Available on iOS
There are certain themes that, year after year, decade after decade, developers return to time and again.
In 1976, Atari released the block-busting Breakout, where players were charged with breaking down walls with nothing more than a ball and a paddle at the bottom of the screen to pat it with. It’s a set up that has been tapped up as many times as Tetris or, if you’re looking for a more recent example, even Flappy Bird.
Yet, as is sadly not often the case with many clones, everyone who takes on Breakout tends to bring something new to the table. A technical advantage afforded to them by the era the game is released in.
In the case of Grey Cubes – which has to have one of the most uninspiring names on the App Store – its unique selling point is a refined take on physics. Whereas most Breakout style games take a 2D-based top-to-bottom view, Grey Cubes plays as if viewed from above, with the cubes that adorn its name being knocked over like boxes in a storeroom.
It’s a take on physics that allows Grey Cubes to be somewhat fluid, almost playful with the way its levels are set out. The game’s intentionally stripped back, Portal-like styling facilitates block-based levels that move, interact and generally play havoc with proceedings. It’s here that developer BulkyPix has attempted to bring a 30 year old classic slap bang into 2014.
The basic concept behind the game, however, is largely unchanged. Your one point of contact is the paddle at the bottom of each stage, which you move by simply sliding your finger accordingly. A swipe up flings the first ball into play, and then it’s simply a case of clearing the board of all blocks while keeping the ball in the arena for as long as you can.
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There are two main elements that help keep things interesting during Grey Cubes’ 60 stages. Firstly, the addition of power-ups – and ‘power downs’, if you like – into play. These fall from smashed up blocks supposedly randomly, offering up everything from multiple balls to a safety net below your paddle should you catch them. Said power downs, of course, are somewhat less inviting, making your paddle smaller and, essentially, making it harder to keep control of the action.
The other element is the levels themselves which, as you progress, start to make their presence known, pushing more blocks into play, acting as barriers and generally making a nuisance of themselves. It’s here, however, where BulkyPix has brought its creativity into play; while other Breakout clones spend their time simply mixing the patterns of the blocks up, Grey Cubes is far more focused on making the environment they sit in is pulling the strings.
And it’s this that pulls you through. The beauty of any Breakout style game is that it can be pulled out and played in short bursts, and the variety of levels on offer in Grey Cubes – each one touching base with its predecessor, but still moving play forwards – ensures that it can serve as your go to game for your five minute on-the-way-to-work fix.
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But, at the same time, while Grey Cubes makes every effort to merge a familiar concept with fresh forms of gameplay, it can’t quite escape the fact that, when all is said and done, it’s still Breakout. That’s not to say developer BulkyPix should be criticised for not reinventing the wheel: ultimately, if you pull a game like Grey Cubes too far away from its origins it loses all structure and, in practice, what the studio has delivered here is a modern take on an undoubted classic.
Nevertheless, Grey Cubes is ultimately a game that’ll serve as a better companion for those new to the block breaking genre rather than any Breakout stalwarts. It’s delivery is impressive and its variety is to be admired, but – by choice or by accident – its structure will likely rekindle any retro players’ affection for the original rather than spark an entirely new romance. For newcomers, however, Grey Cubes could well become a mobile classic in its own right.
An inventive spin on Breakout and its clones that brings physics into play to a greater degree than ever, Grey Cubes is the perfect first stop for those new to the block-breaking genre and will revive old passions for the game that inspired it for longterm players. Just don’t expect it to reinvent the wheel.
See also: Best games 2014