Game Review – Blitz Breaker

Blitz Breaker is a unique 2D platformer by Boncho Games, released February 2, 2016 on Steam, with possible iOS & Android releases sometime this year. An account of it’s development progress can be seen in it’s thread on the TIGForums. An up-to-date demo build is available on Newgrounds. Review last updated 2016/02/05.

Banner - Blitz Breaker

Aspect Ratios Horiz 16:9 w/ Border or Vert 9:16
Framerate Cap 144+
Performance Just Fine
Options Very Few
Key Rebinding No
Controller Support/Rebinding Yes, No
Local Co-op No, Singleplayer

PC Port Quality

Runs in HTML5; I encountered no performance issues. However the engine does mean that dedicated fullscreen isn’t available and most injected overlays (Steam, RivaTuner, etc) won’t work properly. There’s no framerate cap; I can confirm at least 144FPS and that it V-syncs properly to the active display. The options amount to toggles for music and sound effects, windowed/borderless-fullscreen, and your choice of side art. The side art and border around the game makes the whole image 16:9, but one option is no border at all which removes everything and it becomes 9:16 instead. You can set your display to vertical and run the game windowed or fullscreen, filling the entire display, though there is no ‘Tate Mode’ yet to do the rotation internally; you have to change it in the OS.

Blitz Breaker - 3x Screenshot Options

While windowed, the game is surrounded by a black border until the window is large enough to step up to the next integer. The minimum size is 2x the base game assets, and it’ll snap to 3x, 4x, and so on as you make the window larger. Fullscreen at 1080P w/ the side art keeps the game at exactly 4x. All resolutions should be sharp, as nearest neighbor filtering is used, though that can have a varied effect on the raster side art.

There’s no rebinding of any kind, though there are multiples of the bindings on both the keyboard and controller. You can use WASD/Arrows/D-Pad/AnalogSticks to dash, Space/Enter/Bumpers/A to jump, and ESC/Backspace/Start/Back/Triggers/B to pause. All function identically, as there is no analog movement. There are on-screen button prompts for both keyboard and controller, though it’s switching was only semi-dynamic as after pressing a button on the controller it switched, and pressing keyboard buttons still functioned, but the prompts wouldn’t switch back. Both controller and keyboard inputs will function simultaneously, as will any of the multiple mappings on each input method. I didn’t find any advantage to doing so, but it’s functional if you want it. I found that I used the arrow keys most often, but having to have my left arm up just to activate space for jumping was annoying. Jump is used as a small navigation tool, rather than consistently used core function like in most other platformers. Because of it’s limited use, I thought it played exceptionally well with Jump on both Right Ctrl and Numpad 0, which sit on either side. I mapped it myself for testing, but I’ve heard that it will be implemented in a later build.

Gameplay

Having only seen a few screenshots before hopping in, the gameplay surprised me. It’s technically a 2D platformer, but it really doesn’t feel like one. You can only make two types of movements; a short jump, and a dash in one of 4 directions that doesn’t stop until you collide with something. You’re very restricted in that sense, but actions are consistent because of that and it feels very responsive. You bash into the wall, and you’ll almost always bounce outward to the same point. Once you dash you give up all control, but the very frame you collide with something you can dash again, and you can even prepare for that by holding the direction during the previous dash. Using that technique allows you to go very fast with minimal effort, but as you progress, the levels contain more and more spikes along the walls. You’re forced to balance riding the walls to go as fast as possible, with timing your dashes instead, to clear a hazard or squeeze through a small gap.

Blitz Breaker - Heads

The various collectible heads (24 total) are found in secret levels, with others being gated by ‘Stars’, earned by completing a stage with more than a certain value left on the clock. Traditionally when a game wants you to complete a level quickly for a reward, there are shortcuts of some sort. Blitz Breaker uses coins that add to your timer instead, forcing you to not only dash in the proper places to collect them as you go, but it also presents optional paths that are way out of your way, but filled with coins so that by the time you get back to the goal you’ll have a higher counter than if you just went straight there. In the difficult stages, it teases you as you pass right by the goal to go grab coins in an even more challenging section. In the very same style, there are purple squares in 1/3rd of the levels that also require you to go way out of your way, often adding notably to the challenge.

