Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brickbreaker tips: Part 1, Level 1 to Level 17

Compared to everything else on this blog put together, BlackBerry BrickBreaker tips are far and away the most common reason for visitors. We get hits from around the world. What a great, frustrating game! It is like golf for your thumb.

This set of tips is one in a series of Brickbreaker hints and techniques on Half Wisdom Half Wit. Be sure to check out the others as well:
More Blackberry Brickbreaker Tips
Brickbreaker Level 16
Blackberry Brickbreaker Addicts
Brickbreaker One More Time

The tips were first written for the original Brickbreaker game with the relatively large ball. Newer 'Berries have a small-ball game that is harder. Where I can, I have put some tips in for the newer game too. Let's start with the general things to think about, then get to some specific tips.

There are 34 levels in Brickbreaker. Most people seem to find level 16 to be especially difficult, and then level 26. If you manage to get all the way through level 34, you find yourself back at level 1. The second time through all the levels is harder than the first time through. However if you get past level 34 the second time, the whole thing gets ludicrously easy (at least the big ball version) and you can keep adding lives and points until you or your Blackberry quits on you. I had 255 lives and 650,000 points when that happened the first time. It has happened twice since then, both times after I have got through twice and made life easy.

The basics:
Each of the 34 levels looks different. Each time you play a level, you will find that the same bricks have pills. So if you know where they are you can plan your play accordingly. The very first level has only two pills, one on the left and one on the right. If you play smart, you will hit the bricks early enough to allow yourself to collect the pills, or avoid them.

The most important task in the first rounds is to collect and save LIFE pills. You will need all of them. The points that can be collected with pills or by breaking bricks do not make any difference at all, so don't chase points if it means you run the risk of losing a LIFE.

The first time through the levels, game play speeds up after a few dozen bricks are hit, then returns to its original slow pace after a few dozen more hits. And the whole array of bricks starts to drop down each time the ball returns to your paddle. If you get past level 34 and go through again, the game speeds up and the bricks begin to drop right away. In either case, if you lose a LIFE, the whole sequence of speeding up and dropping resets and begins again. And if you catch a SLOW, there will be a further episode of speeding up to contend with.

These patterns always take place, so you have to choose your strategy to match what is happening and your own paddle skills.

Let's look at Level 16 specifically, to illustrate what is going on. Level 16 consists of a big U-shaped container of silver bricks. When you start, it is important to get the ball up one side and onto the top as quickly as possible. The middle brick at the top is the only one that has a pill. The first challenge after the pill is on its way is to judge whether you want it (CATCH, LIFE, GUN, SLOW, BOMB, LONG) or are indifferent (LASER) or want to avoid it (FLIP, and also WRAP if it causes you trouble). According to your choice, then figure out how to have the ball up the side or actually in the bricks, and your paddle in the right location, when the pill reaches the bottom of the screen.

Remember that the first time you go through, there are a couple of dozen hits before the array starts its way down towards you. If you have lots of lives, you may find it to your advantage to sacrifice a LIFE in order to keep the pace slow. This strategy does not work the second time through, as the drop-down and speeding-up begins immediately.

However if you can get the ball bouncing around in the heart of the bricks, you may find that things slow down the next time that the ball gets to your paddle. If that happens, your best strategy is to keep the ball in play even with the array marching down towards you every time the paddle strikes the ball.

The hardest part of Level 16, as well as Levels 13, 17, 26 and others, is when the solid horizontal array of silver bricks is just above the paddle. Even a slow-moving ball is hard to keep in play. This skill, however, is the most important skill to work on, and you will begin to do better at Brickbreaker when you get more comfortable in tight quarters.

The best pill to get in these cases is CATCH. The second best is generally GUN, assuming you have enough time and space to use the GUN to clear away strategic silver bricks. I like GUN because even if you lose a LIFE, the bricks that the GUN cleared away stay cleared away, so you can set yourself up for an easier time to finish that level.

So to summarize the general instructions:
1) Learn where the bonus pills are in each level and plan your play accordingly. Set yourself up to get bonus pills in time to use them (ie while there are still other bricks around).
2) Learn how long it takes before the game speeds up and the array starts dropping. Note that both of these are temporary conditions, as the game will slow down again and the array will stop dropping as long as you keep the ball in play. After you lose a LIFE those conditions reset and begin again.
3) Learn to handle the ball in tight spaces below a horizontal line of silver bricks. Learn at least to panic less...

Now, some specific instructions.
Level 1: start with the stick aimed fully to the left. This usually ends up with the ball hitting the left side's pill brick and then getting a good chance to hit the top right pill brick.

Level 2:
send the ball up the left side to just miss the left most brick. It will drop in and hit a pill brick and go to a position that gives you choices about what to do with the first pill.

Level 3:
aim fully to the right to get started. The ball will bounce up and pick off two pills on the right side, then stay up the screen long enough to allow you to collect the pills. Watch carefully in case a FLIP is one of the pills.

Level 4:
lots of ways to play this level. Practice a launch that gets as many bounces as possible before the ball gets back to your paddle. This is useful knowledge as it will help get past the fast phase of each level.

