Satisfying the unknown need for a thinking-person's Breakout, Trajectile is (psst) a new DSiWare game from the veterans behind the acclaimed PixelJunk series and a brick-breaking breakthrough. It also might be the best non-golf golf game made in some time.
Trajectile is the second DSiWare game from Q-Games, the small Kyoto-based company run by original Star Fox programmer Dylan Cuthbert that has been responsible, in recent years, for the stylish, retro PixelJunk Racer/Monsters/Eden/Shooter on the PlayStation 3 and the way-more-fun-than-it-sounds abstract traffic-directing game, Art Style Digidrive, released for download on the Nintendo DSi in the U.S. last month. The company's recent games have tidily and smartly built upon basic gaming genres — 2D shooter, tower-defense, platformer.
With Trajectile, Q-Games has tweaked the ricochet-based block-breaking format of Breakout, Peggle and countless other blast-the-bricks-in-the-sky games with the restriction that the player can only launch up to seven waves of projectiles, of specific and varied capabilities, in order to obliterate key blocks at the top of the screen. Across more than 180 levels, you'll have to think about what to shoot and at what angle. Think hard. Feel smart.
The Simplest Twist: If you've played a game you've likely played Breakout or Peggle or Puzzle Bobble. But you may not have done it under the novel constraints of Trajectile. Levels are color-coded: green ones allow seven turns, blue permit five and red three. The developers haven't just laid out the levels — in creative pixelated configurations of blobs, mazes, letters, swords and even a dollar sign — they also determine the location from where on the bottom screen the player will fire their missiles, the number of missiles available in a turn and the type of those missiles which could be regular ricocheting smashers, diving drillers or contact-combustible beserkers. Amid the breakable blocks on the DSi's top screen are the few sparkling ones that need to be destroyed for level completion along with obstacle blocks, hardened two-hit barriers, bomb blocks that detonate their surroundings. There are even item blocks that give the player the ability to double the missiles in a wave or super-charge their shots. The player files missiles by aiming with the stylus (and— please note — holding down with a shoulder button to a align more precise shots!) All of this, planned out by turns, makes the player have the rare experience of thinking very hard about not just where to shoot and what ricochet to expect but how the available munitions can best be put to use. If Breakout was reckless carpet-bombing, this game is about allegedly precise munitions strikes.
Makes Me Feel Smart: Who doesn't like a game that makes them feel clever? Many of my victories in Trajectile levels may have been due to lucky bounces, but I don't like to think of it that way. Instead I feel like a genius of demolitions and an ace golfer. Finally, I now know what it's like to shoot for par with a finite set of tools to clear the course, to avoid badly angled shots and to thrill at sinking the final shot at two strokes under par. I finished one three-round Trajectile level with a single shot and felt like a master. If this game had sand traps, I know I could avoid them.
The Warmth Of A Well-Made Game: The color-coding of levels, the wordless indication of progress toward unlocking the next set of levels, even the handy displays on the game screen of the time of day and remaining battery power in the DS are all hallmarks of a development team that is careful about details and economical with flourish. That simplicity befits an NES-Metroid-style aesthetic of simply-colored, blocky graphics in front of dark backgrounds, set to basic, bleeping (though sometimes a little to elevator-y) music.
Trajectile offers a well-crafted bounty of a specific delight. The twisted Breakout formula here is not the kind of thing a gamer might want to binge on, but it's one that is pleasing in short chunks, as, say, another five levels are knocked off on a subway ride. It's clever and makes its player feel clever. That's a good trick.
Trajectile was developed by Q-Games and published by Nintendo of America for the Nintendo DSi on January 4. Retails for 500 Nintendo points ($5.00 USD). Unlocked 180 of the game's levels, cleared 72 of them, finished 51 under par. Felt damn smart.
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