Review by melvoin

"A painful reimagining of a classic arcade game"

When a company tries to re-imagine an old hit for a new generation, alterations are often made which can ruin a classic formula. Having released several remakes of their storied arcade catalog in recent years to jarring reviews, Taito should know such hazards as well as anyone. Their latest offering, Arkanoid DS, delivers much content and tries hard to live up to its predecessors, but again fiddles too much with the original formula, making it a difficult game for even die-hard fans to enjoy.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the original Arkanoid was a relatively simple arcade game about a paddle, a bouncing ball, and a wall of bricks. Though the designers gussied it up by calling the paddle a "spaceship" and the ball a "power sphere" or some such nonsense, the basic objective was still to break all the bricks with the bouncing ball without allowing it to fall past the paddle. Basically it was a clone of the ancient arcade game "Breakout," but it expanded upon the formula with power-ups, new brick styles, and enemies which would float around the level. The game was quite a hit in the arcades in the mid 80's, and spawned several ports, sequels, and clones across many systems.

The history lesson aside, how does Arkanoid DS fare in replicating the brick-busting fun of the original arcade game? Perhaps the question should be, "What does it do right?"

At best, Arkanoid DS manages to remain a technically operable ball-and-paddle simulation. Gameplay is stretched vertically across the two screens, with the touch screen being used to slide the paddle, and the down or B button being used to launch the ball and to operate the "laser" powerup. An inferior button-only combination of controls is also available if you'd like to inhibit your chances of success. The controls generally pose no problem, and the game's physics are what you'd expect.

The usual array of Arkanoid power-ups is present, including, among others, the laser, which allows you to shoot the bricks, the disruptor, which splits the ball into three balls, and the megaball, which allows your ball to cut through blocks like a knife through butter.

There are 130 levels in the standard mode, which could also be seen as a negative, considering the game feels like work to play. The game's structure takes a pyramidal branching path so that you only play a fraction of the levels in one sitting. Also included is the "Quest Mode," where you play individual levels with an objective, such as hitting a certain number of blocks within a time limit.

One nice feature about the game is that the in-game backgrounds, sprites, and sound can all be customized via purchases from the game's "store" via tokens collected during gameplay. Also, there is a simple multiplayer mode where two players challenge the same board simultaneously to see who can finish it first. This mode can also be played over Wi-Fi with up to four players. It's not too much fun, but at least it's there.

That's all for the positives. Now to the problems, and boy does this game have em in spades.

To start with, the bricks are square. Yes, you heard me right, the bricks are SQUARE(1x1 shaped). This flies in the face of all previous games, not only in the series, but in the genre, where the bricks have always been rectangular(2x1 shaped). Sometimes it pays to be a maverick, but not in this case. I suppose the square bricks are intended to compensate for the extremely narrow playfield, but they also make it incredibly difficult to aim the ball into tight spaces, which is only exacerbated by the two-screen design, which we'll get into later.

Another problem is the fact that the player does not have lives. Rather, there is a barrier below the paddle which can be hit three times and recharges fully(!) between levels. This serves to make the game quite easy and boring to play. The first time through the game, on normal settings, being a completely average Arkanoid player, I actually made it to the 26th level without dying, and I probably could have done so while reading a magazine. Though the barrier's strength can be toggled and even removed, doing the latter will force you to play a no-miss run, since you only get one life. Infinite continues are available, but using one will erase your score and any tokens you have earned.

The barrier situation alone ruins the game, but there's so much more. This game should not have been designed to play across two screens. Like any DS game that attempts it, there is a large area of dead space between the screens where you can't see what is happening. Because of this, bricks appear only on the top screen, while your paddle is at the very bottom of the touch screen. This creates an enormous amount of space between your paddle and the bricks, which, along with the barrier, makes it virtually impossible for a decent player to die, except in instances where the game's other design flaws force death upon you.

One such flaw, and another game-breaker, is the "dead space" itself. Rather than move directly between the two screens, the ball literally disappears into the physical space between them, often causing you to lose track of it completely. There is so much space in this "chasm," in fact, that the ball can literally bounce off a wall and change direction while it's in there! Though death does not come easily in this game, if it does, it's usually because you lost track of the ball in the chasm. And don't even get me started on following 3 balls at the same time across the dead zone, or the trick which is played on your eyes when the ball hits the bottom of an indestructible brick placed slightly above the chasm.

Also, remember the square-shaped bricks? It's hard enough to hit them with precision already, but add the fact that you're aiming between two screens with a huge chasm in the middle and it's nigh impossible. Be prepared to get stuck playing later levels for ten minutes at a time trying to fit your ball through a tiny square-shaped hole to get past a row of indestructible bricks. Even with the "catch" power-up, which allows you to catch the ball, aim, and release it, threading this needle is a time-consuming chore, and success is mostly the province of complete luck.

If the broken nature of the game wasn't enough, Arkanoid DS simply doesn't feel like Arkanoid. Beyond residing within the same genre and using some of the sound effects and incidental music from the original, Arkanoid DS has all the personality of an amateur Flash game. The presentation is generic, lifeless, and cutesy, using silly deformed cartoon characters ripped right out of Namco's "Mr. Driller." There are no enemies to be found anywhere in the game, and the iconic Arkanoid nemesis "Doh" fails to make a single appearance. Graphically, the game ranges from dull to downright ugly, even when using the custom backgrounds and sprites. And to top it all off, the music, which is nicely sampled for a DS game, happens to be some of the most generic, repetitive, and downright irritating Techno ever conceived. Thankfully, it can be toggled off on the options screen.

A video game should never feel like work to play, and a player should not find himself choosing the hardest difficulty level just to make it end faster. Both of these phenomena were present in my time with Arkanoid DS, which manages to miss the mark in almost every way imaginable. From its bland presentation to its blasphemous and game-breaking changes to the formula, Arkanoid DS is a black mark on the franchise and an embarrassment to one of the classic arcade games of yesteryear. Avoid it at all costs.

Pros
- Lots of levels
- Highly customizable

Cons
- Not fun to play
- It's not Arkanoid
- Lifeless presentation


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 01/11/10

Game Release: Arkanoid DS (US, 06/17/08)


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