I’ve played a few block breaking games in my time, including the obvious classics such as BreakOut and Arkanoid, but I’ve never been very good at them. It’s quite an addictive gameplay loop, but you need to be able to judge bounces well and be quick to react in order to ensure you keep a strong hold of your balls.

But very few games of this ilk tend to do anything all that different, aside from the great Death’s Hangover is probably the most notable example, but presumably the original Dungeonoid also plays by its own rules too (although I’d never even heard of the game until the announcement of this sequel). Needless to say I was pretty excited to see how exactly this game would try to change up the genre a little and offer something slightly more unique.

Many thanks to the publishers for the review code.

BALLS OUT
Set after the story of the original, the world has seen 300 years of peace. Things appear to have changed recently however as aggressive monsters have started terrorising the locals. It turns out that there is some dark energy circulating around Medina’s Volcano, and a powerful demon is being summoned to end the world. Which sucks for the local populace.

Playing as one of the four heroes of light, your goal is to defeat the dark priest before this ritual is completed. Each of the heroes have their own stats and a special attack, but to be honest they’re all relatively similar outside those high power moves. I initially opted for the busty Amazon due to her increased speed and increased bosom, but her terrible special attack prompted me to change to the mighty Paladin instead. I didn’t notice any real difference in how the game played, but the vastly improved special made all the difference. It’s a shame that there weren’t any other differences, as playing as anyone else just seems a bit pointless.

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You don’t technically take control of your hero, of course; instead, you take control of a moving paddle and have to bounce a ball around in order to destroy the obstacles in your path. Typically there are BreakOut style blocks for you to destroy, but there’ll also be walls, enemies, and other breakable objects too. The ball will typically bounce off pretty much anything in its path, but can fall off the bottom of the screen and cause you to lose a heart if you’re not being careful. Thankfully your paddle is able to pass through any object, so you’ll only¬† need to anticipate the balls trajectory to make sure you don’t lose it. There’s even a ‘run’ button too to ensure that it’s never impossible to get to where it’s going to be, provided that you continue paying attention.

Like with BreakOut, breaking blocks may award you with power-ups that can make your life easier. Slowing down the ball or expanding the size of your paddle are obviously pretty beneficial, but so is accumulating Mana power so that you can unleash your special attack. However, not everything that drops is worth grabbing as there seems to be far more curses than blessings available – whether it be slowing down your paddle, reversing your controls, or even shrinking your paddle size down, a lot of the drops absolutely suck. So much so that I found myself actively avoiding everything except the ones I knew for certain would be useful. It’s a shame that there are so many bad ones, as it really does spoil what could have been a rewarding gameplay loop.

But that’s not to say that the gameplay loop isn’t fun, as adding the block breaking mechanics to a pseudo-adventure game is surprisingly really charming. There may not be a massive amount of variety to things you can do with the ball, as the game typically revolves around activating switches and killing enemies, but turning your ball into a swinging sword to slice through anything in your path or activating your screen-nuke of a special power is immensely satisfying.

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Where Dungeonoid 2 Awakening really shines though is with the boss fights, as these encounters really make the most of the ball bouncing mechanics. Each boss has their own attack patterns that will either try to send your ball in unpredictable pathways or nerf your paddle in an attempt to force you to screw up. It’s an interesting attack system that feels fun to evade whilst you identify and attack the bosses weak-spot. These were the areas where I had the most fun, and I was always eager to see the next one.

Unfortunately that isn’t always easy as the game is incredibly brutal for those who aren’t very familiar with the gameplay style. There are six stages in total, and you’re only allowed to continue a couple of times after running out of hearts. You can potentially find hearts, or purchase items in the shop to restore them, but you’ll still find yourself dying quite a lot due to how unforgiving the game can be. Heck, I even reached the game over screen multiple times on the first stage. I really wish there were extra difficulty options available to help cater for varying skill levels, as I can see many being turned off by this difficulty.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s still not addictive fun. Even after failing, I felt compelled to go back and try and survive a little more. With each failure I felt more confident with tackling certain areas and made slightly more progress, renewing my enthusiasm as I drew ever closer to the next boss. Whether or not that will be your experience will probably depend on how much you like the format, so I imagine those who don’t care for block breakers will probably end up falling off the game sooner rather than later.

VERDICT
I was pleasantly surprised by Dungeonoid 2 Awakening‘s blend of adventure game mixed with BreakOut and it works an absolute treat. It can be rather tough at times, and the character classes don’t make all that much difference, but it’s still a fantastic little game for a really cheap price.