App of the week: Atari’s ‘Breakout’ hit returns

Look for the Atari Breakout icon in the App Store.
Look for the Atari Breakout icon in the App Store.

Breakout: Boost
Cost: Free (with in-app purchases)
Seller: Atari
Devices: iOS and Android
Rating: E for Everyone

Pros: Basic game is free. Very easy. Priceless memories.
Cons: Teenagers may judge you.

First impressions

Remember the days of Atari and ColecoVision? I was fab at games back then, with reflexes like lightning and incredible staying power, coupled with the gift of extraordinary concentration.

Yes, “modest” and “humble” were my middle names.

Even though technology has moved forward at a lightning pace, we sometimes yearn for things from yesteryear. Thankfully, such longings are answered by places like the App Store, where you can find familiar games like Tetris, Space Asteroids and Breakout.

Breakout is very simply designed, and yet it’s surprising to discover how addictive it is. That’s probably why it was a “break out” hit (har-har) when it first arrived on the market.

The special Valentine's package is an in-app purchase.
The special Valentine’s package is an in-app purchase.

I’ve always liked a game of Breakout. I used to play it on the one console we had in our university’s halls of residence, followed by my BlackBerry phone. It’s hard to understand why I never became a rocket scientist.

The BlackBerry died a while ago, so I have been bereft of Breakout for some time. Imagine my joy, therefore, when I saw it pop up in the App Store.

Perhaps I could revisit my former glory, and gain those high scores once again! I downloaded it with fervor; cracked my knuckles; and prepared to do battle with the bouncing ball.

How it works

Now, if you’re in your 20s, you may be wondering what the heck I’m going on about. Breakout? What’s that?

Well, if you enjoy a good game of pool, you’d already have a small idea of how this app works. You have a paddle that can only be moved left to right across the bottom of your screen, and lines of brick walls running across the top.

Your job is to bounce a ball off that paddle at different angles, knocking out the bricks until all of them are gone.

Cast your mind back to these dazzling days.
Cast your mind back to these dazzling days.

Down the left hand side, you’ll see a scale that ranges between “Faster” and “Slower,” referring to the speed of the ball. When you first open the app, it defaults to somewhere around the middle. My advice would be to stick with that setting until you see how comfortable you are with the game.

It will indicate that you need to tap the screen to start, and the moment you do, that ball will head towards the bricks. Use your finger to slide the paddle into position, so when the ball comes back, it’ll bounce up again.

Sounds simple, right? Well, the first level is pretty easy, but like any other apps of this nature, each level brings additional challenges.

The bricks are arranged in different patterns, and some become more hardy, resisting elimination for longer.

You’ll see some special cartridges coming down from the walls, and these carry everything from extra points to features that will help your efforts, such as multi-ball and laser gun. In order to get the benefit of them you have to “catch” them with your paddle.

The most important thing, however, is to keep your eye on the ball – literally. You may find yourself so engrossed in the task of catching those special cartridges that you’ll miss the ball and lose one of your lives.

Try to get your ball between the two walls by bouncing it off your paddle at just the right angle.
Try to get your ball between the two walls by bouncing it off your paddle at just the right angle.

Sending the ball off at the correct angle is key, particularly when you’re down to your last few bricks of the level. It will also greatly assist you when trying to break through walls to get your ball between two lines of bricks or around the top of a group. Why? Because for a while, the ball will bounce around in one area, knocking out lots of bricks at once before finally returning to your paddle. It gives you a chance to breathe and score a good amount of points quickly.

As the game isn’t too complicated, neither are its settings. Beyond making the ball faster or slower and pausing the game, there isn’t anything else to adjust.
It gives you a set of free included levels, and then you can buy some extra, specialty packs as in-app purchases.

When I played it

On my very first try, I missed the ball immediately. This did not bode well. However, that ol’ Wheaton magic returned pretty quickly, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My reputation as Queen of Breakout was intact. My finger flew back and forth across the screen, bouncing balls, catching cartridges, and annihilating all the bricks in my path.

The only real issue I had was my finger’s tendency to slowly slide off the paddle. It would make its way north, hiding the main surface, so I had to keep moving it back so I could be at my most effective.

Before I knew it, I was on Level 9 and bragging about it to anyone who would listen. I certainly know my way around scintillating dinner conversation.

I figured I’d keep going for a while to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and then take out an ad in this newspaper to announce my accomplishments. Yeah, baby!
Final thoughts

There’s a reason why technology and games have advanced: with the graphics and devices on the market these days, why not create far more complex, beautiful apps to dazzle and challenge people?

But if you crave a Throwback Thursday moment to recapture your skill playing games from days gone by, download something like Breakout and bask in your former glory.