Saturday, January 30, 2010

Drop Off

Data East / NEC

I've always hated Breakout and most of its many imitators. The only title along those lines I'd ever enjoyed was an ancient LCD handheld game called Spitball Sparky, which stars a likable Q*bert-like character and plays better than its "paddle"-featuring peers. Of course, I haven't had the pleasure of giving SS a go since I was about seven years old; if it's actually crap and my memories are horribly distorted by nostalgia, well, I'm none the wiser. And this didn't bode well for Drop Off: I'm inclined to despise its ilk to begin with, and there wasn't any chance it could compete with the masterpiece that I recall Spitball Sparky being. With things looking grim, DO actually brought a quick smile to my face with its opening cinematics, which can boast of very cool music accompanying very goofy text that relays a "go inside a mind" plot reminiscent of Psychosis'.

The weaving of this intriguing tale continues with melodramatic text-based intermissions. It's funny... the original PCE version features mangled English during these scenes, so whoever localized the title decided to fix that... but still came up with gibberish.

The story-related stuff is certainly entertaining, but then there's the game itself. Well, let's try to cover this quickly. You control a blue thing and destroy objects with a ball. You can "open up" your blue thing to deflect the ball at sharper angles. There are plenty of different objects to obliterate, including apples, crystals, eyeballs, and amoebas. If you hit the right spot in a chain and break off a bunch of objects at once, you're rewarded with bonus points. The "interesting" thing is that the chains of objects gradually descend. This is no Space Invaders; you don't have to annihilate every link to finish a round. You just have to hang in there until the chains have fully descended. But if an object touches your blue thing, you die. And if the ball bashes its way through the floor, you die. You can repel the chains a limited number of times to create a little breathing room, and a steamroller-type thing occasionally shows up to perform floor repair.

That's about all there is to the affair, aside from the occasional instance of silliness.

Drop Off is not excellent. It's not based on a wonderful concept, and it isn't executed particularly well. In fact, it's often said to be a disaster. Well, even though I was predisposed to hate it, I really can't say that I do. It gets kind of intense, I suppose, when objects come down and crowd the deflector. The nice music makes me want to like the game, as does the amusing story. I came in expecting about a billion levels, but there are only sixteen, which is just fine. And DO does have something that even Spitball Sparky doesn't: a final boss.

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