BallShooter BrickSlider 2.0

Regular visitors to HPC:Factor will likely already be familiar with BallShooter games. The Moscow based company has excelled in specialising in PDA entertainment for some time. Standing amongst but a few companies who's sole aim is to entertain us.

BrickSlider loads onto a title screen

BrickSlider is something a little special. It has not only been developed exclusively for the Windows CE market, but BallShooter also created the game concept themselves.
Creating a game for "corporate time wasting" (whether that be for the commute or for a business meeting determined by how strong willed you are) is no easy feat. It has to be small, quick to pickup and have longevity. In other words you have be left with the need to come back for more. It also needs to have something special over all the other similar games from this genre.

My, oh my. Have they succeeded!

BrickSlider excels at its simplicity. Anyone can come along, and so long as they can tap using a stylus. Pick it up in a matter of minutes.
From there on in it may be prudent to set a calendar reminder for your next appointment.

The game's closest comparison would be with Tetris. However all similarities end after the fact that you're trying to match sets of blocks.

The game arena is surrounded on all four sides by a three-tier layer or assorted colour blocks. With only the innermost row of blocks in play.
All blocks gravitate naturally towards their opposite side. So bricks on the top of the screen will - when released, fall towards the bottom. Like wise bricks on the bottom of the screen will gravitate towards the top of the screen and so on.

Tiles gravitate towards the opposite wall

Each level will begin with a number of pre-positioned blocks placed within the game arena. You then have to construct a matching set of three or more blocks in a straight line - but not on the diagonal. In doing so you score points and clear said blocks from the screen. Of course it is not quite that simple as you can only introduce blocks from the stores at the edges that have either a pre-positioned block or a block positioned by you in a previous move, directly in their path.
These 'activated' blocks are highlighted with an arrow etched onto their face. You simply have to tap them to make them drop down.

Example of the game play motion

Once you match a set of three or more of the same colour the matched set will vanish and any remaining blocks in the arena will fall into their place - provided the space is in the direction of their gravitation. If there is nothing to stop the block then it will move into the opposite brick store.

It may sound complicated written down, but trust me it isn't.

Once you get onto the higher levels, the pre-positioned blocks start to make life a lot harder. Help is at hand though with several different types of wild card that can show up in the store. Allowing such things as clearing a 9-block space or randomly changing the colour / direction of blocks.

Wildcards can be useful

The game is in essence a combination of strategy, good luck and some serious logic. You can find that you breeze through one level due to a fortunate starting combination, and then grind to a halt in the next while you try desperately to work through clearing your rapidly diminishing free space.
This is where you can find yourself cogitating for serious amounts of time over what to do next.

Worth pointing out is that like all BallShooter games, they maintain a top score's list on their web site. Currently topping the bill is 'Gold Guy' with a score of 44,773 on level 98. If you can beat that, drop BallShooter an email with a screen capture and they will add you to the list.

Once you've got the hang of how the game operates, you will be mastering the arena in no time. BallShooter have provided some useful features in BrickSlider. Most notably of which is the game profiles facility.

Multiple user profiles selection

The Profiles facility (referred to as multi-player by BallShooter) allows up to 6 different people to play the game, at their own pace - retaining their score, current level and all of the current game activity. This adds to making BrickSlider the perfect commuter companion. You can stop and start at any time, as often as you like and come back to it as you left it. Even after the rest of the HPC:Factor team have had a play!

The game is very much orientated around colour. This could easily pose a problem for users who suffer from colour blindness or difficulty with differentiating between tones.
I don't suffer from any of the above, however initially I did have problem differentiating between the Pink and Purple blocks as well as the Purple and Blue. This was mainly down to the DSTN screen of the Jornada 720 I was testing on. Once I realised that they were of a different tone there wasn't a problem as I was looking out for it.

The three available BrickSlider skins

For anyone who does suffer from colour problems, or finds they can't tell the Blue and Pink apart BallShooter have thought of this as well.
Options are available to change the 'Skin' of the in game items to suit different needs. The Modern skin is the default and gives the most visually elaborate experience. Using the Contrast skin removes some of the finer detail and makes the colours on the blocks more vivid, suitably tackling any screen quality problems. The final skin, monochrome caters for mono devices as well as any user who suffers with colour blindness. In this mode all blocks are given two-tone patterns.
The only thing I can fault with this is that you cannot make the choice a per-user setting. Thus leaving all users with the same skin.
Finally you can label each of the blocks with a number that corresponds to its colour. This is enabled in game by tapping the "Index" button in the top centre of the screen.

BrickSlider running on a mono Handheld PC

Sound effects are present in the game if you wish to use them. Upon first running BrickSlider the sound effects are disabled which I find quite welcoming. A quick trip to the options is all that is required to re-enable them. The effects themselves are there to highlight the movement of block objects and are not required to play the game.

The interface of the game is tidy and as one would expect from BallShooter quite attractive. Like others of their games BrickSlider has been compiled as a universal binary. This means that the code will run on the Handheld PC as well as the Pocket PC. This does also leave the application to cater for both user interfaces, with the Pocket PC's having been the first thought. You are left with "Sound" and "Index" in the bottom corners of the grid, which are where the equivalent Pocket PC options would be placed. The Handheld PCs being screen centre.

The Help menu with the "Our Games" showcase

There is also a product showcase for BallShooter applications within the main help menu. While this is I've no doubt a good marketing tool for the company, as there is no way to shell out to Pocket Internet Explorer to get more information I can't help but feel that this combined with the shared binary are adding unnecessary size to the program, which weight in at approximately 875KB. An active hyperlink to the excellent BallShooter web site would be more appropriate in my opinion.

Aside from one or two spelling anomalies; "Combinatoral" instead of "Combinatorial" - for example. The rest of the menus within the game are well thought about.
The help system solely comprises of a quick tutorial on how to play the came. Retrospectively this is really all that is needed from the internal help but better use of the Handheld PCs screen size, along with a little more information to fill it would be nice for a future version.
For any technical issues, email support is available for which none of us here at HPC:Factor have ever been able to fault BallShooter on.

I would like to end on a personal bug bear. While the installation process is straightforward, fast and completely painless. The application isn't distributed in Windows CE Cabinet installation files. Instead it has it's own host side installer which is copied to the PC and creates numerous entries on the start menu. I personally find this frustrating, as there is no specific need for applications to be registered on the host system, and especially not placed in my start menu.

All in all I have found this to be a true gem of the small games genre. A lot of games made to fit the mobile device image can become quickly tiring and ultimately uninspiring. BrickSlider is a notable exception to this rule.
The game is quick to learn, rewarding and yet taxing.

BrickSlider 2.0 has been released as shareware with a 14 day, maximum of 1500 points trial available for download from the BallShooter web site. Registration is $14.95 USD (£8.30 GBP, €11.90 EUD, ¥1660 JPY est.) and comes with lifetime free upgrades.


System Requirements:

Windows CE 2.00 and above (Including CE 4.x .net)
SH3, SH4, StrongArm, MIPS, XScale

Rating  
Cost: 4 Star Rating: Recommended
Usability: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Built-In helps: 4 Star Rating: Recommended
Customer Service: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Overall: 4 Star Rating: Recommended

BrickSlider can be found at the following URL.
http://www.ballshooter.com/

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Chris Tilley
Editor-in-Chief