Breakout games have existed for a long time, and have been cloned by many software developers. Various free and commercial versions exist, and there are also some breakout games available for the Pocket PC’s. The one I heard most good comments about, is Acky’s XP Breakout by Isotope 244. You know Isotope 244 from Machines At War (which has just been updated to v1.1, in case you haven’t heard it) and Atomic Cannon.
I’m going to tell you up front that I was extremely pleased with the demo of Acky’s XP Breakout so I was excited to review this game. What makes Acky’s XP Breakout stand out are it’s various bonus systems, and the level editor wich allows creating and sharing custom level packs.
Installation and demo info
From the Acky’s XP Breakout product page, you can download demo’s for Windows, Mac, and Pocket PC. The Pocket PC demo contains only the first 10 levels, from a total 150 levels included in the full version. The demo has no time or feature limits, except for the fact that you can only play the first 10 levels. This also means that you can’t import the 2 level sets with 50 levels each, but these will be available for play after purchasing the full version. So that’s 250 levels in total, plus the ability to create your own levels. Obviously there are also brick types and power items that you will only encounter in the higher levels.
After purchasing the full version, you will receive an e-mail with a download link and a registration code which needs to be entered during installation. There will be an online activation process which is not loved by many users, but we’ll just have to keep in mind that it helps the developer protecting its products against piracy.
Tip: For users who want to work with .cab installers, you can simply replace the .exe extention in the full version download URL with .cab to download the .cab version. When using the .cab file, you can enter the registration key on your device and do the online activation, or use the offline activation method which will require additional communication between you and Isotope 244, which can also be done on the PC to prevent data charges on your PPC.
Another tip: make sure to uninstall the demo first, because if you uninstall the demo after installing the full version, you’ll also remove the Help file.
You were on a space mission collecting ether from a nearby nebula to replenish your colonies fuel supplies when all of the sudden… Acky appeared in his saucer and started collecting the same ether as you! As if that wasn’t enough, he started stealing your ether supplies. Your mission is to collect ether and conquer each zone of the nebula to prevent Acky from taking over.
Okay this sounds weird, but it contains some essential game elements. Assuming that you all know the basics of breakout (a ball bounces against bricks, destroying them on the way – and you have to bounce the ball back with your pad, like ping pong), I can tell you that hitting the saucer is one of the point bonusses we’ll discuss later, and that hitting Acky is essential for protection your ether.
Ether comes in red and blue, and is displayed to the sides of the screen. You can see them in the screenshot above. This screenshot also shows a tutorial dialogue, there are many of those in the game. Of course, you can also disable those if you get the hang of the game.
If you lose your ball you’ll have to generate a new one, and this will cost a bit of your ether. Fortunately there are power items falling from broken bricks that refill your ether container so that you’ll hopefully have enough ether of both colors at the moment you need to generate a new ball. The bad part is that Acky sometimes pops up on your screen, and if you don’t hit him in time with your pad, he will steal ether from you. So you have more to keep your eyes on than just the ball (or balls) that are flying on the screen!
You can move your pad by using the stylus, or the D-Pad. D-Pad controls can be configured to your liking, but I much prefer stylus control. This is because not only can you drag the pad to the desired location, with the desired speed, but also you can simply remove your stylus from the screen and put it at another place on the screen. Then the pad will simply appear there! This is extremely useful if you want to catch multiple power items quickly after each other, or need to bounce multiple balls back into the gaming field.
Blocks can have various properties. Some of them need to be hit twice in order to break, some (ghost blocks) can only be broken if they’re actually visible, others can cause explosions, etc. Blocks with a star on them are the easiest to recognize, they will send a power item down when they’re broken. There are lots of power items (read about them here), so it’s hard to know them all by heart. What’s most important to remember, is that green items are good, and red items are bad. Golden stars give you points, so you’ll want them as well.
There is a lot of information on the screen, let me mention the most important things. First of all, the red and blue bars on the side show you how much ether you have. Keep these as full as possible, since you’ll need your ether when you want to create a new ball. The new ball will by default (you can change this) be created in the center of the screen, so be sure to have your pad right below it when you’re ready to resume your game after losing a ball. To the right, below the ether bar, are the bars displaying the fuel for your blasts. Both the blaster as the fuel gems can be picked up from the power items falling from broken blocks. When you have a blaster, and enough fuel, you can simply shoot the blocks with the cannon/laser on your pad! You might want to check your control settings to redefine the Fire key if you can’t find it initially. In the bottom there are some statistics, but the ones at the top are more important: they show you the level you’re in, your score, and the amount of bricks that still need to be removed. But do you see the golden bar below that, with the five smaller bars from left to right? Those display your point bonus status. You will want to get those up to 100% in order to qualify for XP mode, which will be discussed below. It’s quite tiny, but as soon as you start getting point bonusses you’ll start seeing them and they’ll become a normal part of your playing experience.