Level 5:
This is the first level that features an unbreakable silver brick. I usually aim left, trying to just miss the bottom left brick and getting around to bounce under the top row of bricks. This usually results in a pill from either near the top right of the array, or the bottom right. If you are lucky enough to get a LASER, use it liberally to take out bricks. If you get GUN, use one of its 3 shots to take out the silver brick, making finishing the level easier.

Level 6:
My preference is to work on one side of the screen to open the end of the space between the rows. Once the ball is rattling around between the rows there will be three pills available, from the middle of the screen. Again, getting lots of bounces early is the secret to getting past the temporary speed-up phase of this level. If you get GUN or LASER, pick off the end bricks first.

Level 7:
This level looks a bit like a rabbit with a red nose, so if you can visualize that, you can follow these instructions. There are pills in the tips of the ears and in the nose, as well as a couple in the cheeks. Organize your play to get the ball up to the tops of the ears so that you have time to work with the pills. I usually start by aiming as close to straight up as possible.

Level 8:
This level has no pills. If you launch just to the left of vertical, you may get the ball to pass between two bricks and start rattling around in the top part of the screen. You can also aim between the left-most brick and its neighbor. This gets the all-important bounces happening without you being at risk of a high speed encounter close to your paddle. Do what you can to keep the ball in the top half of the screen until it slows down. Note also that a ball moving in either direction on the diagonal between top left and bottom right may pass between bricks that you thought it was going to bounce off. Lastly, if you are down to just a few bricks and the ball is moving really fast, get it up into the top half of the screen as much as possible rather than risk bouncing off the bottom of a nearby brick and costing you a LIFE.

From Level 8 upwards, getting the ball above the red bricks and having it bounce between the top wall and the bricks is a practice that will help keep you out of trouble.

Level 9: The two top bricks have pills, as does one entire row a couple of bricks from the top. So practice launching to the right so the ball bounces up the side, skips off the brick at the top right and goes across to the top left. With luck you will get at least two pills, and possibly three, before the ball gets back down to your paddle. Keep the ball in the top half of the screen to improve your chances of avoiding a dangerous bounce near the bottom of the screen. Practicing this skill will come in handy as you work up through the levels.

Level 10: This level has no pills, and consists of a box with two decayed bricks on each side keeping you from getting on top of it where the ball can do some good without you needing to steer it with the paddle. So launch all the way to the left or the right, knock out the decayed bricks (but just on one side) and do some damage to the top of the box. Eventually the ball will end up inside either through the top or through the side you launched on, and do all the work for you. If you leave the decayed bricks in place on the other side, they will help you keep the ball up top for two more bounces than you would have got otherwise.

By now you may be noticing that the ball does not bounce the way you might expect it to. Sometimes weird things happen either off the walls or off the paddle. It is really noticeable when there are just a couple of bricks left and you are trying to pick them off. Try bouncing the ball AWAY from the target brick and letting it carom off a couple of walls. Patience helps too.

Level 11: Start all the way to the right and let the ball work its way up the side and across the top. The middle brick in the second row from the top has a pill in it, as do the third bricks from the top on each side. Keep the ball on top of the bricks, and if you have LASER or GUN go after the middle column of bricks. This will help you the most if the array works its way to the bottom of the screen.

Let's say we have LASER and the ball hits a brick with a CATCH pill in it. Should you take the CATCH pill or deliberately avoid it? In my view CATCH is really important when the ball is moving quickly or when there are lots of silver bricks near the bottom of the screen. LASER is great for eliminating red bricks quickly. Up to about level 11 and 12 I greatly favor the LASER, but my appreciation for CATCH really grows as we get to the levels where the number of silver bricks increases.

While we are thinking about which pills to collect and which to avoid, note that MULTI goes well with LASER, LONG and SLOW. But if you have MULTI balls in play, CATCH and BOMB will make all but one of them simply disappear. Not usually good.

Level 12: This level looks a bit like Level 11 but plays quite differently. The brick on the top left, and the third brick from the bottom left, both contain pills. I start with the third brick from the left, collect the pill if it is the right kind, collect the pill from the top left, and do my best to clean out the remnants of the brick at the top left so that the ball can get between the array and the top row. A couple of bricks above the first target brick is another pill, so cleaning out that column from the bottom up is "plan B" if I can't quite get up the left hand side. Let the ball rattle around up top for as much time as it takes to get past the fast phase of this level. The middle brick at the top also has a pill, as do a few others in the pack.

Level 13: This is the first of the impenetrable-bottom-row levels, and it has no pills or other redeeming features. Roll your trackball all the way to the left and then go back one click to the right, to launch the ball so that it just clears the bottom left corner of the silver bricks. This should get the ball up and into the box, where about a quarter of the time it will do a lot of damage before bouncing out. I have occasionally got completely through this level without ever having the ball leave the box. But more often, the ball goes back out after hitting a few bricks and makes a nuisance of itself as you try to get it back in.

