When the unfamiliar imagine video games, a few common images might occur to them: mowing down fields of descending aliens, in the vein Space Invaders, or perhaps navigating a running, jumping figure through a pixelated landscape à la Super Mario Bros. After that, they might describe something like Blockbuster.
Blockbuster, known as Impact outside the North American market, is a Breakout / Arkanoid clone produced by Audiogenic Software Limited (ASL) in 1987 and distributed by Mindscape in 1988 for a wide range of hardware available at the time, including Amiga, Atari, and Commodore 64. As a child, I whiled away many hours playing the DOS CGA version on our Tandy 1000 EX. Even then, I was conscious of how frustratingly difficult the mechanics of this game made playing it.
Like Breakout, the basic gameplay of Blockbuster involves using a moveable paddle to redirect a bouncing ball at various patterns of bricks with the intent of breaking them. Moving on to the next level requires clearing the current one of all bricks. Like Arkanoid, Blockbuster adds enemies and power-ups into the dynamic.
Perhaps unique to this version is the way it allows players to select their power-ups. In Arkanoid, these take the form of capsules that drop from broken bricks. Scooping up a falling capsule with the paddle grants special abilities to the player, including lengthening the paddle, adding additional balls, equipping laser cannons, etc. power-ups can only be used one at a time, and picking up a new power-up cancels out the previous one.
In Blockbuster, breaking certain bricks also releases power-ups, this time in the form of falling horseshoe-shaped tokens which can be scooped up using the paddle. Each token collected advances an indicator across a 3x3 grid of power-ups. Once the indicator hovers over a desired power-up, the player can use a command to activate it, in my case pulling back on the joystick. Certain power-ups can also be stacked, making for interesting combinations of abilities. For instance, the magnet paddle power-up combined with the wide paddle power-up makes for a particularly effective duo.
Another interesting feature of Blockbuster is the editor which allows users to customize their own playing fields. This particular element of the game is accessed by typing EDIT into the password field on the intro screen. Playing these user-generated levels requires the player to type the word USER in the password prompt. Levels are retained on exiting and reloading the game.
To keep things visually interesting, the game levels flip back and forth between the familiar red; orange; and green, and white; blue; magenta CGA colour palettes. Other versions of this game featured expanded EGA palettes. Sound is provided by PC speaker.
As for gameplay satisfaction, the heaviest sin of Blockbuster is the miniscule size of its paddle. I played this game both with the keyboard and my Tandy Deluxe joystick, and in both cases I missed the ball much more frequently than I would have playing games with larger default paddles, such as Arkanoid. Joystick play was especially difficult. In addition to losing a life, active power-ups are also cancelled with a missed ball. This can be especially frustrating toward the end of a level when the player loses a life and there aren’t enough token-bearing bricks left to equip a helpful power-up. The token count is retained when missing a ball, however, and this can be used as a fallback strategy.
Overall, I find myself returning to Blockbuster more often than I expected, mostly due to the power-up features of the game, including the rocket, which eliminates whole columns of bricks, and the super ball, which careens through multiple bricks, bouncing only off of the walls. The abilities to mix and match power-ups, and to generate personalized levels, make this game an interesting addition to the brick breaker family of games.