I felt that gameplay was very smooth. Starting on the easy setting, the game was not difficult, but it had a nice speed. With higher difficulty settings, not only does the speed of the ball increase, but it will also cost you more ether to create a new ball (increasing from 10% to 25%!). Additionaly, ether power ups will contain less ether, the sauce will fly through the screen faster, and power items fall faster. So setting the game to higher difficulties certainly increases the challenge in several ways.
Another strong point of the game is that you can simply tap the top statistics bar in order to pause the game. You’ll then have access to the settings, so there’s no need to leave the game. If you decide to leave the game anyhow, you can start again at the start of a level.
As I mentioned before, power items fall from blocks with a star on them, as soon as you break the block. Power items have a red, green, or golden flow, indicating if they’re bad power ups (power downs!) , good (power ups), or deliver point bonusses.
There are quite a few power ups, some of which will be familiar if you’ve played other breakout games. There are the basic ball speed increase/decrease and pad size and speed increase/decrease items, as well as items that create a temporary barrier under your pad so that you’ll never lose a ball as long as the barrier is there, or split your ball into two balls.
Essential are the ether items, which refill your ether bars. They come in both colors, so you can’t focus just on the blue ones while ignoring the red (unless your red ether bar is already fully filled, of course). Also pretty important are the blast power items, and the gems which give you the fuel needed to use your blaster (without fuel, you won’t be able to fire. Then your blaster will be converted into fuel). Then there are some other specific power items with attributes that can really help (or hurt!) you in the game, among which you can find the ability to see a prediction of where your ball is going to go next, after it bounces on your pad. So based on this reflection, you can move your pad and position it the way you need in order to aim for the next brick!
I’ve told you about the small bars just below the score and level indicator, right? Each of them is filled as you complete certain missions a specified number of times. To completely fill the entire bar, you’ll need:
- 20 Pad Bonuses – You get a pad bonus when you break ten bricks in a row without having the ball hit any walls. So work on your skills to keep the ball going straight up! (See first screenshot below)
- 5 Saucer Bonuses – “Simply” hit the saucer when it’s flying across the top of the screen. Do it five times to completely fill the bar. (See second screenshot)
- 5 Point Bonuses – Every time you pick up 10 point power items (the golden stars) in a row, you get a Point Bonus.
- 5 Power Bonuses – Every time you pick up 10 non-point power items (something with a red/green highlight) in a row, you get a Power Bonus.
- 20 Wall Bonuses – If you manage to break 10 blocks without letting the ball hit the pad, you get a Wall Bonus. This is best achieved by getting your ball above a large group of bricks, then hope it keeps bouncing against bricks without finding a way back down to your pad – see below (third screenshot).
There are various other bonusses, and naturally, because they are called a “bonus”, you’ll get either your score raised by a fixed amount of points, or the points received while achieving the bonus will be multiplied. The reason why I only discussed these five bonusses, is that they will unlock XP mode when you meet all the criteria described above. When XP mode is active the following things happen:
- You automatically get a multiball every 20 seconds
- The space pad will always be big and will glow
- All points and bonuses are doubled
Once XP mode is activated it lasts until you have completed three rounds with it active. You can activate XP mode many times throughout the levels.
As you can see, getting bonusses are really important, even if it’s just to boost your score. I’ve found that these “missions” give an extra dimension to the game which really adds to it’s value.
Trophies and ranks
Finishing a level already earns you a bronze trophy. But that’s not the hardest part, because if you want to earn a silver trophy, you’ll have to complete the level in less than 180 seconds or get the 500 point power item – doing both will earn you a gold trophy. Trophies and bonusses together determine your rank. While this is in general a great idea, I didn’t think that the ranks added a lot to the game. Because the requirements are quite complicated to understand (see this) you will not be able to really say anything about your talent based on the rank. Or do you know what an “adept baller” or “reflector minion” is? Perhaps I’m just not seeing the logic, so I think that if the ranking also had a visual representation (a progress bar, or a character with attributes belonging to the rank) the rank system would have more worth.
When starting the demo, I was first notified that my game would run in my default language (Dutch), but that registration would be done in English. It’s good to know that the game recognizes languages by default, but I preferred to play in English, so I changed the language manually.
After starting, we see the main menu. Here we can Start a new game, change Settings, Create a new level, view the Credits, or Exit the game.
I will only discuss the Start and Settings items here – Create is discussed in the Level editor chapter following this chapter, and the Credits and Exit items are pretty self-explanatory.
So, the Start page. This is devided into three sections, not counting the Games heading and the X button which returns you to the main menu.
