Reaching new levels
I always think that playability is the most important feature that a game can have. The sound may be poor and the graphics crude or small, but if it's playable I'll keep coming back. Also, with a few notable exceptions - such as Elite - simple ideas often make the best games. Breakthrough from Audiogenic is one game that can be described in this way.
Although the title makes it sound like another Breakout/Arkanoid/Impact bat-'n'-ball clone, Breakthrough is totally different. It is basically a 100-screen platform game - similar to Manic Miner or Magic Mushrooms - in which you play a little wizard who looks a bit like the central character of Wizadore. Navigate your way around each screen, avoiding fireballs, vampire bats and various other nasties, collect a key then jump through an open door. It's simple.
The controls are equally easy. Left, right, jump and create or destroy a block. This last feature is the key to the whole game: By destroying existing blocks and creating new ones you can change the whole layout of the screens to allow you to get to previously inaccessible sections.
Certain types of blocks cannot be destroyed and these are invariably positioned awkwardly just to make things difficult. When used in conjunction with fireballs and the other lethal features they can produce some very tricky screens. However, there are certain compensations: Some blocks contain hidden goodies that can give you bonus points, extra lives or halve the speed of the countdown timer - very useful.
The 100 screens are sequential, not linked as in arcade-adventure games such as Citadel. However, a useful screenskip system is provided so that you do not have to start from the first every time.
Every five screens you are presented with a new password which can subsequently be used to gain access to any one of the next five. Although I found that my right hand kept slipping from the Shift - jump - key to : which is more normally used for upward movement my only real gripe is with the left-right movement: You can create or destroy a block immediately in front of you so you often need to turn around to face the correct way.
However, it is very difficult just to rotate without moving one square in the opposite direction. On later screens, where you must sometimes stand immediately next to a fireball or almost directly under a vampire bat, an inadvertant overstep can prove fatal.
This is certainly an engrossing game - extremely addictive because of its simplicity. The graphics are rather small compared to those in many of the other games on the market nowadays, but don't let that put you off. In general Breakthrough is not too hard and strikes me as being an effective way to encourage children to think logically. But it's also good enough to keep me playing it.