Thursday, January 31, 2008

What I'm Playing: Arkanoid DS

I don't know what it is about Arkanoid. I am old enough to remember when retro games were new. I still enjoy playing many of the classics -- Pacman, Scramble, Space Invaders -- for their pure unadulterated-by-story-or-graphics game mechanics. But there are just a few of those old games that I have a real soft spot for.

Arkanoid, DigDug, Mr. Do! ... There is something about these particular games that attracts me. It isn't the game play. Arkanoid is nothing more than Breakout in portrait mode with a nonsensical story and a few extra powerups that drop randomly from above. But that's just it! Those extras give it that bit of character, that twist, that keeps me coming back.

So when I heard they were redoing Arkanoid for the DS, I was torn. It would be my third purchase of Arkanoid (I already had it on the Macintosh and SNES). Besides, Taito's last remake (Dig Dug: Digging Strike) was so awful, the controls so horrendous, I thought my attraction to nostalgic games would be destroyed forever. But still... Arkanoid?

My hesitation was swept away when I learned they were bundling a new peripheral with Arkanoid; a miniature paddle that replicates the original arcade feel. I know it is a toy, I know it is a ploy for my affection, but I'm a sucker. I ordered the bundle immediately.

There's very little I like more than a quirky new gizmo, especially a game gizmo. So the paddle controller put Arkanoid into the "must have" category. And I've got to say it was well worth it. The paddle itself works perfectly. It is small but it has the weight and resistance of the original arcade machines.

But equally important, the game itself is the Arkanoid we know and love. The movement is smooth, the graphics crisp and familiar, the controls tight and comfortable. There are some changes from previous versions I have played: I haven't yet encountered the warp gates from the Revenge of Doh and you start with a barrier at the bottom of the screen that essentially provides three "saves". Mind you, I haven't progressed too far yet, so things may change later.

Also there are a host of customizations possible -- such as different backgrounds, music, graphics, and borders -- that you can "buy" with points you collect from playing.

But essentially Arkanoid on the DS is Arkanoid: batting a puck back and forth knocking out bricks through level after level. So if you are looking for something deep or beyond pure addictive mechanics, this game is not for you. But if you do have a fondness for mindless retro gaming in a shiny wrapper, Arkanoid is well worth it.

I should just mention, Arkanoid is currently a Japanese import. But those -- like myself -- who do not know Japanese don't need to worry. Most of the menus are in English and those that aren't (such as the customizations) are easy to navigate with a little trial and error. The only really tough menus are those for internet play. I haven't figured those out quite yet...

Funny thing is, despite it being the ostensible reason for my purchase, after a day or so I don't use the paddle controller much anymore. I do occasionally plug it in just for the quirky retro experience. But Arkanoid gives you three different control modes: paddle, stylus, and buttons. They all work equally well and I have ended up settling on the buttons (moving with the left/right D-pad) as my favorite. The buttons are at least as intuitive as the paddle and the game is far more portable that way.

With or without the paddle controller, Arkanoid DS is a great game for any Arkanoid fans out there.

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