PEGBRJE: BRKÖUT and Silver Grapple

The boss looks happy to see me. Also, forgot to mention, all of the accented Os look like happy faces. It’s important I swear.

BRKÖUT is an interesting title made by Stupid Massive Unbelievable Games, a collection of indie devs consisting of Fisher Wagg, Simon Wagg, Aaron Taylor and other collaborators. Players themselves play an old game, which only reads a simple phrase about it is a remastered classic block-breaker title for a generation. Upon entering the game, however, something else feels like it’s going on, even if players can’t put their fingers on it.

To any that were stuck with phones before the true smartphone takeover, Brick Breaker and it’s variations should be very familiar; BRKÖUT takes this game concept and adds a twist. The platform that players are utilizing to ensure the ball doesn’t reach the ground is made of destructible bricks as well, needing two hits instead of one to be destroyed. Bricks that are destroyed by the ball instead fall towards the ground so that players can grab them and add them to their platform instead, balancing out the destruction. This turns the standard formula into a desperate act of deciding to grab the ball or the bricks falling, as keeping the ball up destroys more bricks and wins the game — but losing the platform is a failure to win. Bricks also can destroy each other as they fall, and will explode if they come into contact with another brick not attached to the platform while descending, meaning that dislodging bricks at the top of the formation can be great unless players need more bricks. Thankfully, the ball hitting the ground doesn’t appear to be as bad as there don’t appear to be any lives to lose, so prioritizing bricks is a good idea.

So at first this seems relatively simple, but the completion of every level leaves a small note which speaks in a bizarre tone — nobody is sure where it’s coming from. Is it the computer talking? Is it someone contacting us? Well, it doesn’t take long to find out as the more levels completed the more this ‘voice’ intercedes between levels, even sending players back to the main menu with a German menu that states some kind of failure, even if one had succeeded. The screen continually gets hijacked, showing bizarre imagery usually prefixed by the old ‘no signal’ screen. It keeps hinting at something from the past, that something is still around, and only players can help find out why.

So that all sounds extremely vague doesn’t it — normally I try to explain things to give players a better understanding of why they might want to try out a title, but this time is a bit different. See, BRKÖUT is equal parts a game and an old ARG, similar to other titles that have players dive into their own files but also has players searching for hidden videos on the internet. ARGs have been done for years to varying degrees of success, ranging from fantastic and inspiring to downright dull and disappointing (see: Sombra’s reveal in Overwatch). In a post directly aimed at bundle buyers, which is me, Fisher explains that the title was part of an ARG that ended years ago and will not make sense without googling those certain story elements to find the explanations. ARGs live and die by their reveals, so me explaining them would be a disservice to the point of the title. I can say that it is quite the thrill ride, if it’s any consultation.

The themes that are slowly revealed are also discussed within that post, which can be found on the itch.io page. It handles a lot of themes found in creepy-pastas as they would be called, mixed with some WWII related story beats which some may find a bit crass. It’s not a perfect representation, but the thoughts within them appear genuine in their attempts to tell their story as best they can, and I had no issues while playing the title for what it’s worth. If you are one to enjoy the chase as much as the reward, BRKÖUT gives a good mix of both with it’s block breaking and ARG mystery solving. It’s not short by any means, but super sleuths might be able to find the answers faster than most.

Silver Grapple is a platforming adventure made by Jamie Rollo, a solo indie dev out of Australia. Players are an initially unnamed protagonist, working at an engineering firm of some kind (I can only assume the protag is also some kind technical person) who is helping out another to shut the place down. In the process, however, a large rumbling occurs and throws the entire building into disarray, throwing our hero down into the depths of the skyscraper with no way out. All they’ve got available to them is an experimental grappling hook and a set of power boots, but how will those help?

Well, Silver Grapple is a speedy platformer at heart, although it may not appear that way upon first glance. Our protagonist moves at the pace of a snail, and their jump is pitiful even after acquiring the power boots. So how does one platform without the ability to jump? Use the power of momentum instead: that grappling hook is the key to victory. Players will be spending the majority of their platforming looking for ways to fall just fast enough to grapple onto another area and fling themselves as ludicrous speeds across the map, making up for the lack of input verticality. Levels reflect this mentality, as many of the most difficult locations to reach are simply just elevated locations with nowhere to grapple to, as players cannot ‘reel’ in their grappling hook. It changes much of the fun (and frustration) into focusing on correctly stringing together grappling shots to get the proper angles, with failure resulting from not knowing where the protag is currently flying to next or missing the window to grapple rather than missing a platform by a pixel.

I’m not the best at explaining the joys of platforming, but I did have fun swinging from room to room like a Tarzan or Spiderman. Even dying didn’t feel terrible as checkpoints were numerously placed in areas that the developer knew that players would die in. There’s no penalty for dying besides returning to the checkpoint, and the only way you can know how many times you’ve died is by checking the menu, which I avoided out of shame (I was at 100 before the first hour ended, ok?). If you are looking for a twist on the platforming philosophy, wanting momentum to be the name of the game and throwing caution into the wind, this is definitely a title worth checking out.

Oh, and for the record, the aesthetic is fantastic —The music is phenominal, and the pixel art is super clean and easy to understand while jumping. I’ve never tried escaping work by grappling hook, but I might try it next time.

Links? Maybe?

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.