Developer: Taito Corporation
Release Date: 05/06/2009
Years ago, man would thrust tiny metal symbols into brightly-lit, uncaring machines for his gaming joy. Designed to separate quarters from humans as fast as possible, arcades of that era were home to simplistic graphics, rapid gameplay, and unforgiving difficulty. Into that grinder, Arkanoid was unleashed upon the masses by Taito in the year 1986. Standing out of the crowd as one of the better games of the genre, Arkanoid‘s popularity has lasted all the way to now. Let’s see how it stands up 23 years later.
Surprising though it may be for a game of this genre, Arkanoid Live! does indeed have a story. Far in the future, a spaceship transporting a bunch of humans was attacked. This ship is the titular Arkanoid. I’m going out on a limb here and saying that it derives from the Ark, but that’s probably going way too deep for the game. The paddle that you play the game with is actually another ship, the Vaus, that was launched by the Arkanoid as a last ditch opportunity.
Once the game gets going, you should know what to expect. Level after level of sending a ball at a series of bricks, with all of the bricks needing to be destroyed to advance. That’s pretty much it for the single player mode. There is also a local or Live version of multiplayer, allowing you to either team up or go head to head for points, accomplished by blowing up the blocks faster than your opponent. There are two story sections at the start, and two more that can be opened up by winning. Aside from that, there’s not a lot here.
Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre
You might think that a game where you just bounce a ball into bricks over and over again doesn’t have to look great in order to succeed. You’d be right, as there are a ton of mobile versions of this type of game that don’t do much for the eyes. Arkanoid Live! does try to impress though. While you play on a rectangle in the middle of the screen, the backgrounds are fully HD and in motion the whole time you play. They look very pretty, and reminded me a lot of REZ HD. I have to admit that they were sometimes distracting though. When a wave or a line occurred in the background and overlapped behind the playfield, it became easy to lose sight of the trail left by the ball in the game itself. Still, occasional optic confusion aside, the game is very easy to look at. Game effects and animations are all crisp and the game flows as smooth as water.
Graphics Rating: Good
Again, you could easily phone in the sounds on this game. Well, the work that went into the sound effects isn’t as nice as the work that went into the graphics, but there was still some care applied. The music is all a techno, all the time. It’s not bad techno, and it does fit the mood and the graphics. You might want to play something else is all. The actual sound effects are all fine as well, with an occasional overlap of sound as you break a couple of bricks in rapid succession. Also, all of the powerups are announced in a robot effect-voice. Again, it fits, but it makes it hard to hear some of what you’re grabbing.
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
Arkanoid Live! is one of those special games where if the controls don’t work, it isn’t even worth your time. Fortunately, moving a paddle and pressing A is hard to do wrong. You can also hold one or both of the shoulder buttons to double or quadruple your movement speed, which becomes insanely important if you want to bounce the ball and grab a powerup also. There is some lack of feeling of sluggishness in the paddle, so knowing when to move it rapidly will often mean the difference between success and failure.
Most of the gameplay is simple physics, which can actually feel like a learning experience at times. If I hit the ball at a 37 degree angle, what is it going to do when it hits the wall? How is the ricochet going to go? That is part of what makes the game so fun. It’s still a great feeling to get the ball up above all the bricks and “trap” it so that you can just watch it destroy bricks over and over again.
If there is one thing that I’m really upset about though, it is that the powerups don’t stack. Games of this type since Arkanoid came out have let you merge your extras. Extend a board, get frickin’ lasers on it, and then hit the multi-ball for some rapid level clearing. Not so much here. If you have the extended paddle and grab the lasers with it, you’re shrinking back to the normal size. I really didn’t care for that.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Good
Arkanoid Live! can be played over and over again. It was designed that way from the bottom up. You can check your scores on Leaderboards, play alone or with others, and generally just waste time with it. It’s a great game to use to kill five or fifty minutes. There isn’t a huge reason other than it is just fun though. You’re not going to unlock “Arkanoid Prime” or something by playing through it fifty times. There are a few easter egg levels to find, like an Umbrella or a Space Invader shape, but aside from that it’s just a great time waster.
Replayability Rating: Enjoyable
Let’s get the nice thing out of the way first. Arkanoid Live! let’s you select a number of lives before you start, or select to start with a barrier that reflects the ball if you miss it. The barrier will slowly lose effectiveness over time as it gets hit more though. Aside from that, Arkanoid Live! keeps that same 1980’s difficulty level. That means it is planning to separate you from your quarters as fast as possible. One miscalculation on Vaus position, or one unlucky hit from an enemy, means you’re losing a life. You’re going to be using continue a lot. Now, since you’ve already paid your 800 MS points, you don’t have to worry too much about the feeling of losing so many lives. That’s another thing though. At 800 MS points, this is a fairly hefty investment. At half that, I’d be happy to recommend it. 800 is just too much for this game when there are other, much deeper games out there for you at that price point.
Balance Rating: Below Average
So how original is a twenty-six year old game anyway? Sadly, not very. Even when it was first released, Arkanoid was a clone of Atari’s Breakout. So what’s been done to spice up the Xbox Arcade release? Well, as I mentioned, the graphics are pretty nice. The multiplayer options are also worth spending some time with if you love the game. The original boss, DOH, has also been joined by Skull. My problem though is that even the text based part where you see the story setting is up and over with in a hurry. There’s no “press A to continue.” You just have a frantic read that you may or may not be able to get through. The ability to change the rules before you play is nice, but the slavish dedication to the old rules counters that. If you are looking at this as an archival version, then good job Taito. If you’re looking at this as an update to a great game you remember from childhood, look elsewhere.
Originality Rating: Decent
I haven’t doled out a lot of praise so far to Arkanoid Live! That’s all about to change. Personally, I love this type of game. Of the “classic” arcade stable of top down shooters, brick breakers, side scrollers, and yellow circles addicted to pebbles, Arkanoid has always been my favorite type of arcade game. To that end, once I started playing I had a hard time dragging myself away. There’s just something about the way the game puts everything together that I really enjoy. It’s a precursor to games like REZ, Geometry Wars, and even Boom Blox. The trippy backgrounds and pleasant, low-key techno music make for a relaxing counterpoint to the frantic, gotta-get-my-Vaus-over-there! gameplay.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
So should you download it? Depends on a lot of things. If you like the game type, then it’s a must have. If you want something for your kids to do that has zero objectionable content, then go for it. The game will satisfy your need for a challenge if you want something a little more difficult. All that said, I still prefer something like this on a handheld or even a cell phone for that “take it anywhere” feel.
Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre
Arkanoid Live! is a very competent and smoothly done remake of an ancient and venerable video game. The problem is that these days that just isn’t enough to set it apart from the rest. Why aren’t my lasers leaving smoking holes in the bricks? Why can’t I use all of the powerups at once? Why wasn’t the game given an actual story with plot twists, love interests, and betrayals? Sure, you can argue that the game is better for not being dragged down by all that. I just wanted more. Even Magic: The Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers gave you a bit of a background for every deck you played against. Nothing like that exists here to really wow you and make you care beyond the nostalgia factor.
Balance: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Final Score: Above Average Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Arkanoid Live! will cause some fond reminiscing of days of your misbegotten youth spent hucking quarters in dark rooms full of neon and bleeps. However nice the graphics updates are though, there’s not a huge amount of reasons to recommend this game. There are better puzzle games to play and cheaper, more accessible (as in, you don’t need Xbox Live or need to be rooted to a T.V.) versions of the game out there. All that said, is still a blast to play and you’ll likely find the controller hard to abandon if you do grab it, and some decent multiplayer options are in here as well.