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Alphabounce - DSiWare Review

Game Info

DSiWare | Motion Twin / Mad Monkey Studio | 1 Player | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points  
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19th May 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

What started out as a game found on the 'net, Alphabounce is Motion Twin's attempt at reinventing the classic block-breaker style of gameplay. And boy have they ever succeeded! Not only is Alphabounce one of the strongest titles on DSiWare to date, but it's also one of the greatest "bat-and-ball" games I've ever played.

    You star as one of three convicted criminals of ES-Corp, a galactic mining company that sends out prisoners into the dangerous fields of outer space. Despite the possibility of death, many put forth great effort, as making great discoveries. Each prisoner available at the start of the game corresponds to a certain difficulty level: Easy, Medium or Hard. Choose carefully because there are some notable gameplay differences between them, especially between Easy and Hard.

    When you first begin, you'll find that the game starts off slow but gradually becomes refined. This is because of some strong strategy and RPG elements that make Alphabounce stand out from the pack. There are two areas that you'll become acquainted with: the map, and actual levels. The map is an overview of the entire galaxy you're able to explore, one space at a time. Each space on the grid represents a different level, and you can take heart in knowing that there's tons and tons of levels in this game! Along the way, you'll make important discoveries and even be allowed to maneuver around at a faster pace. 

    I'm sure you'll agree, though, that what matters most is how the levels hold up. Never fear because Alphabounce contains some solid block-breaking mechanics. By dragging your stylus across the screen, you can control your paddle, also known as your "envelope" or spaceship. Pressing Up on the Control Pad will get the ball moving at the start of the game, and it can also be used to send it back in orbit after it gets stuck to your envelope. You can also move towards the corner of the touch screen and if the ball is resting towards the edge of your ship, it'll go off in a diagonal route. Now naturally, you don't just have the normal single-hit bricks. You'll also encounter layered bricks that need multiple hits to destroy. And some of these will even drop debris when they're shattered so be careful that your ship doesn't get hit. 

The game has just over 26 power-ups in total, which appear when certain blocks are destroyed. For instance, the 'Whisky' will cause your ball to sawy in an unpredictable fashion, 'Zealot' will increase ball speed, and 'Halo' will allow you to pass through blocks until you reach the top party of the level. There are some pick-ups that affect the condition of the stage itself, like 'Quasar' which emits an awe-inspiring wormhole from the center of the stage, sucking up a significant chunk of nearby bricks. The only issue is that you're not really sure how much time is left until each power-up expires. Then again, when there's 20 power-ups in play, are you realy going to want to see a timer for each one? The only exception to this rule is the 'Pilot' item which makes 3 beeps before things go back to normal. It's a minor downside but something you'll get used to.

    That aside, the ball normally travels at a decent pace, and over time, the speed increases, even without use of the 'Zealot' item. Additionally, as the amount of bricks comes down to a single-digit number, your ship will automatically charge up an energy shot (a 'Javelin') that you can manually fire with the Control Pad to get rid of any remaining blocks. This is a great feature, as it eliminates boring moments of trying to eliminate that last troublesome block.

    As you explore the depths of outer space, you'll acquire various collectables for completing stages successfully. For example, you'll uncover hidden Earth Map Fragments which help you in your quest to discover the exact location of your home planet - which could free you from your sentence and return home. Additional map-based features can also be unlocked, such as the Sonar and the Stage Preview. Special access cards will also allow you to access closed sectors, and engine power-ups will get you to advance even more spaces. You'll also discover new planets on the grid (27 to be exact) and as you complete levels right above the mysterious location, players will incrementally reveal its exact position. As you journey to the stages located in these foreign areas, one may be surprised to find new gimmicks in the form of new brick types, and even aggressive enemy units. This is where the game becomes even more challenging than it already is. Having to watch your ball carefully so it doesn't fall to the bottom of the screen, while also dodging attacks is tricky and engaging. But don't worry, you're not without help.

In addition to searching for planets, your quest will also get you to stumble upon new items and upgrades for your envelope, and this is where the RPG elements take an even greater hold of the game. There's plenty of different options to choose from: different drilling ball types, envelope width extensions, and other self-controlled equipment. Cannons, lasers, and missile launchers are controlled using the A Button or with the press of one of the buttons on the D-Pad. At first, the standard envelope will be your only paddle and this has limited movement and only two item slots. But over time, you'll unlock improved envelopes that have greater features, such as a larger range for movement, and more item-holding capabilities. Additionally, you'll also be able to unlock the ability to assign multiple ships for gameplay, allowing you to continue playing even if your paddle shatters or the ball makes it beyond the end zone. It's surprisingly deep the amount of combinations you can have and because the explanations for each item only give you a general scope, it's up to the player to experiment for themselves. 

    The visuals in this game are quite impressive. From the overworld map to each individual level, there's plenty of colour and the space theme is just fantastic. The music used in the game is pretty good as well, albeit some may long for some more exciting audio arrangements. Transitioning from the map to a stage will cause a loading screen to appear, and these display summaries on power-ups, planets, and other background info. These loading screens can take 10 seconds or more to load which can be annoying at first, especially when you start picking up on some typographical errors. The power-ups, enemies, and items are all well-designed and very distinct in their appearance. Presentation values suffer a bit when technical issues pop up during your experience. If you put the DSi in sleep mode for a while in the middle of a level, you can come back with a jumpy framerate for the duration of the level. Additionally, when swarms of power-ups begin to fall and the effects of these begin to play out on the screen, the framerate does go down noticeably. Otherwise, it has a very strong look going for it.

As mentioned at the outset, there are multiple skill levels, meaning that you can start off on Easy or Normal and play the game again on Hard for a different gameplay experience. It would have been nice to have multiple save files so you could share this game with family and friends, or even give yourself a second profile. Nevertheless, unlocking all items, discovering all the Earth fragment maps, and completing the planet exploration will take a very, very long time. It's a lengthy quest to be sure (probably the longest on DSiWare to date!), but thanks to the gradual improvements, it's certainly not a monotonous chore. It's very addicting to play through, all the while keeping players involved and offering massive replay value.

    I have no reservations about recommending Alphabounce to any fan of block-breaker games. It's a deep, rewarding adventure that's not only great for quick spurts but long plays as well. And do you wanna know the best part about it? It's only $5! I still can hardly believe that the developers packed in this much content for such a small price! This serves a good testimony to other develop teams that a low price doesn't necessarily equate with low amounts of content. Between evading enemy fire, using cannons and missile launchers to destroy bricks manually, and managing multiple balls at once, Alphabounce is much more engaging than all of the Arkanoid games I've ever played. This in conjunction with some great RPG elements makes for a replayable and addicting game that's sure to last you months.

28/30 - Excellent

Gameplay 10/10 - Innovative approach, RPG and exploration elements, great controls, new equipment to discover and experiment with, cool power-ups
Presentation 8/10 - Slight glitches and slowdown, long loading times, great visuals, layout is well organized, good music, space theme is very cohesive
Enjoyment 5/5 - Will keep you involved, very addicting, something you'll always want to come back to, gradually gets more challenging
Extra Content 5/5 - Multiple difficulty settings offering different experiences, massive replay value, incredible value for only $5!

Equivalent to a score of 93% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

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Review by KnucklesSonic8

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