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Super Bunny Breakout ditches the colored bricks for cute critters (hands-on preview)

Sailor Ben isn’t your ordinary kind of teddy bear. If his thick, scowling unibrow and the heart tattooed on his chest don’t tip you off, the bandaged stump where his right leg once was certainly will. Oh, and he also has a bit of a drinking problem (don’t worry, it’s just root beer).

The teddy bear amputee is just one of the colorful Super Critters you’ll play as in Atari’s Super Bunny Breakout, the latest iteration of the developer’s Breakout series of games that started with the original arcade release in 1976. Published by Zynga as part of the Zynga Partners for Mobile program, Super Bunny Breakout retains the same basic concept of smashing things with a ball but blends it with characters and a storyline that wouldn’t look out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s “coming soon” for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch for $0.99 and hitting Android devices at a later date.

You start off as Rodney the bunny, who (as the teaser trailer reveals) frees himself from his cage and goes on a crusade to rescue the countless other animals in the E.A.T. (Evil Animal Testing) Labs. At first, he will serve as your “ball,” and in true brick-breaking tradition, you’ll have to ricochet him off of walls and the moving platform you control to smash all the objects in a level. Peppered throughout the stages are helpless animals still trapped in their cages. If you want to earn the top score (represented by three stars) and receive a large payout of coins, you’ll have to save them all.

Breaking away from tradition

Sometimes these levels contain other Super Critters, such as Sailor Ben, and after you free them, they permanently join Rodney as part of your roster. Each of them come with their own backstory and reason for being at the labs — illustrated with funny storyboard cutscenes — as well as special powers that you can activate by double-tapping the screen while they’re in the air. Rodney swirls around to punch everything in sight, Sailor Ben shoots a cannon ball, Pickles the cactus unleashes its pointy spines, and the cute Marshmallow Twins super-size themselves for extra damage. You can only use these attacks when your rainbow-colored energy bar is at full capacity; once empty, it’ll just regenerate over time.

Mechanically, one of the biggest changes to the Breakout formula is the fact that you can move the platform up and down (to a certain height) in addition to the usual horizontal motion. This allows you to fling the ball as hard as you want as it drops back down, and levels can quickly resemble a hectic game of pinball as you try to catch the fast-moving critters bouncing off at every angle.

Breakout on the Atari 2600

Above: The Atari 2600 version of Breakout

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Instead of losing lives when the ball drops to the bottom of the screen, you lose health points (the green bar in the gallery below). If your critters’ health reaches zero, you’ll immediately fail the level; you can choose to wait for their health to slowly refill over time, or you can buy things to feed them with. This is all done in the Tree, a place where you can check on the status of your animals, browse the in-game shop, and spend the coins you collected from completing the stages. Cheaper food will heal a lower amount of health points than the more expensive options, and you’ll need a total of 1,000 points to refill the bar completely.

You can also buy a variety of power-ups, like the Anti-Gravity ability that helps keep the ball in the air, as well as furniture to decorate the Tree. If earning coins is too slow for you, you can purchase optional coin packs that start from $0.99.

Keeping things fresh

Super Bunny Breakout will have 48 levels at launch — with plans to add more via updates and in-app purchases — organized into different sections like Lab 1 and Lab 2, each with its own distinct themes. Some of the levels I played operated like a factory, with conveyor belts transporting caged animals across the screen, while others contained beakers and pots filled with chemicals that slowed my platform’s movement with viscous goo. Even if you manage to never drop the ball, the environmental dangers can strip away your health if you don’t avoid them in time.

A few levels act as bonus missions and tweak the Breakout gameplay in different ways. The one I saw played like a billiards table, where you had to knock the colored rings into the designated “pockets.” You can’t lose health while playing them, and they’re useful for trying to collect any extra coins.

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