Level 14: Here you have a lot of silver bricks, and only three pills. The first pill to go after is halfway up the left side. Launch the ball all the way to the left and most of the time it will hit the pill-holding brick after bouncing off the left wall. If you happen to get LASER, use it first to clean up the bricks at the bottom left. Try to keep the ball in the top half of the screen as much as possible until it finally slows down. The remaining two pills are in the bottom right of the screen. If you are careless you can get your paddle stuck under here keeping the ball in play while FLIP rains down on you. If you had LASER with the first pill, use it to take care of all of the right hand brick before the pill lands and changes your paddle. Then go after the other pill beside the first one. If you have GUN, take out the left hand silver brick of that pair and the brick at the bottom left of the screen if there are any red bricks left above it.

Level 15 (the big Plus sign): There are only two pills, and they are just above the cross bar on each side. The best move is to launch the ball off the silver brick and have it bounce slightly to the right. Then bounce the ball up off the right wall so that it takes out the middle red brick in the top right quadrant. This will then lead to the pill brick being struck. Many people make the mistake at Level 15 of clearing out all the bricks below the crossbar before they get to the pills. This will lead to disappointment if one or both the pills happens to be a LIFE, which you will want for Level 16. If the first pill is GUN and you have several bricks in different places, conserve the ammunition until you have cleared out one or more of the bricks below the other pill. Then fire 3 quick shots and claim the other pill.

In the small-ball version, the best start is just past the left cross-bar and off the walls so that it takes out the middle brick in the top left quadrant.

Level 16 (the big U): We covered the general strategy for Level 16 in the introduction to this posting. This is the hardest level for Brickbreaker beginners because inevitably the ball ends up bouncing at super high speed in a very confined area below the bottom bar. Aim all the way left to start.

If you get GUN, take out the three middle bottom silver bricks. This will give you a chance to get and keep the ball in play. An alternative is to take out the middle brick and the two on its left or its right. Taking out a corner brick on this level may make it easier for you to get the ball up the side wall. A third alternative to try is to blast the silver brick that is to the right of the middle brick, and the two red bricks above it. This can keep the ball rattling around inside for long periods.

Before the array in Level 16 has made its way down to the bottom of the screen, you should try to send the ball up the side walls as vertically as possible so that when it gets into the inside of the U it stays for a while. But as the array moves down, you will begin to appreciate a zig-zag pattern where the ball bounces off as many interior bricks as possible. Of course, you will also find that a zig-zag up the right side wall may arc all the way across the top of the U and down the left side without getting a single touch inside the U. This is the Blackberry designer's way of laughing at you...

This is a good time to mention that most of us tend to favor one side or the other when it comes to using the paddle. For me, I like going up the right side, or bouncing the ball off the right side of the paddle. I feel more control, somehow. It may just be my imagination, but Brickbreaker seems to know this and throws some trick bounces at me. On the newer small-ball versions of Brickbreaker there is definitely more room on the right side of Level 16 than there is on the left.

Level 17 is the first level where there is more than one impenetrable horizontal row of silver bricks. You will find yourself watching the ball go back and forth up there beyond your control. I always launch a ball slightly to the right of vertical, then bounce it diagonally off the right wall and into the first channel. With any luck you will get it to bounce along to the left, off the left wall and along to the right, then off the right wall and up and into the red bricks at the top. Chances are the ball will hit only a few times before it comes back down to you. If it has had enough bounces, the whole array will start to come down towards you. This is a good thing because it is a lot easier to break bricks in this level when there is open space above the bricks where the ball can rattle around.

The second time through Level 17, things are different. Because all of the second round games feature the array dropping, and the ball speeding up, as soon as the paddle touches the ball after you launch it, Level 17 takes away your time and space very quickly. In second round games, I launch the ball vertically, bounce it at least once as vertically as possible, then bounce it around the corner. If I do this right I get a lot of action up top and by the time the ball is returned to me many bricks have been broken but, more importantly, the game is ready to slow down again.

OK, we are half way there. Let's pause and take a break. Remember to pause Brickbreaker in mid-game not at the beginning of a level. At the start of a level, at least on my Blackberry, the game never really goes to sleep when you exit. It only truly pauses if you exit during a level, while play is going on.

If you have read this far, please accept my thanks. Why not leave a comment saying what your current high score is and where you seem to have the most trouble in BrickBreaker? If today's suggestions have been helpful, come on back and leave another comment saying what happened. And if you have some tips and tricks, please share them with the rest of us Blackberry Brickbreaker Addicts.


Anonymous said...

I think you made a mistake on Level 12. There is no pill in the bottom left brick.

I cant get past Level 16. When the ball is bouncing that fast at the bottom I always lose it. How do I stop that from happening?

My high score is 10110

Halfwise said...

Thanks for pointing out that mistake. I fixed it.

If you get to the point where the whole array is down to the bottom it may be too late to do anything. Try sacrificing a life as soon as the array moves down even one level. Then you will have more time.

(If you get to the second round, this tactic will not work, since the array starts to move down immediately. But first things first.)

Douglas Quenqua said...
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