This summer has been huge for the NES, with huge adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda, Rygar, and Metroid hitting the shelves. As astonishing as these games have proven to be, Taito delivers a healthy dose of classic gaming in their port of last year’s arcade hit Arkanoid. It appears they believe a simple concept with fun gameplay can still be competitive in today’s video game market. And they’re right.
Most gamers have played Breakout on the Atari – it’s a classic. Arkanoid has the same basic objective and controls. You move the paddle in order to must destroy all the blocks on each stage with a ball that bounces vertically between the blocks above and the floor. If you miss the ball with your paddle it goes into oblivion and you lose a life. Taito took this simple, but good idea and greatly expanded and improved upon it. The biggest difference is the addition of power-ups in the game. Destroying certain blocks will release a capsule that you can grab with your paddle and this will give you a special ability. Some examples include: a longer paddle, slower ball speed, warping to the next level, splitting the ball into three, and my personal favorite, the laser shot – which allows you to fire bullets from your paddle to destroy the bricks above. Another challenge is the inclusion of enemies – floating pieces of debris that get in the way of your ball trajectory.
There are 36 levels in the game and each has its own unique design or pattern layout of the blocks. Each level becomes more difficult as you move on, with more debris appearing, more hits needed to eliminate certain blocks (gold blocks can’t be destroyed at all), and increased ball speed. There is a scoring system, and reaching a certain number of points gets you an extra life. There are no continues after you lose your lives, but you can simply press “A” and “Start” before the level begins to skip it up until level 16 so you don’t have to rehash the beginning areas of the game over and over again. There is somewhat of a light story touched upon in the intro of the game and in the manual, however if there was ever a game that had no need for a story it would be this one. The paddle is your spaceship, and you roam the galaxy searching for a new planet after the annihilation of yours.
The game takes a great amount of practice to really master it. It is easy to get distracted by the falling power-ups, but securing the ball is always the top priority. I lost many lives being greedy and trying to grab both. You can only have one ability at a time, so you need to learn which color capsule does what. I’m usually trying to obtain the laser early on, but depending on the stage different abilities may be more useful. After you complete the level, you lose any abilities you had and start over on the next round. Using the walls to ricochet the ball takes skill and technique; perhaps this is a game billiards players and geometry experts will really excel at.
Arkanoid is colorful and pleasant to look at despite its simplicity. The level designs are creative and keep the game fresh. I found the controls to be very smooth and responsive. I prefer using the standard NES controller, but right now the Game Pak is being sold with a special controller designed solely for the game. Perhaps future Taito releases will utilize it also. There is no in-game music and I’m not sure how I feel about this, as the sound effects are satisfying and seem to fit the game well. Still, a good melody would have been welcome. Many gamers may prefer to play this with some music from the radio or record playing in the background.
I’ve had a wonderful time playing Arkanoid, even though other recent game releases may offer more in terms of long adventures. This is the perfect game to put in for a little while, in between solving puzzles in The Legend of Zelda or mapping rooms in Metroid. I believe there is a still a healthy market for classic games like this one, especially when they add some modernization and enhancements. This game is all about fun-factor and challenge, which I think are still the most important features of a terrific game. Sure, it lacks music, a true 2-player mode, and has only one boss; but none of these factors hold it back from being a great game to own.