Sunday, October 18, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Arkanoid

Retro Game of the Day! Arkanoid

Arkanoid by Taito, put forth into the world in 1986 and released for many, many systems - even still to this day (I just picked up an iPhone version last week!). The very famous NES port arrived in 1987.

I remember first laying my eyes on this machine at the local pizza parlor. Plastered vertically down the side it said in ugly black lettering "Romstar" (the stateside publisher) and the marquee said.. "Arkanoid" - what the heck is an Arkanoid? I strutted up to the machine, took a glance and then "oh, that's an Arkanoid all right-" I was no stranger to brick-breaking games, I thought I had seen the last of them on the Atari 2600 some years ago (the novel but rather dull Breakout, of course). Still, this new machine beckoned. The graphics were very colorful, there was a cool echoey sound to all the effects. Additionally there was not a joystick to be found, but rather a radial controller remniscient of Tempest (and again, paddles were a mainstay of many 2600 games, brick-breakers being no exception). I offered up a quarter..

.. and was instantly hooked. Arkanoid had me in it's clutches. From the moment the intro screen showed the stranded space cruiser firing off an escape ship, to the first moment that I launched that little white ball, I realized that Arkanoid was going to be something interesting. As I broke some blocks, and caught a few dropping capsules with my "bat," I exclaimed "What's this? Powerups, in a brick breaker! This is genius!" It certainly was! The old, tired genre had a completely new strategy element infused into it. Arkanoid had a slew of other novel elements introduced here (floating enemies, blocks with HP, different scene layouts, etc) but the powerups were the star of the show. Grow your bat with an Extend, split the ball into three, get a bonus life, discover a level warp, catch, slow down - and the cream of the crop, the Laser powerup. All of a sudden the little white action button was not merely used for launching a ball, but releasing a volley of shots from your little "ship." You'd watch it morph from an unassuming little deflection device into a weapon, and start blasting away in attempt to knock out those remaining pesky blocks standing between yourself and round-clear. This was an amazing feeling!

I never got very far into Arkanoid (I was never that patient) but every moment spent at that radial dial was a golden one. If I am lucky enough to come across a machine nowadays (it happens!) then you can bet I will feed it a couple of credits!

As noted, the game released on a bevy of home platforms. I picked up the special NES edition, which had the usual graphical decrease in quality but "hey - it looked like Arkanoid!" The catch here was that the game was bundled with a special "mini-rotary control dial," so you could zip your paddle back and forth across the screen with ease (otherwise, you were looking at straight D-Pad control, which is a poor substitute - not very satisfying). I was lucky enough to pick up this version, but the special controller was absurdly cheap in it's construction and fell apart shortly after I took it home. We returned the game and got something else (so disappointed and crushed I was at this travesty!) - that's not to say the game wasn't good, of course.

Arkanoid is a game that has withstood the test of time - in some ways it is quite dated, in other ways it is as fresh as ever (as noted, I will jump on the cabinet anytime I am fortunate to find one!) I need to spend some quality time with the myriad of sequels that have been released (the SNES one always looked very intriguing!) but for now I am having a blast with the iPhone port - check it out!

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