No Tricks or Treats

Review of TrickOrTreat on XBLIG: Pass
This Breakout game offers power-ups and a two player cooperative mode, but brings very little new to the genre.

Breakout is a difficult genre to expand upon. The basic concept is simple with plenty of room for new mechanics, but it’s important to get the gameplay and pacing right. Trick Or Treat offers power-ups and a slightly different take on the standard Breakout mechanics, and it does so with a bright, circus-like candy theme. The ball is now a peppermint, and bricks are various types of chocolate bars and hard candy. However, the speed was too quick and loose for my taste, and with a few minor gameplay issues, it didn’t Breakout from the pack.

Trick Or Treat does get a few things right, though. Cooperative mode allows two players to play through the game, each with their own paddle. It seems useful for tackling harder levels, since this effectively doubles the chances of hitting the ball as well as the number of starting lives. There are “tricks” and “treats” hidden in the bricks that slow the paddle to a crawl, increase the paddle’s speed, and shake down random bricks—enough to add some variety, but nothing groundbreaking if you’ve played other games in the genre. The paddle also moves vertically within a certain range, but I found it less confusing to stick to the familiar horizontal movement.

Game mechanics add a few new twists to the familiar standards, although I’m not sure whether I like them or not. Most bricks don’t break immediately; rather, they seem to be “tagged” whenever the ball touches them. Bricks only need to be “tagged” to clear a level, but they can be broken as well. I can’t tell if this takes a certain number of hits, or if there’s a particular game mechanic that triggers it. I occasionally found it frustrating, as “tagged” bricks end up being obstacles on some levels.

My main gripe is with difficulty and pacing. The ball accelerates rapidly, and many levels don’t leave much of a margin between the paddle and the bricks. It doesn’t help that bricks stick around. All it took was a couple of stray shots to send the ball flying out of reach.  While the game does offer plenty of 1-ups in its shower of “treats” (at least one or two every level), the levels get tricky rather quickly. There is a difficulty setting which slightly increases the length of the paddle, but it didn’t help me much. I get stuck about 4 to 5 levels into the game, and the game features no level select or continue option. I suspect that the game is really balanced for multiplayer co-op.

To make matters worse, the game doesn’t account for title safe area. Considering much of the action in Breakout is occurring on the margins of the screen (the paddle at the bottom, and the empty space along the left and right side of most levels), this severely increases the difficulty depending on your TV. I’ve tried the game on two TVs—on a newer flat screen, it was playable with only a small portion of the action going off-screen, but on an older TV it was almost a guessing game.

I give Trick Or Treat a Pass. Like most Breakout games, you won’t find anything here if you’re not already a fan of the genre. If you are, it’s a decent Breakout clone and the cooperative mode might be worth a look if multiplayer is your thing. Otherwise, there are more polished examples of the genre on XBLIG.

A copy of Trick Or Treat was provided to GameMarx for this review by the developer.

Leave a comment