary mining operations, or perhaps microscopic mining operations. It's too indistinct to tell and ultimately rather incidental beyond having a series of arenas filled with awe-inspiring mechanical features that feel germane to the electro music.

Shatter's not perfect. The paddle sticks out too far and breaks a cardinal rule of bat and ball games by making the event horizon (that is, the point where the ball is unrecoverable) too ambiguous: it's hard to explain how exactly deleterious this is without playing it and experiencing the disconnect yourself. It's also hard to see where the ball is when a thousand particle effects are going off and juggling some of the more gravity-afflicted blocks can cause all sorts of headaches when I just want to bounce a ball around without worrying half the level dropping past my paddle and sapping my multiplier bonus. I also don't care a fig in general about high scores, though having a friend's list to compete against is always going to motivate me a little. And really, in spite of all its fanciful notions, this is a bat and ball game and there's a reason they died out and have more or less continued to do so in the decades since. With all that in mind, Shatter still left a pretty positive impression on me. Hard to argue with nostalgia if it's been competently gussied up enough.

The verdict: I've beaten the story mode and I'm not really the high score chasing type, but I'll keep it installed just because. There's something to be said for just smashing a few blocks to some fine jams now and then.

(With apologies to Quincy Jones and whomever made the "Ironside" re-recorded version for Kill Bill. Yes, both of them.)

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