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Virtually Overlooked: Arkanoid


With the 30th anniversary celebration of Space Invaders (probably) coming to a close, celebrated most recently by the release of Space Invaders Get Even on WiiWare, I find myself brimming with happy feelings about anything that falls in the category of "classic Taito." Arkanoid is a perfect companion piece to Space Invaders, sharing the same basic layout as the shooter: a player character on the bottom of the screen, moving left and right and aiming projectiles at obstacles arranged on the top half of the screen.

DS updates of both games were released simultaneously, and while Space Invaders Extreme turned out to be one of the best games of the year, Arkanoid DS proved to be merely a pretty good Arkanoid-type game. Arkanoid deserves a lot better than that, and while rereleasing the NES game without the paddle controller isn't ideal, it would at least allow new gamers to familiarize themselves with real Arkanoid.

Arkanoid follows the same basic formula as every post-Breakout block-breaking game. You move a paddle on the bottom of the screen to intercept a ball and send it into a cleverly-arranged set of rectangular bricks on the top. Some of the bricks take multiple hits to destroy, and some can't be destroyed. Occasionally, powerup items will fall down that extend your paddle, equip it with a projectile weapon, slow the ball, or provide some other benefit. Enemies will lazily float down from the top of the stage to mess with your trajectory.

It's hard to say what elevates Arkanoid above the thousands of clones that followed (one of which is available on WiiWare). Most of them have extra features or gimmicks, but those often feel like too much. Arkanoid's static levels and modest array of powerups offer just enough variation without having extra junk getting in the way of the crux of the game: moving the paddle around and breaking blocks.

One thing that Arkanoid and its immediate sequels have that no other block breaking game has (including, sadly, Arkanoid DS) is this strange prog-rock sci-fi aesthetic. The logo's signature typeface, the trippy tiled backgrounds, and the vaguely abstract enemies give Arkanoid a unique, memorable look.

The catch with Arkanoid on the Virtual Console, of course, is that it wouldn't include the Vaus Controller, the NES paddle controller that was bundled with each cartridge. Wiimote motion sensing or pointer-based analog control might work (it worked okay for Cutie-Q in Namco Museum Remix), but I doubt Nintendo would allow that kind of work to be done on something that isn't a big first-party game like Pokémon Snap.

Arkanoid remains playable with the D-pad, in any case, and I really want the opportunity to give my "dollar votes" in support of the notion that Arkanoid is rad.

Virtually Overlooked is a weekly feature that spotlights games that aren't yet on the Virtual Console, but should be. Want more Virtually Overlooked? Check out the first year!

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