First, there is the Account section. Here you can add and remove players, so that everyone who wants to play this game can have his/her own account. When you’ve selected the account you want to play on, you can change the difficulty by tapping the arrows next to the Difficulty title.
Then there is the Package section, where you can select which level pack you want to play. As you can see, various statistics are available, and using the buttons you can reset a level pack (meaning that all statistics will be reset to 0), and even delete it if you’re sure you never want to play it again (uhm.. why would you want to do that?).
Finally, after selecting your level pack, the individual level can be selected. For already completed levels, you can see the statistics. You can even tap the Statistics button to compare results online!
There are many settings for this game. I will not discuss all of them, you can see them all on the screenshots below (just click them to view them in full size). And if you tap on them in the game, a small description will show up at the bottom of the screen. I will, however, say something about each of the groups of screenshots here.
First we have the Control settings. On the initial screen you can set the speed at which the pad should move, and the speed at which the pad should accellerate when you change the direction of the pad. You can also customize all the controls in the game. The ability to take screenshots deserve an extra mention here. They’re placed in the Save folder inside the Acky’s XP Breakout installation folder. No need to use third-party screenshot applications if you want to show off your skills, just click the defined screenshot button and you’ve captured your evidence in pixels!
Next are the Graphic settings. You can change the screen orientation (but I recommad that you play in landscape, Portrait makes the bricks very small) and choose to play in “zoomed” mode, which will enlarge the playing field by removing the sidebars and bottom bar. Game Options (inside the Graphics menu) allow you to change some visual settings, and the Drawing menu is for more technical display settings.
And then there are also plenty settings to improve (or mute) the sounds, and Gameplay settings. Enabling New Ball Control here creates a new ball above your pad instead of in the center of the screen. Also, you can disable the tutorial messages, and change the language of the game. If you’ve seen some tutorial screens before but want to see them all again, simply press “Reset Help”.
Finally there are Statistics settings where you can, among others, toggle automatic download of statistics.
Level editor + level pack downloads
There are two elements that make sure that this game won’t lose replay value. First, you’ll never play a level the same way as you did before. Every time you play the game you are likely to hit the ball a bit different, which easily results in different gameplay. Sometimes, even on the simplest level it might be a hard task to send your ball in the correct direction in order to hit the final brick.
The other reason is that there is a level editor included with the game. You will want to spend a few minutes getting to know this, and please realize up front that the controls are SMALL so be precise when putting your stylus on the screen. However, you do have the ability to insert any kind of brick, and whenever you tap on one, you get to see a description of the brick type. Very useful, because there are too many brick types to remember! Below the game field are the power items, where you can set how many of each should become available in the level. For example, you can have 20% blue ether, 20% red ether, 15% fast pad, 15% slow pad, and 30% dedicated to some bonus stars. You can see the statistics for the power items to the left.
Then there are also 6 small icons on the bottom. The first two are to open and save levels, and the two to the right are to toggle the grid on/off and to leave the editor. The two on the middle are very interesting, because they mirror the created bicks vertically or horizontally. So you can simply create the left section of a level, press the fourth icon at the bottom, and the left section will be mirrored to the right, giving you a symmetrical level!
As mentioned in the bottom right of the screen, press your Fire key while tapping on a brick to remove it, or on a power item to decrease it’s percentage.
After creating custom levels you can save them on your device, and with the help of this section of the help file, you can create a level pack. At the moment two user-created level packs are being distributed by Isotope 244 for free here.
Isotope 244 put together a VERY helpful documentation file together which can be accessed here, and is also installed to the Games folder on your device. So you should be able to access it through Start – Programs – Games, just like you would access the game. The help file is designed for the Windows version, but it’s the same for the Pocket PC except for the controls. In the help file you’ll find everything you need including gameplay explanations, power up and point bonus descriptions, explanations on how to create a level pack, trophies, etc. I find these kind of extensive help files a great addition and very valuable, so it’s defenitely appreciated. It would be good to read the help file after trying the trial to see if you missed anything during gameplay, because some things become much clearer with just a little explanation.
I simply don’t have anything to complain about this game. It has LOTS of power items and brick types, a bonus system leading to a power “XP” mode, great graphics, an extensive help file and a level editor, so each of these elements strengthen the total package. And what’s most important, the gameplay simply works. It’s challenging, but not too fast. You simply can’t purchase a breakout game for the Pocket PC without having tried Acky’s XP Breakout.
Not only is it a very complete breakout clone, it also adds to the traditional game with the various extra’s, and my favourite tweak: the ability to simply tap on the screen to make the pad appear on that position. So in theory, you should never have to be too late to bounce the ball back into the game screen AND get a power up quickly after that! If you’re in the market for a Breakout game, I really recommend trying the demo.