Span Smasher - hands on

This unusual game attracted various comparisons at E3 after games journos got their hands on it. Mostly it was likened to pinball, tennis and old-school block-breaking games such as Breakout, Arkanoid and Alleyway. We prefer to draw stranger comparisons, however. We thought it was rather like the South American sport of pelota, or perhaps a little like lacrosse. But as such references might be lost on readers who aren’t fans of unusual sports, we’d best just tell you about the game itself.

So, you control a bouncy ball named Smasher (although we’re told this moniker is subject to change). By flicking the remote you hurl him around constantly scrolling levels, smashing blocks, ricocheting off barriers and picking up keys, coins and other items. The keys will open doors to let you progress – if you hang back at the edge of the screen or get stuck behind an impassable door or barrier a dragon appears from the edge of the screen to bust your chops, so some strategic thought is required if you want to avoid being turned into dragon tea.

See, despite the rather frantic appearance of the screenshots – all brightly colored scores, multipliers and motion lines – playing Span Smasher isn’t just a case of wanging the remote around. You need to break blocks to earn points, sure, but you’ll need to pick up those keys, and only by collecting coins can you earn the pearls that unlock the boss levels. Aim for the powerups and goodies such as multiball will be yours.

Luckily, precision bouncing is at your fingertips as this is one of the new breed of MotionPlus games. You want Smasher to zip up into a tight corner to grab a coin or the token that turns you into ball of flames? Flick the remote and he’ll do it. You can change his path mid-flight by swiping the remote in the desired direction, but don’t waggle it constantly like some demented conductor – holding it still between swats allows Smasher to build up power.

There were only a few playable levels on show but it was easy enough to quickly get a feel of Span Smasher. Whether the gameplay will be varied enough and develop enough challenges in later stages to make this worth a full-price purchase remains to be seen (it feels a bit WiiWare-ish), but it’s good to see some inventive uses for MotionPlus.

Jul 20, 2009