Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Pop Breaker (Game Gear)

Pop Breaker is an odd game. It feels a lot like an old computer game in a number of ways. The first and most obvious way is that the game's protagonist is the female driver of a futuristic tank, and that the game contains various (clean) pictures of her looking cute. (The pictures themselves are also fairly cute, being limited to the colour palette and very low resolution of the host hardware. The second computer-like trait might not sink in immediately while playing, but it is the most important and is the trait around which the entire game is built: the stages were clearly constructed using some kind of simple level editor program (which, unfortunately, has no in-game version).

 The game sees the player controlling their futuristic tank around various stages, with the aim of each stage being to destroy a stationary device, kind of like the Cores that appear in the Bangai-O games. The stages also contain various obstacles: breakable and unbreakable blocks, arrows that push the tank in the direction they point, triangular blocks that change the trajectory of enemy and player shots (interestingly, the player and enemies fire the same kinds of shots and all shots are treated equally when it comes to destroying blocks, enemies, and the player's tank), and several kinds of enemies who all have their own distinct patterns of behaviour.

Pop Breaker plays something like a hybrid of a shooting game and old-school tile-based action-puzzle games, Because of this play style, on first glance, movement and scrolling will seem jerky and awkward, but this is a necessary part of the design: everything in-game is measured in tiles, and a lot of the game is about being in the exact right position to shoot something or avoid shots or trick enemies into shooting each other. Most enemies are two by two tiles, the player's tank is three by three, while walls, shots and most other objects take up the space of a single tile.

The fact that the player's tank is three tiles wide ties into another odd quirk: before starting a new game, the player chooses whether shots will be fired from the middle, left or right tile. I strongly recommend against choosing the middle tile, though I don't see any specific advantage that left or right might have over each other.

Yeah, Pop Breaker is an interesting game. It's far from being essential, but it's one of a few slightly quirky Game Gear games from smaller developers, and it's definitely not a bad game.

As a little extra note, I've recently started a Patreon! If you pledge two American dollars a month, you get to see all new posts two days before they appear here, and I'd really appreciate the support!

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