Review: Arkanoid (Nintendo DS)

Arkanoid
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Taito
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 6/18/2008


I hated that Taito became a “Square-Enix company” and the game manual and box repeatedly reminded me of this new reality. Taito, one of the oldest video games companies of all time, with a pedigree of titles like Bubble Bobble, Puzzle Bobble, Space Invaders and more is now a subsidiary of another gaming company that was a merger of two other companies to begin with. My fear was that we would be seeing a burial of Taito titles the same way we haven’t seen a Ogre game since Knight of Lodis thank to Square’s purchase of Quest. But then, maybe that is a good thing considering the horror that was Bubble Bobble Revolution, the last game actually developed by Taito before the buyout.

However, my fears have been abated. We had a pretty good Bubble Bobble game come out for the DS this year (albeit it not even slightly touched by Square-Enix) and now Square is publishing two Taito remakes for the DS: Space Invaders Extreme and the game we are reviewing today: Arkanoid.

Although I would have preferred Puzzle Bobble 1 & 2 being ported to a DS cart, this makes a lot of sense. Space Invaders is one of the most famous games of all time, and somehow with over fifty different versions of the game, it still sells with each new face lift and port. Arkanoid though? That’s a different story.

There are not a lot of versions of Arkanoid out there, but it is still a popular classic. I remember it was one of my first and favorite NES games and I was super happy to hear that a remake of the game with all new puzzles was hitting the DS. Sure Arkanoid is basically a fancy version of Super Breakout which is in turn a sequel to Breakout, but it’s still a great deal of fun. Plus the last time Arkanoid was remade was over a decade ago for the PSX, and neither of those releases ever left Japan. For many gamers, this will be their first chance at ever touching this title. So a big thumb’s up for taking a chance on Arkanoid Square-Enix and showing us that you’re taking ownership of Taito seriously and giving American gamers a chance to see why they were one of the biggest companies of the Atari and NES generations.

Just please ensure that Bub and Bob do not meet the same hideous fate as the Valkyrie Profile games, okay?

So does Arkanoid hold up after many years of being locked away from North American gamers, or should the title have been left unseen and unheard?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

The main mode for Arkanoid is called Clear Game and it is laid out exactly like Puzzle Bobble. Here you’ll clear a round of five levels, and then you can move on to one of two diverging paths. Repeat this process until you have beaten seven rounds, or 35 levels. Once you have done this, it’s game over.

For each level you clear in Clear Game, you unlock a variant of that level in Quest Game. Here you’ll play that level with a twist such as “Take out every yellow block in 60 seconds” or “Only let the ball hit your paddle ten times.” If you achieve the goal, you beat that quest and receive unlock points. Most of these are pretty easy, but it’s great for a quick (and I mean QUICK) game.

Next there is Vs. Com, which is where you do battle against the computer to see who can finish a level first, or alternately, who can finish off one specific colour from the level. This is a little weird because you don’t actually PLAY the computer. Instead there is a tiny box that simulates what the computer is doing and it’s hard to see, and worse, if you do try to look at it, it usually distracts you from the actual game.

Next up is Multiplayer, which is great because your friend doesn’t need to have an Arkanoid game cart to join in! All they have to do is be in range of your DS.

Don’t have friends nearby but you still want some pvp Arkanoid? The game has it covered with Wi-FI mode.

Finally there are things like options, and a way to track all your high scores. You also earn points for playing Clear and Quest modes, and you can use those points to unlock all sorts of things to give you a totally customized Arkanoid look. The first thing I unlocked was something that turned all the blocks in the game into the Space Invaders critters. You can also change the background, the board frame, unlock new music tracks, and even change the appearance of your paddle (Vaus).

I was super impressed with all the things crammed into this new version of Arkanoid. Almost all the boards are completely new and the Puzzle Bobble mode of the game works exceptionally well with the game. Quest mode was a cute and unexpected feature that should please even the most curmudgeonly gamer.

All this in one DS cart with a MSRP of $19.99? What a great deal! I honestly couldn’t ask for more in this cart. It met my wildest dreams…and then exceeded them.

Modes Rating: Unparalleled

2. Graphics

There’s not much that can be said here. It’s a ball, a paddle and some blocks. This is stuff that could be done on a 2600, and in fact, it was. So one might be wondering how I can praise the graphics. Well, it’s because the game is exceptionally crisp and bright with its colours, and it lacks the slowdown that has appeared in other console versions of the game.

