Weee! Another arcade game. No, I cannot get enough of them, especially if they are engaging and challenging. Someone in the casual games industry once said to me, "There is a very, very fine line between challenging and frustrating." I have found that statement to be a truism. Nervous Breakdown is fun and challenging, so much so that I've played it way too late into the night trying to complete a level.
Nervous Brickdown is Pong — "all growed up!" Developed by Arkedo Studios and published by Eidos on the Nintendo DS platform, it's a game of keeping the ball in the air. It makes great use of the touchscreen by having you move the paddle or draw and create the paddle and then move it around to keep that ball a-bouncing. Good contact is required, and I found that I had better control if I removed my DS from its case with a plastic "play -through" screen.
There are 10 different games available, and you start with a set of two, each with nine progressively harder levels and a "boss" level. Each level in itself has nine games of similar theme, which have to be completed in sets of three and a mini-boss level. You gain bonuses as you move along, earning an extra ball or "life" for the game, and your bonuses also are recorded for posterity. The game is explained on the first screen in two panels. You tap them to indicate you understand the instructions, and the instructions to gain a bonus come up. When you're ready, tap the "Go" bar. You have five balls to get through the level, although if you gain enough bonuses, you may win an extra ball. If you lose all your balls before you beat the level, you can choose to replay, and you start again, at the last set of three.
The first game in the series hearkens back to Breakout, complete with falling power-up bars. Every other set is quite different, though, until you get to the spaceship-themed one and feel you're back on familiar ground. But then it tosses you out into kitschy miniature-golf land. When you beat one of a set, you unlock two more. The games are very varied in theme, with such differing goals as these:
The Paper Game. First you draw your paddle, then you bounce the ball to move around stationery and "erase" ink blots, catching falling ink bottles for bonuses.
The Water Game. Bounce the ball with a submarine to smack on islands and destroy structures to tip people off — you can also tip the islands and catch them with your submarine — they bounce once and, on the second bounce, are encased in a bubble and escape a watery death. Every once in a while, a great white shark swims by. Kill it with a tap of your stylus. If you lose three little people, game over.
The Switch Game. This one was neat. The icon representing it is a slice of watermelon and a banana. I had expected ... fruit! No, it was a jungle-theme complete with the trumpeting of elephants in the soundtrack. The ball switched colors, and you had to tap the color dials to change the color of the bat. The watermelon and bananas finally show up in the boss level — it nearly drove me bananas. A clockwork dinosaur (with wind-up key in its back) chased a snake and a hunter across the top screen, and two layers of colored tiles lay between your paddle and them on the touchscreen. The first layer is green and yellow; the second is blue and pink. Your task was to bounce the ball to strike each tile. Each time you struck a tile, it changed from one color to the other. Once you managed to change all the tiles to the same color, the layer fell away, and the hunter was saved. The paddle here is a convex hemisphere the space between the paddle and tiles, pretty darned small.
Depending on the game, the paddles were of different shapes and could either move horizontally, or you could use the entirety of the touchscreen, giving you the ability of striking the ball hard to increase its velocity. In the Curve game, your paddle is a golf club, and you actually had to "bounce" the ball to get momentum going and hit the ball hard enough to send it where you needed it to go.
The relative speeds of the games also varied. In the Water game, the ball slowed in water. In the Speed game, it was ... speedy! The velocity of the ball in the Switch game was rather slow, but that gave you time to switch the color of the bar. One interesting twist to this game is how the developers have utilized the microphone on the DS. In different games, blowing on the microphone will do different things. Increase the velocity, change the trajectory and, in the case of the Curve game, the windmills turned and opened the doors to reveal the hole where your ball had to go.
It's the variety that makes this game fun. The games do not go up in difficulty with each game unlocked; instead, they are thematically different. Having two open at a time allows you to play the one that you may do better in and unlock two more — removing what could be a frustrating, stumbling block to your fun. Finally ... the big secret: What is the bar with the question marks on the menus screen that you unlock when you've conquered all the games? Nah ... not telling. Why should I spoil your fun?