First Impressions: Arkanoid Plus!
Posted by Sean Aaron
Taito plays it safe in bringing back a classic.
Whilst Atari's Breakout and Super Breakout pioneered the arcade block-breaking games that are well-worn cliches today, Taito's Arkanoid really took the idea to the next level and no one's improved upon it since. The game concept is pretty simple: a bar at the bottom of the screen is used to bounce a ball into blocks at the top of the screen; after clearing them repeat ad nauseum. Super Breakout added three play modes which provided some much needed variety, but kept the basic gameplay and of dull pastel colour scheme. Arkanoid not only tarted up the visuals both by adding a pseudo three-dimensional look to the objects on-screen and having more vibrant colour, but added enemies, power-ups and a back-story - finally, some much-needed block-breaking motivation - concerning ancient human space travellers, vaus spacecraft which look like paddles, and twisted space obstacles controlled by a giant Easter Island head called DoH.
Coming a decade after the release of the original Breakout, Arkanoid's bells and whistles seemed fresh, and subsequent sequels and handheld iterations have kept it on its throne as the king of ball-and-paddle games. The surprise release of Arkanoid Plus! therefore has a lot to live up to; thankfully it does a nice job of honouring the past, even if it doesn't bring much new to the table.
When starting the game it's apparent that this game was made for worldwide release. Everything in the game, including the story crawl is in English text; highlighting options will present a text scroll in Japanese at the bottom for Japanese players who may not have good English reading comprehension. There are four title menu choices: Arcade Mode, Timed Mode, Vs. Mode and Options. Options will give you the ability to change control aspects like paddle speed and button speed - more on these in a moment - as well as music and sound effect volume levels. Each game mode also has selectable game options presented before starting play, but only the options in the main Options menu are saved.
Game options for Arcade Mode and Timed Mode are largely the same: 1 or 2 players, difficulty level (from Easy, Normal or Hard which seems to mainly affect the ball speed), whether to have a stock of spare lives or a multi-hit energy barrier below your vaus spacecraft/paddle (and the number of lives/hits) and finally whether or not to have enemies present.
To the veteran player the biggest change to the game is the control scheme. Wiimote and Classic Controller are supported, however there is no implementation of analogue controls whatsoever. After other WiiWare paddle games like Block Breaker Deluxe and Bit.Trip BEAT demonstrated that both the pointer and motion controls could be used to effectively simulate the rotary controller used by games like Arkanoid, it was a bit of a surprise that NES-style controls were chosen. Once I started playing any fears were put to rest as the controls have been well-tuned for d-pad use: input from the d-pad is such that very small movements of the paddle are possible; whilst a little jerkier than analogue movement input, you have a full range of movement and can thus angle the ball as you desire. The paddle also stops immediately when you cease pressing the d-pad; in fact the level of precision afforded is such that the game has a noticeably lower difficulty level than the arcade game when playing with any but the Hard difficulty setting.
So whilst I would have liked a paddle-like control option, I don't feel the game has been compromised by the implementation of the digital controls - a make-or-break issue for this style of game. As indicated earlier the main options menu allows you to increase the speed of the paddle and also response to button presses (at least I think that's what the latter does, I need to experiment a bit more since it seems to reference the 1 button which has no function in the game that I can see - possibly holding the 1 button provides a temporary paddle speed up?), though I found the default settings perfectly satisfactory.
The game looks much the same as the original arcade, though the coloured tiles seem to have lost the "beveled" look of the arcade (this changes in later rounds), they still have shadows and are vibrant and appealing. Enemies have had a slight makeover as well: whereas the arcade game featured sprites with a 3D-rendered look, the enemies in Arkanoid Plus! are clearly polygons, though they have the same design and in function as their arcade counterparts.
One behavioural change is that the ball seems less likely to bounce back towards the player after hitting an enemy, but enemies continue to serve as an obstacle to the player and divert the ball from its intended path. The boards are framed as in the arcade and have varying widths; the black bezel of the arcade has been replaced with a colourful animated background featuring geometric shapes moving against alien landscapes or abstract patterns. Coupled with an active techno soundtrack, Arkanoid Plus! is a well-polished game both visually and aurally.
The game features both the original power-ups from the original arcade game as well as its arcade sequel Revenge of DoH (Arkanoid 2), which are available from the first round. Power-ups I've seen so far include the Laser, Catch, Extend, Reduce, Slow, Divide and Break power-ups from the original game as well as the M (meteor?) which causes the ball to break through all breakable objects in its path without stopping and a green T power-up which creates an energy barrier below the player which will save your ball once in case you're rubbish and miss it.
After clearing a round you're given a choice of exiting left or right and will see a different board depending on which direction you take. There seems to be 30 rounds per Zone (with Zone 2 being unlocked for 200 points in the Shop) and then a final 31st round which is a boss battle. There is a leaderboard which can be viewed from the Ranking option in the main Options menu, however you can only get your score and time recorded if you clear all the levels - which is not something I've managed to achieve just yet - though the game does allow for continues. Leaderboards are local only; it's not apparent if names are recorded, but scores and times definitely are.
The Timed Mode gives you a set number of rounds to complete with the goal being to complete them in the shortest amount of time possible. This is made more challenging by only giving you a single vaus to play with. Like Arcade Mode you only get to record your score if you complete all the rounds. You have a choice of 3, 5, 7 or 10 rounds to complete in the Timed Mode.
As noted above Arcade and Timed Mode have the option for local 2 player cooperative play, with one player's paddle appearing below the other. The paddle positions are swapped between rounds, so that player 1 launches the ball and is in the upper row in Round 1, but moves to the lower position so the 2nd player gets to launch the ball in Round 2.
Vs. Mode is also local-only, but competitive and consists of players attempting to be the first to complete a fixed number of rounds with a dual board configuration where the 1st player is on the left and the 2nd player is on the right. Each player has one vaus and a 3-hit energy barrier below. Outside of choosing the number of rounds, the only other option is whether or not to have enemies on-screen. In addition to normal power-ups, there are Vs. Mode specific ones which affect your opponent. The ones I've seen are a Reduce which shrinks your opponents paddle and a Slow which slows your opponent's ball (a disadvantage since each player is trying to clear their board first). The Vs. Mode game can also be played against a CPU-controlled opponent with a selectable skill level from 1-10. I didn't manage to defeat it on setting 1, so I cannot imagine what happens on setting 10!
I haven't taken a look at the Arcade Mode Zone 2 levels yet, but given that none of the three modes seem to duplicate boards I have to say there's quite a lot of Arkanoid on offer for the base 800 points; having an extra 60 boards (don't forget the L/R branching) for 200 points seems like a pretty good deal.
Arkanoid Plus! doesn't do anything really new with the Arkanoid franchise, but Taito have presented a pretty good package that retains everything that made the original a classic; after the disappointing Block Breaker Deluxe, I'm happy to have a block-breaking ball-and-paddle game that provides a decent level of challenge and options that will keep me coming back for more.