As well, the level designs are quite cute. C-4 for example is a giant Bub head, and B-5 is shaped like one of the Space Invaders monsters. These are all nice touches. I also love that in the store you can select and unlock backgrounds that are references to other games like Bubble Bobble to Legend of Kage! This was a wonderful bit of nostalgia. Speaking of unlockable backgrounds, some of them like dolphin or the night scenes are breathtaking, especially for a DS game. I never thought I’d describe Arkanoid as pretty considering how simple the game is, but there you go.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

I marked out like a small child when I heard the classic Arkanoid midi start off the very first level. Those intonations have been stuck in my head since I was in single digits, and I didn’t think there was a chance of that surviving. Thanks Taito and S-E.

Besides those tones the new music for each round is incredible. From Fusion Jazz to Goa, Arkanoid‘s entire score is fast paced, infectious and easily one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard this year. I also love that I can unlock different sound effects and musical tracks, which ensures the game sounds as great as I want it to.

Honestly, this is one of the best scores I’ve heard this year and it warms my heart to be able to praise this Taito/Square-Enix fusion so much. As my fellow staffer says, this union seems to be the exact opposite of what Sammy did to Sega.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

If you’ve played any version of Breakout, you’ve probably played this game. You use the paddle to hit the ball and your object is to break all the blocks in the level. It’s fairly simply gameplay mixed up with some power capsules that can hurt or help your paddle. You can get powers like the ability to shoot lasers or make the ball stick to your paddle until you choose to let it go, or even a 50% increase in size. These power-ups were what made Arkanoid popular in the first place, as it was a whole new element to the gameplay.

This remake adds one big new twist. Instead of having 3 lives, with the loss of said life each time you miss hitting the ball, you now have only a single life. This is balanced out with a barrier that has sealed off the gap. Each time you miss the ball, it now hits the barrier and bounces back as if it hit your paddle. Be careful though, as the barrier can only be hit so many times before it dissipates. Once the barrier is gone, if you miss, it is game over. You can set the power of the barrier from 0 to 5 hits in the option menu, along with the speed of your ball.

There are two styles of gameplay. The first is using the control pad as one would for the NES or SNES versions of the game, while the second uses the DS Stylus. I have to admit I prefer the control pad as with the stylus it felt like that was a microcosm of lag between the touch and the movement. In a game this fast paced, that can kill you. Then again, I’m so used to the old style controls, it just felt natural for me to use the D-pad compared to the stylus.

The controls are solid for the most part. I do miss the paddle gameplay, but it’s just not something you can do on the DS, and the Stylus option is a nice way to attempt to recreate that style of gameplay, even if it does fall a little short. It’s a well made remake of the game, so longtime fans will be happy while newcomers might take issue with the speed and precision needed to really advance past the first or second round of levels.

Control and Gameplay: Good

5. Replayability

Okay, there are 35 rounds in the game. In a complete play through, you will only play 7 of those. That means in order to beat every level in the game, you have to play a minimum of seven times. And that’s if you can beat the game in a single playthrough, which is damn near impossible.

Then you have Quest mode. You have to beat each level in the game to unlock the Quest mode variant. Then you need to play that with its own weird little stipulation to clear that. That’s 175 levels, or 350 if you count the quest mode variants. WOW.

Of course we’ve also left out the vs, Computer mode and the vs player modes. Simply put, there is more in this $19.99 game then some of the DS titles that are going for $34.99. That’s crazy impressive. Thanks to a quick save feature, which is a godsend, and a continue function that allows you to continue from where you died at the cost of the points you had accumulated up to that point, you can play Arkanoid for practically forever.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

Like most old school games, Arkanoid is harder than a lot of the more modern puzzle games. This is because it requires your hand to eye coordination to be as sharp as your wits. The game starts giving you harder puzzles with the B and/or C rounds and the game only gets harder from there. Since the game is using a Puzzle Bobble style of game progression, the game is purposely hard at times to force you to have to continue and give up those unlock points. It can be downright nasty at times, and if you don’t know that going in, you’re bound to be frustrated with the paddle physics.

In some respects, the game is “easier.” After all, you now have unlimited continues and the barrier, which make progressing through the game pretty easy. Even a rookie can beat this version of Arkanoid with enough continues and blind luck over actual skill. They ma be beating the game with next to no unlock points earned, but they are still beating it, and getting the quest mode variants unlocked as well.

This version of Arkanoid is similar to the original in that it wasn’t designed to be balanced. The original was designed to be addictive and difficult so as to make you give the arcade cabinet all your change. This version is not as difficult, but it still mimics the cruelty factor. If you’re a sore loser, you’re probably going to want to stay away from this. If you’re someone that likes a challenge and wants to improve your hand-eye coordination, look no further.

