To call Ricochet Xtreme a “ball and paddle” game is a tremendous injustice to the work of art that this title truly is. Ricochet Xtreme, by James C. Smith of Reflexive Entertainment traces its lineage to the arcade classic Arkanoid and the original Breakout in the same way that humans trace their lineage to the classic Cro Magnon and the original apes; yes, there’s a connection somewhere but, no, it doesn’t matter on any significant issue.

Reflexive Entertainment has created several seriously underrated games including the fantastic squad-level strategy game, Star Trek: Away Team for Activision. They are currently producing Lionheart for Interplay, the publishers of Fallout series and dozens of other classics. If those names aren’t familiar, then take my word that it lends tremendous credibility to their self-released Ricochet Xtreme.

In many ways, Ricochet Xtreme is a perfect arcade game. It is visually gorgeous, the controls are flawless, the music/effects are outstanding and there is no violence. Game sessions are intense, short and sweet. Without a plot or requisite thinking, Ricochet Xtreme has a happy lack of pompous puzzle solving and the kind of gender-specific messages that appeal to dysfunctional personalities(see Evercrack, et al) and turn women off to video games(see 99% of all PC games).

Ricochet Xtreme has the old school style of fast and furious stress-relieving gameplay with the modern sex appeal of sensory candy in terms of sight, sound and touch.

To figure out why I like Ricochet so much, you need to download the demo. It is approximately 7 megabytes. Download times will vary depending on your connection. Broadband (cable, DSL) users will get it in about four minutes, tops. Dial-up users can expect 20 minutes or more to download the demo. System requirements are a virtual nonissue. A P233MHz processor with 32 megabytes of RAM or, basically, any PC made in the last five years should handle the game.

The plot—to those who feel that one is necessary—is set in a future where space pilots remove obstacles and mines using ion spheres that look remarkably like FIFA footballs. “Ricochet” becomes a sport among these pilots and is formalized into tournaments. Hence, Ricochet Xtreme.

With that wholly unnecessary aspect of the game out of the way, players will likely choose to control their ship with an ordinary mouse. I highly recommend a USB optical mouse for greater precision and reliability.

If you choose optical mouse controls, you may also want “force feedback” controls. Currently, force feedback on mice is pretty weak and not worth the extra $10. While feedback never gets old, it does get annoying on wooden desks(optical mice don’t need pads.)

Once you’ve solved or ignored any mouse issue, start playing. A simple click puts the ball in play. Keep it up and keep destroying bricks. Repeat. Rinse. Next level.

After every 10 levels, the game allows the player to start the next game at the most recent set of 10. This, in my opinion, is a drawback albeit a small one. The reason it is a drawback is because even the quickest levels take at least two minutes to complete. Arcade games are at their finest in small servings. Allowing players to simply inch up levels, understandably, but a 20 minute minimum to advance in the game is too much. Regardless of this minor matter of preference, it still beats the mind-numbing game of Windows Solitaire by miles.

The rest of the game is a matter of power-ups. Green ones are good. They include extra lives, laser guns and missiles to get through levels quicker. Blue ones are also good. They include Shield Extenders to increase your reach and Electro-ball catchers to control the pace of the game. Red ones tend to be bad because they speed up the ball or shrink your shield size. The only yellow one reduces the speed of the ball. Lastly, the ball power-ups are all good except for the one that reduces the size of the ball. Fireballs and Railballs are particularly cool. Play to discover the advantages and disadvantages of each power-up. All of them earn points so they are all good.

Except the bomb. Watch out for the bomb. If you attempt to destroy it, you will get a fat 1000 points. It’s a difficult trick, however, so running for cover is a good first option.

What else can be said? Nobody dies. Nobody gets gored. It’s brutally addictive and enjoyable to play. Non-geeks think it’s a console game until I respond with, “why the hell would I own [a/an] [Xbox/Playstation2/GameCube]?” Finally, women love this game. It’s an important point worth analyzing. Perhaps in a future piece dedicated to chicks and games.

At $20 for 210 levels of fun(I’ve beaten the game twice), you should most certainly buy the game if you like it. Programming isn’t easy and if programmers can’t be commercially successful, then great games will become even more rare. Reflexive Entertainment has published some big commercial retail “shelf” titles. There is absolutely nothing beyond the wise business decision to sell it strictly over the net that would keep this out of stores if Reflexive so desired.

Purchasing is easy. Just click on the option in the demo. Once it’s unlocked, you can download an additional 15 megabytes of sharper artwork, better music and additional levels.

Enjoy!

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