I thought it was impossible to make a bad take on Breakout, the classic video game that has you breaking bricks at the top of the screen by bouncing a ball off of a paddle. The original game spawned numerous excellent spiritual successors over the last few decades. From Alleyway on the Gameboy, to timeless arcade hit Arkanoid, to excellent indie titles like Wizorb and Shatter, Breakout has lived a long life as its own sub-genre of simple arcade fun.
Bigben Interactive’s Brick Breaker does not live up to that long lineage. It’s the worst Breakout clone I’ve ever played, and one of the worst games you can buy on the PS4. It sells for $9.99 on the PlayStation Store, and it’s also available to download or stream through PlayStation Now. It started life in the summer of 2011 as a $4 PlayStation Minis game, a now-defunct program from the PS3 era where small publishers could easily release titles across the PlayStation console family.
Those small beginnings are prominently on display and the game never rises above them. When you load the game up, you’re presented with a basic menu, and a list of 100 levels to play, up from the original PS Mini version’s 50. There’s also a local multiplayer mode, but good luck getting anyone to play this with you. As you beat each level, a new one unlocks, and sometimes there’s a trophy to mark your progress, but the game has no other progression mechanics or persistence of any kind. That’s a fun throwback, but also far from the extreme engagement that most simple arcade-style games now use to keep you playing.
The controls are the biggest problem. There’s no sense of feel, physics, or momentum to anything. The paddle is slippery, fidgety, and imprecise to move left and right whether you use the analog stick or the d-pad. The ball careens off the paddle at random angles, seemingly un-impacted by the speed of your movement or its incoming direction. Similar randomness plagues brick hits, resulting in a bouncing ball that’s completely unpredictable and not fun to interact with. That’s the core thing a Breakout clone needs to get right, and it’s completely wrong here.
The visuals and sound aren’t much better. The game has just a couple of low- rent techno tracks, a few badly-mixed sounds, basic animated backgrounds, and bland particle hit effects that don’t confer any real sense of feedback or fun. Breaking bricks does temporarily increase a score multiplier, and you can upload your high scores to an online leaderboard. The brick patterns are very typical for the genre, and although the game eventually introduces a couple of fun powerups and skill-based bonuses, it takes a while to get to that point and by then you’ll be done with the game.
The UI looks like it came out of a decade-old mobile game. That’s unsurprising, considering that PS Minis also had to be fully compatible with the Vita. The game runs on the Unity engine, and while it has no major performance hiccups, it has such a low level of care and polish that it feels like someone’s first homegrown Unity project rather than a release from a game publisher.
I’m glad that I downloaded this from PlayStation Now and didn’t pay full price for it. Breakout is such a simple formula, and with even a basic bit of visual polish and care, it can still make for a fun video game in 2020. Brick Breaker barely passes the bar to have been a $4 mobile game, and now that it’s $10 and available on a major console, it’s impossible to recommend. You could print the Breakout Clones page from Wikipedia, throw a dart at it, and probably find a game that’s more enjoyable to play than Brick Breaker.