Imagine for a second that you’ve been instructed to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time. It’s something we’ve all probably done in the past and proves some small victory in the fact that you’re able to multitask. Now imagine, while you’re rubbing your belly and patting your head, someone throws 3 balls at you and instructs you to juggle at the same time. Impossible, right? That’s what it feels like to play Brain Breaker, a game so torturous in design that it earns its name and then some.
Brain Breaker is made up of 3 mini-games. In the first, you’re controlling a small goblin-like thing inside a segmented tube. Using the right thumb stick on the Dualshock 4, you move the… thing… up and down the 5 segments to avoid fire balls that come from either the right and left of the screen and will kill your trollthing should they touch it, forcing a game over. The second mini-game is played using the shoulder buttons of the Dualshock, the L2 and R2 buttons controlling the force applied to the sides of a platform on a balanced pivot. On that platform is a ball and the idea is to keep the ball on the platform for as long as possible. When the ball falls, the game is over. The last mini-game is a basket catch mini-game. You use the left stick on the Dualshock to move a basket across the bottom of the screen to catch the objects that are falling. Fail to catch one and it’s game over.
The kicker? You’re playing all 3 mini-games simultaneously. In any difficulty above Easy, the screen is split into 3 with the tube mini-game on the right, the balancing act in the centre and the basket catch on the left. You’ve got to avoid fire balls on the right, catch falling objects on the left and balance the ball on the platform at the same time and when you fail one of these games, it’s game over. To say this is stressful is an understatement. It’s an impossibility to keep up the juggling act with all 3 games for long and you will fail. Quickly and often. Oh so often.
I usually like mini-games and dexterity puzzles like this but as good at multitasking as you might feel you are, I don’t think anyone can be prepared for how insanely demanding this game is. The basket in the mini-game moves slowly so you’re always having to return it to the centre of the available space or miss missing the next drop. The pivot balance game is designed to keep the ball moving. Even if you manage to get the ball moving slowly near the pivot, the platform will still manage to keep moving so the ball gets up speed again. The tube game, the simplest of the bunch, starts out easy enough but eventually the screen just fills with fire balls that make it feel like a restrained bullet hell game rather than a puzzler. On anything but Easy, the game has no learning curve – it’s just a brick wall you run into that sucks the fun out of the game instantly. The developers ERIK Games don’t seem to have considered balancing difficulty with accessibility at all. It’s just not fun to play.
The Easy mode is Brain Breakers saving grace – and even that doesn’t make playing this game worthwhile. In this mode, you can play each mini-game in isolation of one another. It’s here you realise just how minimalistic and shallow these games are – like something you’d find as a puzzle solution in a LEGO game or a mini-game in an action adventure title – but at least here you can actually play them for more than a few seconds before failing.
It’s here (and probably only here because on any other difficulty, you’ll just be focused on survival) you’ll notice that there are things that can increase your score (which increases with every second you survive). In the pivot game, for example, icons will appear high above the platform and the idea is to get the ball to roll towards an end at enough speed so you can flip the platform with the ball standing on its end but not enough speed so that it flies off to the side. This is a nice inclusion but is nowhere near rewarding enough to accept the risk.
Then there’s the soundtrack. There’s one ditty played on repeat in Brain Breaker and if the game doesn’t hurt your grey matter, this song will. It’s the kind of tune you’d hear on the early 90’s gaming tip lines while on hold – quite chipper yet if you listen to it long enough, you want to start throwing things around the room in order to just make it stop.
It’s hard to write about the visual presentation of a game as simplistic and bare bones as Brain Breakers but one nice touch is the ability to choose between hundreds of different backgrounds to play in front of. I mean, it would be a nice touch but actually changing the background is a real chore as the thumbnail images to what you’re picking in the menu take an age to load. You’re just shown grey boxes for the most part with it taking more than 15 second to load a preview in some instances. The images themselves look like a stock image library – there’s waterfalls, statues, sunsets. All very pleasant but it’s basically a collection of desktop backgrounds.
If I was a cynical person, I’d say that Brain Breaker is another attempt to cash in on a library of stock images with poor mini-games tacked on top like we’ve seen a few times in the past on the PS4. If I was a cynical person, I’d say that the game’s claim to train “different regions of your brain” is an unfounded attempt to give some semblance of meaning to 3 poorly crafted mini-games slapped together with no consideration for difficulty balancing. If I was a cynical person, I’d look at the slew of 10/10 and 9/10 user reviews that have been added to Metacritic by users who have only ever reviewed Brain Breaker on that review aggregation site as an attempt by the developers to fool would be consumers. I’ll let you decide whether I’m a cynic or not.
The fact remains that Brain Breaker has very little substance and what is there is torturous to play. Slapping 3 mini-games together with no concept of balancing then giving it a name that sounds more like the title of Alton Towers’ next Rollercoaster than a collection of mini-games is not how to create a worthwhile game. The sound track quickly becomes annoying, the game play is deeply frustrating and after trying for hours to find some flicker of positivity in Brain Breakers, I’ve decided it’s a game I wouldn’t even recommend to my worst enemy.
Brain Breaker is available now on the PS4 (review version).
Developer: ERIK Games
Publisher: ERIK Games
In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For our full review policy please go here.
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