Review: Breakout (Atari 2600)

By Drew Wilson

In this review, we check out one of those games that has since launched a thousand clones. This game is called Breakout and we check out the Atari 2600 version of this action puzzle game.

This particular game was released in 1978, and it has inspired many games like Arkanoid in the years that followed.

The game, which certainly takes notes from one of (if not, the) earliest classic video game Pong. Instead of simply having a ball and two paddles to emulate table tennis, this game essentially borrows some of the basic principles and modifies it in such a way that it becomes a one player game.

Basically, you bounce a ball off of your pallet into the field of bricks. Each time the ball comes in contact with one of the colorful bricks, the brick disappears (essentially, it “breaks”) before rushing back towards your pallet again. If you miss the ball and it drops out below the pallet, you lose a ball. If you lose 5 balls, then the game is over. Each brick you break earns you a varying number of points. This depends on how high up the brick is. The top red layer grants the most points while the bottom blue layer grants the least number of points.

One thing to note is that once you break an orange or red layer, the ball travels significantly faster. This obviously makes the game harder, but you can earn points at a much quicker pace at that point (so long as you have the ability to keep up.

One strategy to employ is to try and drill your way up in one location so you can bounce the ball against the ceiling of the playing field. If you do that, then the ball will frantically bounce around between the ceiling and the high scoring layers until it falls back down. This allows you to rack up a huge score with little effort until the ball comes flying back down again.

I personally never fully cleared out the wall, unfortunately. This is partly due to the fact that the ball speed change is significant between the yellow layer and the orange layer. I thought that this steep difficulty change made the game less approachable as the difficulty change was jarring. There’s no gradual transition to the game being difficult, it just goes from relatively easy to rather hard in an instant. This, however, was probably one of only two real complaints about the structure of the game.

The other complaint I have about this game is that if you hit a brick a few layers deep by going around another brick, the ball will simply pass through other bricks instead of hitting them as well. This, I felt, was a bug in the game. The only time you can break multiple bricks on a single return is if the ball is bouncing off of the ceiling so far as I can tell.

The controls were very responsive. This is great because it allows for quick reflexes. The only limitation you have, really, is how fast you can react or predict the trajectory of the ball when it returns. Considering how fast this game can get, this is critical and I’m glad that this level of responsiveness was inserted into this game.

Graphically, this game works quite well. The color of the bricks add a nice level of eye candy and it makes the playing field a pleasant thing to look at. The black background doesn’t really detract from the overall look and feel of this game. So, well done on the graphics.

There was no music in this game, but the sound effects were nicely done. I don’t know what more you could ask for with the ping noises you hear from the ball ricocheting around the playing field because the audio was set up nicely here. Good all around here.

Overall, this is certainly a classic more than worth playing. If you’ve ever seen any of those games that require you to break blocks with a ball and pallet, chances are, a lot of the ideas originated from this game. It’s easy to see why this game was inspirational because it’s a nicely packed and well put together game.


Furthest point in game: Over 260 points.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 78%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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