Once upon a time, Atari thought bouncing a ball into a wall should be more than the pastime of kids at school and immortalised the concept in videogames. The Breakout genre was born. Since then, there have been many tens of thousands of Breakout games; the concept is seemingly a rite of passage for new programmers as much as it is a staple for gamers around the world.
At its core, AlphaBounce is a pure Arkanoid (the game that first expanded on Breakout's core formula and added powerups) clone. Sure, there are a LOT more powerups (some of which are super awesome, some where it's hard to tell what they've actually done) but essentially you use your paddle (called an envelope here) to keep a ball in play, using it to smash all of the bricks in the level so you can proceed to the next.
Which level is next is up to you - your level select mechanism is essentially the overworld map from your favorite RPG. It's a square grid of tiles through which you can only proceed through one at a time. Beat a level, and you'll forever carve that part of the grid into a path that you can move around on at will. Move outside of the path and you can only move one tile at a time until you clear that level. This lets you travel directly to a particular item of interest and then move across the other side of the map without having to worry too much about planning your route around the world.
The overworld map is dotted with icons. These icons represent items you'll unlock if you beat that level. You can then fitout your envelope with any combination of the items that you've unlocked so far, taking as many items as you have slots available to help tackle the breakout levels themselves. These items are essentially permanent powerups, allowing you to customise your standard loadout before entering a level.
The powerups are numerous on most levels, with some notable exceptions, dropping at random when you destroy a brick. The variations here are far too numerous to go into, with all sorts of modification possible to your bat, the ball and even the playing field. One of the coolest opens a black hole in the middle of the level, sucking in most of the bricks in one fell swoop! There are negative powerups ("powerdowns") as well, so look out for those lest your bat gets smaller or your ball starts behaving erratically.
There's not a lot of information displayed, with things like score being unnecessary and 95% of powerups not adding any kind of indication as to their remaining charges or duration. This does allow for a nice clean interface but occasionally you won't be sure what's going to happen when the ball hits the bat.
One of the problems that plagues breakout games is the "last brick" problem (where as the playing field empties, it actually gets more boring as the ball bounces around without hitting anything for extended periods). This has been addressed here by giving people automated access to a powerup (called Javelin) which destroys every single brick in a direct line from the bat. It's a fairly lowbrow approach to the problem, but it does the job well enough, ensuring the player doesn't get stranded with a single brick that seems to be out of reach.
The level layouts are relatively random in appearance, mostly lacking the memorability of something like Arkanoid or Ricochet. There are some that seem to have been individually designed, but for the most part they look as if they were generated by a random level generator. That's not to say they're no fun to play, just that you won't be all "hey, an umbrella" or "nice S-shape". There's also no variance in the strategy to clearing levels, meaning they mostly play in a very similar fashion.
Graphically it's pretty straight forward, lacking even the polish of the web version. There's nothing wrong with it, but AlphaBounce doesn't ooze either style or graphical power, leaving it floundering in a visual wasteland, crying out for an artistic treatment worthy of its pedigree. The English instructions are also a bit... lost in translation at times, which doesn't help it come across as overly professional.
The controls are solid, with the bottom quarter of the touchscreen dedicated to stylus-swiping so you don't block the envelope itself, which sits above that area. You can also just tap where you want the envelope to be and it will instantly transport there but be warned, this is an advanced move; it will feel a bit weird, as making micro-adjustments feels more natural. However, it's great in a frantic multiball, when things are chaotic and you can't swipe fast enough.
The gap between the screens is ignored, which means that your ball seems to move a bit when travelling on an angle. It messes with your dead reckoning a little, which can result in some frustrating losses, but on the whole it only takes some getting used to.
There have even been attempts to bring added depth to the genre in the form of role playing mechanics, such as Beta Bloc on the PSP. AlphaBounce goes further, and it's low price (just 500 points / $15) combined with the superior controls (a stylus works better than anything the PSP can offer for this type of game) should lead to more success. It's a fun game to play, with an addictive RPG layer that just adds to that "one more level!" hook. Hopefully this proves to be a massive success because with this solid a framework to build on, a sequel could be more addictive than crack!