Friday, April 27

Review: Glaive - Brick Breaker [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Breakout, or at least a variant of it, is one of the earliest games I remember playing at home. In many ways that’s not a surprise as it’s really a form of single-player Pong to some degree, just introducing a series of bricks to knock out in place of an opponent. While there have been variations on the classic over the years, to me only the arcade classic Arkanoid stands out as a title that “broke out” of just being a casual game and into something more. Offering a similar formula, but introducing a few twists of its own, Glaive: Brick Breaker is more challenging than you’d expect but still retains a mostly casual quality.


If you somehow aren’t familiar with the idea of Breakout the basics are that you control a paddle that moves left to right at the bottom of the screen and your goal is (usually) to clear all of the blocks on the board that can be broken when hit by a ball. This ball will ricochet off of any surface that it hits at an angle and is generally observant of basic geometry and physics. When Arkanoid came along it solidified the concept of there being power-ups that would fall, a generally more dynamic playfield, and even a boss or two. Glaive has its own take on all of this, but then introduces something I haven’t seen before, which are levels where you have a paddle on both the top and the bottom, doubling the work you need to do in order to clear the board.

While getting into the technicals a bit may be boring I think it’s worth noting that, for the most part, the control in Glaive actually feels mostly right. What has typically been the downfall of almost all Breakout-style games I’ve played over the years on consoles is that the control of the paddle has been all wrong. Either the rate of movement of the ball has been disproportionately too fast, the paddle movement has been somehow erratic, or the general “feel” of how the ball reacts to the paddles and other surfaces hasn’t been quite right. In Glaive it’s the nuances of the ball movement I appreciate. The way the ball’s angle will be affected more the closer it gets to the edge, that the ball movement is typically just a bit faster the more horizontal the angle gets, and that when there are even small curved edges on things that the ball hits the deflection will go a bit haywire. It’s the attention to detail that helps it feel good and I appreciate the effort.


That said, not everything is quite perfect. The most aggravating issue I have is that the control is 100% digital. You can’t control your paddle with the touchscreen and your analog stick’s nuance is completely wasted. Consider that all of the best Breakout games have been played with a dial, an analog control device… the ability to move both quickly and slowly is crucial to high-level play and being limited to digital movement makes everything more stilted. Touchscreen would have been ideal but even an attempt to honor the analog stick would have been appreciated. As variants that have used digital control go Glaive feels better than most but this is still a disappointment. My only other major issue is that the hitboxes aren’t always honored very well and you can get some erratic ball behavior, with it seeming to ghost its way through your paddle at times when you’re moving and hit it just a bit late. It’s not something that happens all the time but it’s a glitchy behavior that would have been nice to not see at all. As a minor gripe the color and appearance differentiation between some of the good and bad power-ups could be a bit more clear, but after a bit do get more accustomed to telling them apart.

All in all Breakout is a bit more sedate a style of game than many people these days are probably looking for but while I normally get quite irritated with its variants I’d consider this one pretty carefully crafted. While it starts out a bit easily expect to hit spikes of frustration on specific levels, the game has a tendency to throw them out in a somewhat random order, so you can expect to get stuck for a bit on a specific level only to then blow through the next 3 or 4 on the first try. It’s worth noting that there is a Versus Mode that lets you go head to head against a friend with what are ultimately variations on Pong, but while these work they’re heavily dependent on not only finding someone interested in playing with you but also who is reasonably well-matched in skill. If you’re looking for something a bit more mellow, but that offers a good challenge, Glaive is worth giving a look.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A well-made and capable variant of Breakout and it’s more advanced cousin, Arkanoid
  • The stages with you controlling a mirrored paddle at the top of the screen can be quite challenging and are an interesting variation on things
  • The few boss battles that are in the mix are a nice change of pace
  • As digital-only controls go these are implemented well

Cons:
  • No touchscreen paddle control and no actual analog use of the joystick are disappointing
  • Collision detection between the ball and paddle are sometimes a bit wonky
  • If you’re not into a more sedate pace, and don’t like the potential of spending a minute or more trying to get your ball to run into the last brick, this could be frustrating for you