Brickbreaker games are nothing new, especially to the handheld family. However, there are times when a game can do something so tried-and-true, but add its own twist and innovation, making it stand out among its peers. With so many games doing the same concept, what can AlphaBounce do to stand out?
AlphaBounce follows the story of three convicts who are forced to work for an inter-galactic corporation, mining various planets using their paddle, called an envelope. The ultimate objective is to escape back to Earth, which is accomplished by blasting through many, many levels, collecting upgrades and additional envelopes on the way. Choosing the convict is how the game presents players with a difficulty level, but beyond that there isn't much story during the game itself. This, along with the loosely translated manual can make it a little confusing for new players. On each loading screen the game describes a planet or power-up, which is a nice little bit of flavour but initally it seems as though the developers made a huge backstory and then neglected to put any of it in the actual game.
Being an arcade-style game, controls are paramount in AlphaBounce. The stylus is how players control the envelope, which is always a fine line to walk. While this does cause some logistical problems, it's not as big an issue as some other games. Another great feature the developers added in is that tapping the screen immediately warps the envelope there, making it much easier to micromanage multiple balls. Using the d-pad activates any offensive items equipped, such as lasers or missiles, both of which are entirely useless initially. One surprising oversight is that the middle gap in the DSi is not considered, meaning angled shots often go in completely different places, but once players get used to it, it's manageable.
Graphically, AlphaBounce is nothing special. Some of the power-ups have some neat effects but nothing mind-blowing. The game has a few decent backgrounds, and seeing the planet that's being mined is a nice touch. During especially intense moments in the game, of which there are many, there is unfortunately a very noticeable slowdown. Something particularly annoying is the size of the letter on each powerup. Seeing as the letter is the only way to identify power-up from a power-down, it's very easy to confuse the two and accidentally cause negative effects. This, coupled with the low refresh rate of the DSi's screen, makes it almost impossible to discern what item is about to be picked up.
AlphaBounce bills itself as being a "brick-breaking RPG", and it does its second genre very well. AlphaBounce's Universe is scattered with loads of upgrades to the envelope and in addition to that, every planet contains an extra envelope players can customize as they see fit, from making the envelope longer, to adding lasers and missles, or adding elements like a freeze move to the ball. Oddly enough there are enemies to fight, which means players have got to focus on staying alive as well as mining through the massive wall of bricks. The enemies really add a new dimension, as many will only fire when they're attacked first, but by the time this happens, players will be so used to hitting every block that the enemies will likely end up tearing them to pieces. Luckily, restarting a level carries no penalty. When players do finally get near the end of a level, AlphaBounce has a great mechanic to help finish off those last elusive bricks, called the Javelin. The Javelin is a laser that takes out an entire column of bricks, meaning players won't have to watch the ball bounce around the entire empty level as they try to hit the last brick in the corner.
Overall, AlphaBounce is a very fun game, that's as addictive as any arcade game of its calibre, and at its price point of 500 Nintendo Points it's a fantastic deal too. It sets itself apart from similar games with its unique environments and story - in that it has one, albeit very barebones - along with the interesting powerups and effects. It doesn't require you to restart the entire game upon turning it off, so levels get harder and harder, which is great for more long-term players, but it's just as easy to jump in and play a quick level on the bus. For AlphaBounce's replayability, general level of fun and low price, it's a must-buy for sure.