Balance Rating: Decent

7. Originality

Unlike a lot of other classic games, Arkanoid is one of those few titles that manages to stand the test of time that also hasn’t been re-released state side over and over again until the title’s branding has been diluted. It’s been well over a decade since North America received a copy of Arkanoid and that makes the game seem and feel fresh again.

Add in those new levels and some subtle but powerful shifts to gameplay, and even people who beat the old version of the game for the NES or in the arcades will be able to play something new and exciting. Quest mode is an entirely new way of playing Arkanoid, and I love it. No quest challenge is over three minutes, and the stipulations are so varied, that it is as if they are entirely new levels.

This is also our first time getting a wi-fi version of Arkanoid and I also love the ability to play a vs. player version of this game without both players needing a new cart.

The name is a classic one and the core of the game is the same, but in many ways we are getting a fresh & exciting new look at the Arkanoid series and it’s about time.

Originality Rating: Above Average

8. Addictiveness

This is a well made game, but it’s really not suited to be a portable title. Arkanoid is one of those games you really need to concentrate on. When I tried playing it on the Metro or on a bus, the rides were too rickety and it made the game quite hard to play. This is again why I recommend the D pad over the stylus as Stylus but bumpy ride = worthless mode of play. Because the game is on a portable system and thus logic says it is meant to be a portable game, we see the one huge chink in the armour of Arkanoid.

As a game on its own, the game is exceptionally fun. I am thankful there is a quick save mode as 7 rounds of Arkanoid is just too much for one play setting. With the speed of the ball and the tiny DS screens, it’s hard to sit glued to the DS for longer than 3 rounds/15 levels without wanting to take a break.

Perhaps it is the fact that the US release of Arkanoid doesn’t come with the paddle controller attachment like the Japanese game. Perhaps it is the level design. Perhaps it is just the DS. Whatever the reason, I found it a lot harder to get into this version of Arkanoid compared to the older versions. I still enjoyed my time with it, but it simply wasn’t a game I could play for more a long stretch of time.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

9. Appeal Factor

I know that a lot of ardent Arkanoid fans are quite displeased with the fact that the US didn’t get the paddle controller and as such are boycotting the game. I know I’m generally the last person who will stand up and defend a Square-Enix decision, so the fact I am on this should make everyone stand up and take note.

Bottom line – the paddle controller would have added another $10 to the cost of the game. At $19.99, this is a wonderful piece of nostalgia and an amazing budget game. At the $30 mark though, the game would not be as well received, people would have bitched about the quality of the paddle controller, and it simply wouldn’t have sold as many copies. The stylus and D pad gameplay version are more than enough and I’d rather see more people experience this at a lower cost than paying the extra $10 for what essentially is a gimmick add-on like the rumble back to black and white Game Boy titles.

Besides that vocal minority that want a one off gimmick, most puzzle gamers will be very happy with this title. It will also have cross-over appeal with action oriented gamers who generally hate the slowness of puzzle titles. For a lot of gamers, this classic style of gaming that is indeed, hearkening back to one of the earliest video games EVER, may be too high concept. A fast paced puzzle game that challenges you like a side-scrolling shooter? That could be too much for those who weren’t cutting their eye teeth on the original.

Everything old is new again I suppose.

Appeal Factor: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

I went into this game with a pretty pessimistic attitude due to my fears that Taito and its properties were going to be treated as second rate. Instead I walk away pretty optimistic for the future of the company. This version of Arkanoid is not only one of the best, but a discerning gamer will catch all the little tributes and unlockables that are homages to Taito’s library of games. The game itself is well made and a lot of fun, and the ability to have a multiplayer game with only one cart will only help to hook new people on the title and eventually get them to purchase the game for themselves. The first hit is free after all.

This was a solid effort through and through and staffer Chris Bowen feels the same way about the recently released Space Invaders Extreme. This just might be a new age for Taito franchises with things like a Quest made Bubble Bobble RPG or a new Jungle Hunt with androgynous bishonen headhunters. Who knows?

In the end, this was a great first release by the newly Square-Enix branded Taito, and I’m looking forward to what else is on tap.

Seriously though, get the Quest guys together and make that Bubble Bobble RPG if you won’t let them do another Ogre Battle.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

The Scores
Modes: Unparalleled
Graphics: Good
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Decent
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

Arkanoid is a solid budget title that reminds all who play it just why it is one of the most memorable titles from the early 1980’s as well as why Taito was one of the biggest names in the industry. It would be a disservice not to at least try the game and see why it has remained popular over the decades. The more zealous Arkanoid fans may want to import the game for the paddle controller, but for everyone else, you’ll find yourself enjoying a high paced puzzle game with one of the best soundtracks released this year. If you have a DS, it would be a disservice NOT to pick this up.

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