I generally like to review apps made by smallish, independent developers cuz I figure corporate mega-giants don’t really need any help getting publicity, but some apps just look too damn cool to pass up.

Breakspin is Walt Disney’s entry in the App Store’s massive Games category and it’s impressive to say the least! Thankfully there are no cartoon mice or ducks or dogs to be seen anywhere in this app; it’s an exercise in straight-up arcade gaming that you probably wouldn’t expect from The Magic Kingdom yet here it is. Breakspin is a little like Pong and a little like Breakout, and the level of gloss this game sports is pretty incredible.

The object of Breakspin is to “battle energy fields with super-charged paddles around a circular field of specialized gems.” Ok, in English that means you’re using two Pong-like paddles to bounce a ball around a circular playing field and eliminate the bright shiny objects in the middle. Each of the paddles are controlled independently by moving your thumbs up and down the sides of the screen, and except for one powerup button (which I’ll get to later) that’s basically all you need to worry about. It’s a pretty simple premise and Disney certainly isn’t the first to come up with this idea, but they’ve added a ton of new elements that definitely make this game unique.

There are 48 levels in all and, as you progress through them, stuff gets added to the game that will either help or hinder you. So far I’ve made it through 24 levels and most of that stuff hinders… there are glowing prehistoric-looking fish things that swim underneath your field of play to move balls around and generally be a pain in your ass, and obstacles also get added to the collection of glowing, electricity-laden spheres that you’re trying to destroy. None of these things really make the game that much harder, but they do add some challenges and at the very least they make the game even prettier to look at than it already is.

The powerup button I mentioned earlier is the “Bio” meter you see in the lefthand corner of the screenshots, and when it fills up you get to choose from a small variety of boosts like Time Bomb and Energy Shield. I’ve only used this feature a couple of times because I keep on forgetting it’s there, but if you’re smarter than me (and I know you are!) it should provide a nice break in the action when your meter is full and you feel like using the boost.

Levels start off easy and eventually grow into big multi-battle levels where you have to clear several different playing fields before advancing. Don’t worry, though… if you ever fail to clear a level, big whoop! Who gives a bibble! You can just continue on as if you weren’t a total failure and your score even continues to grow from where you left off. This is the one area that kind of makes you go, “yeah, that’s a Disney app alright!” Most other games would knock your score down to zero and maybe even make you start over from level 1 or a level checkpoint, but the kid-friendly mentality that seems to pervade everything Disney does is pretty apparent here and in other areas such as the global scoreboard where even remotely naughty names are off-limits. Wanna post your high score as Buttface? Sorry, not gonna happen!

There are options in Breakspin for controlling sound where iPod songs can be selected individually or en masse, and you can also choose to use only one paddle instead of two (trust me, two is easier!)… and even though this game is crazy good I still think there should be an option to make it a little more challenging than it is. It’s a fun game and I understand Disney’s desire to not make kids cry, but high scores don’t mean much when you can die a million times and never get penalized. Maybe the thing to do is add an Easy/Hard toggle, and create global scoreboards for both, or at least offer the option to speed up the ball that’s smashing into everything.

Another improvement would be some kind of alert when the Bio meter is full. It’s not Disney’s fault that I’m forgetful and dumb as dirt, but a chime or something would encourage me to use those powerups a lot more often.

Overall Breakspin is a pretty awesome game. The graphics are gorgeous and the gameplay can get addicting, and the app also has a bunch of social/multiplayer features that I haven’t even tried yet because I’m a loner and I have no friends. Despite the Disney name I wouldn’t hand this game to a 5 year old simply because he won’t know what to do with it, but for everyone else it should make for a great buy at just $3.

iTunes Link – Breakspin
Version 1.0
Reviewed on iPhone 3G OS3.1

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