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Breakout 2000 – Atari Jaguar

Breakout 2000 – Atari Jaguar

b_Breakout2000_frontPlatform: Atari Jaguar

Developer: L4 Software

Publisher: Telegames

Release Date (NA): 1996

Genre:  Arcade-Style Games

Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed by Space Invader

In the video game arena, nostalgia is just about the last leg Atari has left to stand on. This sad fact has been true since the 1990s, when the company, for better or worse, released revamped versions of its classics for its then-modern Jaguar console. These included Tempest 2000, which was received well and a few others such as Missile Commad 3-D, which were simply received.

The business of marketing nostalgia is a fickle one. The very first thing a product meant to induce nostalgia must do is make the rather rash assumption that the consumer in question gives a rat’s ass about the original.

Breakout 2000 is tricky here in 2015. In 1996, the year of its intended release, Breakout 2000 was meant to instill nostalgia for a game that was, at the time, scarcely 20 years old and a pioneer of the medium. To look back at a cartridge produced nearly 20 years ago that was then looking back at a 20-year-old game is where the mind-boggling can begin — not to mention that the title Breakout 2000 is more likely to remind modern gamers of a drastic skin condition than of any relic of a video game.

Sure, we can look back at releases of the mid-1990s with great fondness — Vectorman, Super Mario 64, and Mortal Kombat, for instance. But what to make of a nearly 20-year-old game, the enjoyment of which requires admiration of a nearly 40-year-old game whose main character is a bouncing ball?

Y2K, way out there in the future

Breakout 2000 - Atari Jaguar

If you have a friend weird enough to play this game, the two-player modes are a reasonable amount of fun.

To begin with, Breakout 2000 is a misleading title, as it was programmed in 1996. Atari was so very out of touch that it was still clinging onto the futuristic sound of The Year 2000, even as the ominous year was less than a half decade away. So, too, were they clinging to their own glory days. Breakout, in 1976, was a smash hit for then-unparallelled Atari.

Breakout stars a paddle at the bottom of the screen that has been tasked with bouncing a ball that breaks bands of colorful bricks at the top of the screen. If you break all the bricks, you move onto the next level. There is a decent chance you’ve seen one of the many knockoffs on some cell phone somewhere.

Breakout 2000 attempts to bring the game into the then-modern swingin’ ’90s by introducing the third dimension. Gone is the two-dimensional interpretation, bouncing a ball up to the top of the screen only to have it ricochet back down. Here in 1996, the camera is fixed at one end of a weird-looking, futuristic room that seems to itself be drifting through space if the stars passing by are any evidence.

The ball bounces away from the paddle, scales as it crosses the room, and so on. In stills, the graphics are pretty attractive. In practice, these rooms prove to be static. I had hoped the perspective of the room would change as your paddle moved. This was possible on the Jaguar and would have served to push the hardware at least a little bit. Overall, though, few programmers were interested in pushing the Jaguar to its limits, and in the case of Breakout 2000, it’s not the only aspect that feels thrown together.

Your paddle itself is rather handsome (inasmuch as a paddle may be thus considered), and the ball scales to and fro very nicely. The bricks are colorful enough that you want to lick them, and the robots that show up to toss power-ups look terrific, scaling and rotating to utter 90s video game-boner-inducing perfection.

That Y2K Feel

These modernizations that differentiate Breakout 2000 from its grandad have a fairly drastic effect on the gameplay, some of it for the worse. Sure, it’s nice to see a more detailed imagining of your paddle’s surroundings than the mysterious black void offered by the 1976 original, but it’s occasionally difficult to tell where the ball’s trajectory lines up with the placement of your paddle. This was definitely not a problem in 2-D.

The robots mentioned above look great, but their effect on your experience isn’t necessarily positive. There are three types of robot that always have an equal chance of popping up.

The worst of the three robots does nothing but show up and fire “stingers” at your paddle. If it connects, you now have a hole in your paddle. After three holes, your paddle is dead and you lose a life.

The second robot throws a mix of good and bad power-ups, and the third fires out only the good stuff.

