Never has a daft pun in a game's title been more fitting. Eidos' update to golden era classic Breakout is quite literally one of the most patience stretching, frustrating games in quite some time, and yet it is still hard to hate. Playing the game is a little like having a relationship with a partner who is as good for you as they are bad and, resultantly, Nervous Brickdown messes with your mind.
Initially, it is easy to cast aside as something so insignificant it only really warrants existing as a web-based Flash title. After all, haven't we already seen every variation of Breakout there could be, rehashed and recycled a multitude of ways? Apparently not, as it really does seem there is a great deal of original content here.
The main game is broken down into 10 worlds, each consisting of nine levels. Each world has a theme, and almost all reinvent Breakout by combining it with a famed gaming genre or style. There's the clear 2D shooter influence on the boss at the end of the Pow world, Ghost world is heavily reminiscent of some of the tall, climbing levels in Super Mario World, Water world has clearly spent some time with Game and Watch, and there are numerous individual elements from puzzle games.
Combining all these influences has created some interesting new takes on the base game, and the wealth of bonuses and variations is most welcome. At various points you will be able to slow down time, draw you own paddle or change its colour, charge up screen, fire projectiles or move the balls outside of the screen. There are variations in the physics too, with both moving parts you can strike, and fundamentals like water, which slow down your ball's speed.
On top of this, like Every Extend Extra, there is a wealth of mesmerising styles. Indeed, the Speed World is clearly influenced by the likes of Every Extend Extra and Rez, and gaudy vector graphics. The Paper World has a delightfully soft cartoon like feel, and the game mixes classic gaming iconography, kitsch 1950's chic and mischievous, bold visuals akin to those seen on children's TV in the Eighties.
The trouble is, all this frilly excess only detracts from a very basic, dated game concept. The original Breakout had one major fault; often you would end up struggling for far too long targeting one stubborn, remaining brick. Add to this the wealth of moving parts and enemies and colourful excess that Nervous Brickdown brings to the table, and you can become stuck for huge periods of time agonisingly repeating an action. The ball can also bounce around in the top screen for far too long, and some levels punish you by throwing the ball almost immediately into the abyss below your paddle.
Several lives are provided to help with this, and checkpoints are in place to start with a new continue every three or four levels, but you rip through your energy so quickly they become meaningless. The stylus is also terribly counterintuitive and unreliable as a control method, and on the whole Nervous Brickdown is one of the most painful, infuriating releases on the DS in some time.
Its undeniably attractive presentation may make it look like the next must-have, cultish handheld release, but sadly Nervous Brickdown is all style and no charm. If you're a real Breakout fan it may be worth some of your time and money, and it does have a fleetingly enjoyable multiplayer mode, but otherwise this troubled game is best left alone.