The 101 levels are split across 4 areas, split again into 3 sub areas each. The x-1 and x-2 sections each have 9 levels and a final set of 3 secret rooms if you managed to collect all 3 purple cubes. The final section of each area is a boss, each offering a challenge different from the standard levels. Chased by a machine of saws, playing whack-a-mole with a dragon, and bonking an octopus on the head while avoiding it’s multiple stages of attacks. One is essentially a race, another has you memorizing patterns and timings, and another being survival while trying to get hits in.

Outside of the primary Story Mode, there’s also Arcade Mode that has you running through all the same levels with tweaked mechanics. Your goal becomes doing the levels as fast as possible, while also keeping deaths to a minimum. The purple squares are now lives, and coins convert into lives as well. A global timer ticks up as you progress, so assuming you can reach the end, you could compete against others with a definitive score for your single run. You can quit out and it will save your progress for that run to complete later. This mode is clearly meant for speedrunners, but I don’t think it’s pure enough. The best players won’t need to worry about lives at all, but anyone under that range is actively forced to collect coins and 1-UPs to have enough chances to even finish the more difficult levels, skewing their final score even more. A pure speedrun mode with just the timer (no coins, pick-ups, or lives) would be nice to see.

Blitz Breaker - 3x Screenshot

I wish the aesthetic of the levels changed as you progress (even simple palette swaps would be nice. The secret levels use an inverted palette, and some have water, that’s about it…), but it does a great job of introducing new mechanics as you progress. It combined things in new ways, and remained compelling and interesting the whole way through. That said, the game can be very frustrating in certain sections, even more so if you’re aiming to earn the stars and unlock the secret levels. I’m not the most patient or enduring, so while I might be able to finish the game through to the final boss, I doubt I’ll ever get every star and collectible head. The game lacks a dedicated reset button or key, which could have slightly lowered the delay between rounds where you know you’ve messed up but haven’t died.

Presentation

The pixel art aesthetic is very simple, but charming and cohesive. Hazards and objects are conveyed well, which reduced some early trial and error. The custom heads are really cute, each having extra art for jumping and dashing states, though it would have been nice to see a custom trails to replace the default 4 color rainbow. Some of the character’s movements can snap to the original pixel-art grid, though the dashing movements (90% of what you’ll be doing) are too fast to assess, even upon close inspection.

The wonderful chiptune soundtrack by Fat Bard suits the game extremely well, and it’s on the level that I’d listen to the OST on its own (I’m a fan of the genre). All of the retro sound effects fit well, but a few are quite loud. The most notable being the key blocks that break in a chain reaction like firecrackers; the repeated noise is abrasive and drowns out the music. You’ll probably die and hear it over and over, so it would’ve been nice to see a slider instead of the toggle to help alleviate that.

Conclusion

If you’ve ever played a game on Nitrome back in the day, you’ll have an idea of what this is going for in terms of content. However, while those games were often built around sloppy, physics-based controls that made them difficult, Blitz Breaker is precise and responsive. It becomes brutally challenging near the end, but rarely feels genuinely unfair or unsatisfying. There’s the process of learning new mechanics and entering a new screen for the first time; everything else is consistent and fair, making it a relatively pure test of timing and memory. As both of my friends and I will attest, you’ll die a ton, but are assured that it is possible, driving you forward each time you pick it up. You aren’t often truly discouraged as it doesn’t make a habit of punishing you with RNG-heavy mechanics. The star system and unlockable secret levels drive you back to replay and fully complete earlier stages, and in doing so you’ll see just how far you’ve progressed in your understanding of the game’s movement system and ability to read the environments on the fly.

Blitz Breaker - Scorecard

Blitz Breaker is a simple game that would be quite short if it weren’t for the high difficulty. Playing more like a rhythm game than any traditional 2D platformer, it’s a unique, tactile experience paired with well suited music and visuals. It won’t win any artsy-fartsy awards, but it’s a sharp, comparatively bite-sized title that can have a bit of longevity should you choose to master it.


For full disclosure, Blitz Breaker was provided by the developer for review. I’ve spoken extensively with the developer prior to the launch of the game in the form of feedback. This is my first game review out since implementing my new rating system, though one has been added retroactively to Rocket League as well. Clarification on the color scale can be found by clicking on the scorecard anywhere they are found on the site. To add to that, the “Good” performance rating here is what games that aren’t and shouldn’t be graphically intensive will receive; comparing a low-res 2D title with say Battlefront by branding them with “Incredible Performance”, just wouldn’t make any sense. If you have any feedback on the new system, feel free to shoot me an email/tweet or comment below. If you found this review helpful, consider a rating on Steam.


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