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Arkanoid Review

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Developer: Taito Publisher: Taito
Release Date: 1987 Also On:
Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Apple IIgs, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, Macintosh, MSX, TRS-80 CoCo, ZX Spectrum

And back down we go. Well, not that far at least. Arkanoid is an interesting title, it’s an old idea that was still fresh at the time, it’s easy to play, and has a lot of appeal. However, in spite of some of the nostalgia you’ll see for this game on the internet, and a certain review site whose name I will not mention because it sucks and has no standards, Arkanoid isn’t really a title you’re going to enjoy too much, unless you cheat.

Graphically, Arkanoid looks just fine, especially for its age. Lots of vibrant colors, smooth animations, etc. Didn’t really have any problems here. It’s impressive too that in spite of the number of levels, the same multi-colored blocks, the same ship, and repeating characters, somehow it doesn’t get old. I assume it’s the arrangements they used, but overall good job in this category and no major complaints.

One of my big gripes about Arkanoid is the sound. To put it simply, there really isn’t any. You get an iconic opening theme that lasts about one second, a short song if you die, and then a longer one at the end and that’s it. There is absolutely no music through the rest of the game, and this gives Arkanoid a stale feeling after a few stages. The only thing keeping the action going is the tension and the variety of designs. A good track or two would have made the atmosphere a lot better. And the sounds are almost nonexistent. We’re talking maybe four total throughout the game. I mean, come on, Breakout for the Atari 2600, on which this was based, had probably the same number or more. Unacceptable.

And now we get to the gameplay. Arkanoid is a cool idea. It’s based on the classic Atari titles Breakout and Super Breakout, but adds a storyline where you’re controlling a lost ship called Vaus to get out of a mysterious realm. Kind of a lame way of explaining why you’re moving what amounts to a horizontal Pong paddle and hitting blocks, but whatever. Plus, there is a cool, big-box version of the game that comes with a special controller to emulate the feel of the arcade. Pretty sweet, and it does in fact make gameplay a lot easier. Plus, they tossed in some enemies, a final boss, and power-ups. Basically, all you have to do is use your three initial lives to get rid of all the breakable blocks on each of the thirty-four levels (thirty-five is the boss) to win. Pretty simple, right? Wrong. Check it out before I continue:

Arkanoid’s big problem is its difficulty. The first two levels are rather fun and easy to play. Then, suddenly, level three comes along and you’re hating life. See, Arkanoid throws in a feature, unbreakable blocks, that serve as the game’s major obstacle. In level three they’re set up in rows, creating a maze of sorts. As in many levels, you have to get the ball in just the right place to get the blocks since they’re beyond your direct aim. This wouldn’t be so bad, you have a power-up that allows the ball to stick on Vaus temporarily so you can aim, but then they programmed the game so the ball gets faster and faster as it hits more blocks, including the unbreakable ones. If you happen to get the triple-ball power-up or are faced with rows of these things, the ball starts to move so fast you can’t even play. You’ll try, get angry, and eventually lose to start again. With only three lives, no continues, and thirty-four levels of this crap, good luck getting farther than five without using the continue or level-select cheat. The gameplay got so fast at times I simply gave up. Spending over ten minutes hitting a ball from different angles to finally get it in a little hole and have it rebound off an upper wall and come back down immediately is disheartening to say the least.

There are also some minor things that affect play. For example, you can get one power-up that changes Vaus into a laser-firing ship to destroy blocks, but for the brief moment you change you have almost no space to strike with, so you’re going to lose the ball more than once. In addition, they have a slowing icon for the ball that sounds awesome, but later, if your ball is going fast already, this only slows it down for a brief one or two hits and it’s lightning fast again. Why even bother? The speed of the game is where Arkanoid really fails. Keeping it at an average level would have been fine, but it gets so blistering that I doubt anyone in history has been able to keep control of the ball for the entire game. Add to it enemies who get in the way of the ball’s path and hell has opened before you. Sometimes, you just can’t move fast enough to get the damn thing, even with the Vaus controller. With the regular controller, I died on numerous occasions simply because Vaus could literally not move fast enough to get the ball. If they had some password feature or continues it would be fine, but only three stinking lives? Are you kidding? You can get extra ones when you reach certain point levels or collect the rare icon, but it usually takes about 2-3 rounds for that to happen, so usually when you really need it it doesn’t matter anyway. The idea overall is cool enough, but the difficulty due to speed will strike down even the most patient of gamers.

I can’t necessarily call Arkanoid creative. It’s just Breakout with slightly updated graphics and a ludicrous story. Sure, they added a bunch of power-ups and upped the ante a tad, but the difficulty ruins it. With Breakout and Super Breakout at least you weren’t cursing and throwing things about, you felt like you could actually have a chance at mastering the game and enjoying yourself. So, as it stands, Arkanoid is really nothing more than a Breakout clone with some updates, a number of which just piss you off.

With the cheat, I have to admit I didn’t mind too much going through Arkanoid. I could certainly never try to sit down again and play it for real, however. Round three is the least of your troubles as you move along. The game has several stages that tax your temper to the extreme. I don’t really forsee myself playing this again any time soon and I’m rather glad I finished it and put it away. As for length, have to give bad marks. If you just want to sit down and play it for an hour or so, you’ll get tired of it because you probably won’t make it beyond round six, and even while cheating and assuming minor errors, you’re looking at at least three solid hours of play before you finish the damn thing. A password feature would have been ideal.

Arkanoid is a disappointment in many ways. The major problem here that’s clear is that the programmers, while porting the original arcade version, did little to adjust the basics. Let’s remember something here, arcade games then and now have one primary function, making money. What’s the best way to do this? Make it so the player has a difficult time beating it so they keep pumping in quarters. This explains why the difficulty in the NES version is so ridiculous at times, they didn’t change it by adding a password feature, continues or anything. It’s essentially as close a port to the arcade as you could get on the NES. This, of course, leads to a game that is likely to anger anyone who tries to play it for long enough. It’s too hard and has too many minor flaws to stand as a classic. Hopefully this review will serve to stomp it down a few notches.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 4.5
Gameplay: 5
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 3.5
Final: 5.4
Written by Stan Review Guide