REVIEW: Block Slam

You either like Breakout types or you don’t. Block Slam (80 MSP) takes brick-breaking into three dimensions, with added mobility and an over-the-shoulder view. It’s a good-looking game. Given the avatar’s appearance, this must be what Desmond does during downtime in the Animus, waiting for Assassin’s Creed 3 to launch. That’s probably hopeful fan-fiction more than Ubisoft canon.

One thing is certain— many boxes will be broken via kicking a ball, using the essential targeting reticle to aim. And while it’s satisfying to launch the ball full-speed at a stack of boxes, you need to be conscious of how that shot ricochets, as each stage has gates and invisible boundaries that you must protect the ball from. Lower difficulties give you more lives in reserve, if you find the standard settings unforgiving, and there is a ‘jump’ move that’ll allow you to stop the ball soccer / football-style, depending on your continent of residence.

This rotating platform was a real pain-in-the-ass.

Tedium would set in quickly if this is all there was to it, but thankfully, developer Xenotronic figured as much and added modifiers. Depending on the level, boxes don’t sit idle and wait for you to crack them. Oh, and it helps to work quickly to clear the stage; ball speed increases based on a timer. Shattering the clear glass boxes drops various finite powerups, like decreased ball speed, propeller-boomerangs, extra lives, or magnets that allow you to ‘recall’ the ball. The most helpful of these powerups is also the most bizarre; the minigun. Its usefulness makes it a game-changer, letting you mow down some of the harder boxes with relative ease.

Later levels up the ante and put more balls in play, though you still spend way too much time chasing down a ball and setting up your shot. One could argue this is all part of the mechanic, which is fine, but the same issue that plagues all brick-breakers, including indie hybrids like Wizorb and now Block Slam, is that dreaded Last Brick Syndrome. No matter the amount of mobility or miniguns, time and time again, the levels come down to one or two hard-to-reach bricks, whether they’re elevated, on a rotating platform, or in an awkward corner (the camera is mostly okay, but can obscure your view on occasion).

The boxes had laughed at Desmond for the last time.

This constant battle with the ball, simultaneously babysitting / trying to reset or slow it down in order to line up tougher shots, tends to drag the game down a bit overall. How you view that struggle, legitimate challenge or cheap design move, really depends on your patience. I found it more enjoyable in bite-sized helpings than playing straight-through, spacing it out over a couple days. You might not be as forgiving.

Still, is Block Slam an admirable try at a stale genre that deserves a look and (possibly) your dollar? Certainly. It can be fun in light doses. The novelty of it wears thin after a handful of levels, especially as the brick formations get more complex and frustration mounts, but it comes with the territory. I’ll end with my opening; either you like brick breakers or you don’t. Block Slam won’t change your mind.

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