Arkanoid DS «

It’s now officially old goat week here at GameSpy, what with veteran Japanese game developer Taito re-releasing not one but two of its ancient coin-op classics on the Nintendo DS. Luckily, one of the two, Space Invaders Extreme, is so cleverly revamped yet so true to its roots that old fans with good memories aren’t the only ones who’ll appreciate it. The other, Arkanoid DS, isn’t quite so magical on the small screen. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just that it loses something in the translation.

In the mid-80s, Arkanoid was a staple in pubs and bars and arcades across North America. Despite its imaginative backstory involving heroes and villains and satellites and all things outer space, the game came across like a technologically upgraded — and oh so addictive — version of Breakout. It asked you to fire a little ball along an elongated, 2D playing surface toward a formation of blocks. Hitting a block would make it disappear and move you further toward your goal of obliterating all the blocks.

You’d hit the ball with something called a “Vaus,” which was purportedly a space ship but in reality was nothing more than a paddle that you’d move back and forth across the screen. The ball would bounce off your paddle toward the blocks, ricocheting off the one you’d hit, then perhaps off a few more, and likely off the walls at the side and the rear of the playing surface, and eventually rebound back toward your paddle.

The ball would slither along sluggishly in the early stages, but it picked up speed as the game moved on. Toward the end of a round it would just fly across the screen, ricocheting this way and that, and leaving you to try, often futilely, to get your paddle in place before it went screaming by. Failure to do so would cost you a life.

But there was more to it than that. Not all the blocks would disappear with a single hit. Some would take two or three hits, and others wouldn’t evaporate at all, remaining there instead as permanent guardians for the removable blocks sitting behind them. And that would force you to get creative with your shots. The further toward the edge of your paddle you’d make contact with the ball, the more acute the trajectory of its bounce. Expert players would know precisely where they’d need to make contact in order to guide the ball where they wanted it to go. Sneaking it past the formation so that it would hit the rear wall then bounce back and forth crazily between the wall and the back lines of the blocks was one of the primary goals.

And then there were the power-ups. When hit, certain blocks dropped little capsules that would, if you caught them, help stack the odds in your favor. Some capsules slowed the ball. Others made your Vaus wider or tripled the number of balls from one to three. The best power-up of all armed your Vaus with a block-killing gun. But some of the power-ups were power-downs, shrinking your Vaus or causing it to lose whatever power-up you were currently using. The real catch was that in your haste to catch the ball, you’d often be forced to snag a capsule along the way — whether it was good or bad.

Clearly, Arkanoid could turn even the coolest customer into a sweaty, nervous wreck.

And so it is in the DS remake. Taito has pretty much replicated the look and the concept of the original so that a new generation can enjoy an oldie but goodie. Unfortunately, Arkanoid on the DS is at the mercy of the physical constraints of the DS. And that poses a few problems.

 

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