I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; the Arcade classics will be remade by newcomer developers endlessly. Whether it’s as simple as Asteroids or as deceptively complex as Tetris, for many indie devs there’s no better way of flexing those mental muscles; than to take a long cherished classic and ask themselves “how can I make this better?”. In a way, it’s similar to sketching a classic piece of art, with a range of results as varied as the artists who sketch them are. Sure, you might get an exact clone with some stickers for some added dazzle thrown on, like CMYW, but every once in awhile you’ll find something that does a satisfactory job; nearly re-imagining the core gameplay enough to keep something old feeling fresh. In this case, we have the classic breakout formula re-imagined in the form of Caromble!
Developed and published by Crimson Owl Studios, Caromble places players in control of a paddle; as it’s their duty to free a post-apocalyptic earth from the clutches of miscellaneous pieces of clutter and gigantic robots, all through the incredible power of Breakout. Each level, which is broken into segments, features players bouncing balls around a variety of arenas as they attempt to manipulate a ball covered in particle effects into breakable set pieces.
Currently, there’s only a few levels available to players, but each stage has a different set of arenas, split into three sections. The first of which is always your standard breakout game where players will find the majority of familiar mechanics awaiting them. Crates placed into a large area; it’s the player’s job to break enough of them to power a portal to the next segment of breakable boxes.
While you use the standard Breakout method of bouncing your ball o’ destruction from paddle to box, however, players can expect some variation between methods in accomplishing this. For instance, none of the destructible environmental objects in-game are static. Tower supports, pipelines, miscellaneous crates, and much more can be moved by striking them with the sphere. It’s not uncommon for games to start with neat, organized stacks of crates, only for the stage to be a mess of half-broken items. It’s a nice effect, and while not a major change up; it’s still appreciated.
A bigger change in gameplay is the layout of the arenas themselves. Starting out fairly standard; flat and one dimensional, with box layout being the main variance between stages. But after the first section, the gameplay changes wildly. Now, instead of launching your ball at predetermined crate layouts, players will find the boxes are now being dropped one by one into the arena, or they’ll need to guide the ball up ramps to reach crates placed on higher ground.
This, while being a genuinely neat feature, is easier said than done of course. In Caromble, players can bend the shot by moving the paddle as the ball comes in contact with it, allowing for some nice trick shots, and some fairly accurate maneuvers. Sadly, it would be a nicer feature if it worked as it was supposed to. After messing around with it some, I wasn’t able to ‘feel’ any difference between the speed at which I moved the paddle, and how much the ball curved. Sometimes it would work perfectly, and I could bank the ball into a position where it would benefit me greatly. More often than not, though, the ball has a habit of doing a complete 180 and banking itself around the paddle. It also becomes annoying whenever the player has to race for the ball, trying to prevent the loss of life; only to have it ping off the edge of the paddle and immediately go off into the abyss.
Of course, players have more options available to them aside from curving their shots. Caromble. Players also have the ability to charge their shots for a super shot. An ultra-powerful shot that will break through anything in one hit, but takes about three or four seconds to charge. While charging, you can’t move the paddle, so finding the right time to charge shots is crucial to successful stage completion. Of course, once you stop charging the power you’ve built up doesn’t immediately disappear. It degenerates at a fairly slow rate, allowing players to build up a maximum charge slowly; while also allowing them to still move around the arena uninhibited.
Additionally, Caromble contains a variety of power-ups and power-downs, both of which are conveniently colour coded to avoid any confusion. Powerups being blue, and power downs being red, both glow with a nice particle effect as they drop, making it incredibly hard for keen players not to notice when one drops. Of course, keeping track of these all important drops is absolutely key to your success, as grabbing the right or wrong drop can make or break your entire game. Whether it’s nabbing the extra lives to help manage the difficulty of having multiple stages, or avoiding the bar shrinking debuff, the scramble created whenever one of these drops is a well-managed feature that feels relatively balanced. Never spawning too many buffs or debuffs, it always feels like a balanced proportion of both.
A bigger feature though are the game’s long-term powers. Trophies that spawn in with the rest of the environment and give players different powers when picked up. Currently, Caromble only has one of these, but it’s a fairly fun mechanic in the form of Focus. Which lets you slow down time as the ball approaches the paddle, making accurate curveballs and aiming incredibly easy to accomplish. It’s not something required for beating the game, but it’s a fun feature that shows promise for the other upcoming powers the Caromble devs are looking to add.
Overall, I’m pleased with how Caromble looks right now. It has some bugs, some of which I even had to email the creators to get fixed, but it’s well worth the hassle. Normally I’m not a fan of games that copy the mechanics of other, older games like Breakout, but Caromble does differently enough, with gorgeous environments and fun game mechanics, that it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite versions. If you have the time or money, I’d definitely recommend checking out Caromble on your own; especially if you’re a fan of arcade classics. If you’re not a fan of constant startup crashes and having to go through tech support, though, maybe consider giving it a look after a few more game builds.