The all-bad robot seems to show up more often, and always takes a few shots at you. The good robot, on the other hand, sometimes enters the room, then turns back around without helping. Denied! Other times it throws good power ups to the side of the screen opposite to that of your paddle. If you get distracted and rush to catch it, you’ll probably lose the ball. Imagine you’re mowing the lawn, and your friend insisted he was helping by jumping out of the garage door every once in a while and throwing beers at you. Sometimes, he’ll throw it right at your head. Sometimes he throws it on the other side of the lawn. Either way, it’s annoying, and reminiscent of the good robot of Breakout 2000.

There's a version of the original game tucked away in this cartridge.

There’s a version of the original game tucked away in this cartridge.

Why beer, you ask? The power-ups look something like beer cans. They are marked depending on the  effect of the power-up, but the symbols are small and cryptic, and it’s really a gamble whether the good-bad robot threw you a turkey or the good-good robot threw you something you can use. That, and a quantity of beer really helps out when playing Breakout 2000.

Some power-ups that are supposed to have positive effects actually affect the game negatively. One, for example, attracts the ball to your paddle. Sounds good, right? Not really. The trajectory of the ball becomes highly unpredictable, particularly when your paddle is moving.

Sound effects range from nothing to write home about to downright annoying. You’d think 1990s hardware could make the bips and bops of Breakout 2000 less annoying than the original, right? Well they sound even worse. The soundtrack, while driving, falls flat when compared to some of the better-sounding Jaguar soundtracks. As Tempest 2000 proved, the Jag synthesizer is capable of producing some pretty nice sounds. You’d never guess it by hearing this stuff – once in a while, the soundtrack harmonizes nicely. That’s it.

Controls like the millennium blues

The biggest deviation between Breakout 2000 and the original is, of course, the switch from a potentiometer-based “paddle” controller to using left and right on the D-pad. Here in the 21st century, there’s a reasonable chance you’ve only played Breakout, if at all, on an emulator, or one of its clones on your mom’s flip-phone at the age of eight when you were acting up at the expensive restaurant. If you’ve only ever controlled a paddle using the ‘4’ and ‘6’ keys of an old Razor, then the D-pad will prove a drastic improvement.

If, however, you’ve been seasoned on a paddle or arcade rotary control, you will be sorely disappointed in how paddles handle in this version. To compensate for this, Telegames added three paddle speeds and an option to speed up the paddle from that base point by holding one of the buttons on the numeric keypad. For me, it worked to set the paddle speed to slow and then hold the “speed” button to get across the screen in a hurry. It’s workable, but the lack of rotary support robs Breakout 2000 of much of its frenetic potential.

Notes for modern gamers

In the distant future, the year 2000, all video games will look like this, son. Hey -- put down the gun

In the distant future, the year 2000, all video games will look like this, son. Hey — put down the gun

If you had access to the original Breakout on the Atari 2600 at any point, or had an older sibling who did, you might “get” what’s happening here. Even then, it will mostly be a curiosity. Breakout 2000 has dozens of increasingly difficult levels, and there’s even a serviceable version of the original game on the cartridge. Furthermore, if you are blessed with a friend weird as you who also likes this sort of game, there are some exclusive two-player modes that might get pretty competitive.

If you weren’t ever exposed to the original, ask yourself this question: Is it possible to get nostalgic for the nostalgia of a different time? All forms and variations of Breakout are as close as a video game comes to a pure test of the reflexes. There’s more fun to be had in the original, and to be honest, you can track down an Atari 2600, a set of paddles, and a copy of Breakout for cheaper that you can find a copy of Breakout 2000. Additionally, finding a copy will take some effort and coin. Don’t worry about accidentally ending up with a copy.

If, however, you are a Jaguar owner equipped with $80+ and a love for variations on classic games, you can do a lot worse than Breakout 2000.

Written by Space Invader

Sometime in the early 1980s, in the heart of the Silicon Valley was born one Angelo. No one knew it yet, but he would grow up to become the mighty Space Invader, master of the old technology and writer of the third-person profile.

The Atari 2600 and Xbox 360 vie equally for Space Invader’s heart, but he can’t seem to choose one and settle down. Something is just so appealing to consoles that have names featuring numbers between 300 and 3000.

Little is known about Space Invader’s past, but he is rumored to drive a Buick and is said to have a tremendous singing voice.


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One Comment

  1. Excellent article, really funny and informative! You know, not only are you without the preferred means to control the paddle, but the Jaguar controller is pretty uncomfortable to handle. It’s like a large slab with buttons carelessly strewn about its face.


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