Who doesn't remember trying to beat Breakout on their Atari? Er, maybe at the arcade? On your computer, while procrastinating on your final papers? How about on your cell phone on a long train ride? I have all those memories, though most are the latter ones. But no matter when or where, we know exactly what to expect when it comes to Breakout.
It's all there in Panic Breakout from Taro Ito's GameDesign. Just add a big ol' round smiley face as the paddle, more than one ball, and falling powerups. Start by left-clicking and one ball shoots into play. Use the entire face, sides and all, to keep the ball going, while also trying to collect hearts, stars, skulls and more dropping from the destroyed bricks. The wall gradually marches down the screen — faster and faster on higher levels — so work quickly.
Hearts are extra/spare balls and they're vital to staying in the game. After collecting them, release the balls at any time with a click. The number collected serves as the face's mouth, whether it be one or five, and they'll all be released once you run out of balls in play. The game ends if the ball(s) sink and there are no more left in reserve — with the face making a panicked-looking :-0 — or the bricks drop past the dotted line.
The letter Ps enlarge the smiley-paddle and skulls shrink it down a size. Cinderblocks cause a line of blocks to appear at the bottom of the screen, preventing any lost balls for a brief period. Stars speed up the balls in play a little, which helps clear those bricks before they advance too far, but also makes things more hectic.
Analysis: If you're used to the simplicity of basic Breakout, multitasking between collecting powerups and destroying bricks is a little overwhelming, causing even a bit of panic during the first few plays. Yet it's not as hard as it looks. On the other hand, keeping more than two balls in play while doing all of the above is as hard as a juggling act, which makes Panic Breakout's carnival music appropriate.
Having a circle-shaped paddle is awkward at first. I mean, how could that possibly work? It's round! Only the ball is supposed to be round. Once you're used to it, the face works out very well, especially when you need to make shots at different angles — ones you could only make with a weird circle-shaped paddle.
Panic Breakout has a bland black and white color scheme, which I didn't notice at all during my first few plays. Not sure why. I think I was distracted by all of the different shapes and associating them to their usual colors (wait, the hearts aren't red?) in my mind. I guess there's no time for colors when you're doing all that multitasking. And panicking.