Friday, October 19, 2018

Game 28: Super Breakout

Buy Super Breakout and about 90 other Atari games in the Atari Vault on Steam:

After going through eight Atari VCS games with color and two player focus, it feels a little weird to move on to a single player-focused arcade game with black and white graphics (colorized with a cellophane overlay). And unlike Night Driver and Star Ship, which had fast and smooth scaling pseudo-3D graphics, I really don’t see anything here that couldn’t be replicated on the VCS without compromise.

As with Breakout, I played Super Breakout using my Slikstik Tornado, a much closer approximation of an arcade paddle controller than a joystick or mouse. Unlike Breakout, MAME was my emulator of choice here, and the arcade version is available in the Atari Vault, whereas the only version of Breakout available there (or commercially anywhere) is the VCS port. Again, it’s almost certainly due to the relative difficulty of emulating Breakout, and the relative ease of emulating Super Breakout.

The most obvious new feature here is having three selectable modes, a far cry from the launch VCS titles which had anywhere from 14 to 50 modes, but still a lot of gameplay variety for a game that wasn’t designed to be played at home. The mechanism for selecting the mode to play is almost hidden in MAME, buried under a “machine configuration” menu rather than being part of the controls. The score display is also rendered in a crisp digital font instead of huge chunky pixels, thanks to being powered by a programmable CPU instead of fixed circuits like in the original.

Aside from that, it seems little has changed from Breakout, despite being completely remade. The paddle is still tiny, the physics seems to be exactly the same, down to the spotty hit detection, the ball gets unreasonably fast pretty quickly, and the paddle still gets absurdly tiny once the ball hits the top of the screen.

I played all three modes and being terrible at Breakout, performed miserably in them all. Videos wouldn’t even be interesting. So I used slowdown cheats and performed much better. The videos presented are all taken from my best performance with slowdown, but played back at a normal speed.


Probably the most fun mode of Super Breakout. Rows of bricks arrive in waves, and gradually descend the well as you eliminate them. Since the walls are only four bricks thick, it doesn’t take long to break out and score a lot of points as the ball bounces up and down between the walls, putting lots of holes in both of them, and building up speed.

The real kicker is that before too long, the bricks descend every other time you hit the ball, and sometime after that, every time you hit the ball. It’s just not feasible to clear the bricks before you run out of space, and I’m not sure that you can really aim the ball well enough to drill a precise hole through a wall efficiently. At least the ball never got in danger of touching the top of the screen and causing the paddle to shrink.


Like Breakout, but you have two balls in play per life, and two paddles in a vertical formation. Points are worth double as long as both balls are in play. The second ball appears right after hitting back the first, and it’s easy to miss it. This mode is incredibly frantic; even with one ball, there’s very little time in between hits to anticipate where the ball will land and move your little paddle in place. Two balls means not only having to anticipate where both will land in a short time, but often having a just a fraction of a second to move the paddle to catch them in quick succession. And as the balls don’t necessarily move at the same speed, figuring out which will land first is a challenge too.

With one ball in play this became a lot like Breakout, only with two paddles. The ball eventually broke out, hit the top of the screen, and shrunk my paddle, just like in Breakout. Clearing the last few bricks proved frustrating, as the ball kept bouncing back and forth along the same trajectories without accomplishing anything. I did eventually clear the entire wall of bricks, only to be rewarded with another wall, which I failed to clear with the remaining balls.


The wall has two pockets in it with captive balls bouncing around inside, making it look like the wall has googly eyes. Once you free a ball and it hits your paddle or the top of the screen, it will henceforth destroy bricks along with the ball you started with, and also double your score multiplier. Freeing and converting both balls gives you a triple score multiplier as long as you don’t lose any of them, but I could never hold onto two balls nearly long enough to hope to see what kind of mayhem three would bring.

Unlike Double, the bonus balls don’t come back when you lose a life. So once they’re lost (which happened to me soon after freeing them), this mode is simply Breakout, with one paddle and one ball. Once you clear the wall completely the bonus balls will return with it, but that’s the only way.

This had me wondering - what would happen if you could actually clear the wall while three balls are in play? Would two new bonus balls appear in the pockets, giving you a chance to play with five balls at once? With some additional cheating including slowdown and save states, I found out the answer; they would not. If you are a Breakout wizard (or a cheater) and manage to clear the wall while having more than one ball in play, the wall does not reset immediately, and it won’t reset until you drop your extra balls and have only one left in play.

Super Breakout is an improvement over Breakout, but it’s still much too hard. Progressive mode is a hopeless battle against a merciless crushing ceiling. Managing multiple balls in Double and Cavity was nearly impossible for long even with slowdown cheats, and without them, I lasted about as long as an armless jester in a juggling contest.

1 comment:

  1. I only knew the 2600 version of Breakout. I didn't remember the shrinking paddle, but video clips demonstrate it happened. I think it still started out bigger and didn't shrink as much--not even half--so that might be a pretty big difference. I also remember what I guess they called "Breakthru" mode, where instead of bouncing off bricks the ball passed through them, basically zipping up to high speed on the first pass. I don't know if that mode was any better, but it was a lot faster, though you didn't get the satisfaction of having the ball trapped up top and racking up points without your doing anything.


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