Breakout was a standalone arcade hit of the 1970s, simply because it was unique and addictive. It took the best elements of Pong and combined them with something new, and many competitors rushed to clone it. A decade later, the first noteworthy Japanese competitor to Atari’s brick breaking supremacy was Taito’s Arkanoid. Arkanoid revived the Breakout fever by adding new innovations to the formula, such as powerups and a final boss fight. Arkanoid was imitated as Breakout was, and Taito released numerous ports and sequels on a variety of consoles over the years.
The most recent offspring of Taito’s 1980s arcade success is Arkanoid DS, Taito’s attempt to spread Arkanoid to a new generation of casual players. This game isn’t really a sequel, but more of a celebration of Arkanoid’s legacy; like it or not, you won’t find many new innovations in Arkanoid DS, just some nostalgia, a couple game modes, a fresh coat of paint and an large quantity of the original gameplay.
Yes, Arkanoid DS is basically the same gameplay without any new features, but a few of the liberties Taito took with the DS adaptation might be unpalatable to longtime fans. The art style has been changed to a cute, cuddly anime theme reminiscent of Meteos, but considering that it has little impact on gameplay, the style isn’t a huge distraction. The big change is with the play format—Arkanoid DS is played in the vertical style, much like its sister game, Space Invaders Extreme.
While this may seem natural for the DS, having the play field stretched between both screens, it doesn’t work in principle. The actual field is a narrow corridor bounded on both sides by large blocks of empty space. The bricks are at the top of this corridor, with the “Vaus” paddle all the way at the bottom. Compared to other iterations of Arkanoid, it takes a long time for the ball to bounce all the way from the paddle up to the bricks, and just as long to get back down; this leads to a feeling of lag and unresponsiveness. Not only that, but the dead space between the two screens sits just a couple centimeters below the bricks, making the problem even worse. This new format makes a game where judging trajectory is key artificially difficult.
Thankfully, the rest of the basic gameplay isn’t all that difficult, even when set to hard mode. Because the playing field is so narrow, the paddle is very hard to miss, and even then there’s a thin barrier to keep the ball from falling off screen. The problem, however, is that the barrier represents your lives. You can set the barrier to a maximum of five hits, and it is refreshed every round, but if the ball does manage to get through it’s game over. Continuing from a game over drops your score to zero, and if you quit without saving your progress, you go all the way back to level one. Granted, it’s very hard to actually lose, but I prefer the old model where the lives represented the number of paddles you had left.
Arkanoid’s trademark items make the game even easier—expect to see the laser, ball catch, ball cloner, speed enhancer and the other powerups that separated Arkanoid from other Breakout clones back in the 80s.
Players looking for more of a challenge might want to take a break from the traditional arcade “clear game” and try out the objective-based “quest game.” Instead of beating successive rounds, your goal here is to accomplish a task within a set of parameters, such as clearing all of a certain color of bricks in a time limit, or clearing a specified number of bricks with a limited number of bounces. Some of these goals are quite creative and challenging, taking a mastery of the game to accomplish. The items, however, make some of the challenges much easier; for instance, trying to clear some pesky yellow blocks up in the corner is a piece of cake when you have the laser. This makes winning or losing these challenges largely dependent on the powerups you get.
You unlock challenges by beating levels in the arcade mode, and beating the challenges gets you medals. These medals can be traded in for different board schemes, music tracks, ball and paddle colors, but those are the only unlockables available. Spending your hard won medals on such superfluous extras is a little anticlimactic. The extra music tracks are cool, and the tunes in this game are catchy, but it’s a little frustrating that you must unlock most of the game’s audio portion.Arkanoid DS does offer a significant multiplayer mode, which can be played against the computer, or in four player mode multi card, single card or Wifi play. If you can stand the friend codes, it’s a good experience with plenty of options over control and play mode. Playing vs. the computer also gives you medals, so it’s another way to get the goodies a little faster.
Taito’s update to their cloned, but innovative Breakout imitation fiddles around with the classic formula a little too much to make an old school arcade enthusiast comfortable with it. It’s a difficult fit for the DS’s vertical style, and I would’ve preferred putting the action on the bottom screen and the score details on the top one. The one change that does improve the gameplay is the stylus control; it’s surprisingly comfortable and works better than the D-pad. Publisher Square Enix released an arcade style paddle peripheral for Arkanoid DS in Japan, but didn’t include it in the American release—too bad, because it’s supposedly very authentic. I guess it’s a good thing the stylus control works so well.
Arkanoid DS isn’t as impressive or addictive of an update as Space Invaders Extreme, but it’s a whole lot of gameplay for your $20. The lengthy arcade mode and quest challenges will keep you busy for a while, and if you have friends who really like Arkanoid, there’s plenty of multiplayer to go around. As far as I know, Arkanoid DS is the first official portable version of the game, although you’ll probably find a suitable clone on any list of cell phone games. Arkanoid DS isn’t a very exciting package, but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth in raw content.