Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Bat 'n' Ball Games #1

Arkanoid (1986)
By: Taito  Genre: Bat 'n' Ball  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 27,690 (with control pad - eeek!)
Also Available For: NES, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple Mac, PC, Commodore 64, MSX, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Atari 8-bit, Apple II, TRS-80
Download For: Xbox Live Arcade, Wii Virtual Console, iPhone

The history of videogames is a convoluted one. Many disagree even on what constitutes the first ever example of a videogame, nevermind some of the more intricate facts and figures, but one thing that surely cannot be disputed is the first popular game. Computer Space, unveiled by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney in 1971 brought gaming to the masses for the first time but it was too complicated for many users tastes. Realising this, the two talented engineers went back to the drawing board and returned the following year with Pong, which of course soon became a worldwide smash-hit. It's simple tennis-style gameplay was hugely enjoyable for two players but what about one?

Fortunately the solo-gamer was soon catered for as well when Atari released Breakout. Instead of a ball being knocked backwards and forwards between two bats, this time the top of the screen was filled with bricks which the ball would slowly destroy one by one. This concept was a superb one but due to its simplicity it was also ripe for some improvements and new ideas and these reached their peak with Arkanoid! This classic, released by Taito in 1986, shares much with the game that inspired it but it's got a good few tricks up its sleeve too. For starters it comes with a backstory, although I'm not sure it's one that makes a huge amount of sense!

Apparently, "in an unknown time and era the mothership 'Arkanoid' was destroyed but a spacecraft, 'Vaus', escaped, only to end up trapped in space warped by someone..." Eeek, mysterious! Anyway, regardless of its rather vague, not to mention unnecessary story, it's this Vaus that you'll spend the game in control of. This arcade version used a paddle controller to do this, much like the original Breakout did, and this allows for the quick and precise movements needed to progress through the 32 single-screen stages. Each of these is filled with various arrangements of different coloured bricks which you must destroy by knocking the ball into them and keeping it in play by deflecting it with the Vaus.

Yep, that's about as complicated as things get! If the ball falls off the bottom of the screen, it'll cost you a life, so the object is to just keep going as long as you can, and the Vaus can only move left of right so this can get pretty tricky! Most of the bricks take a single strike to destroy but there are a couple of exceptions. Silver bricks take between two and five hits to destroy and gold ones are indestructible. These are of course usually positioned strategically around the screen to make access to the other bricks more difficult! Something else that does this is the aliens that appear from the top of each stage after a short while.

These pesky things are easily destroyed by the ball but doing so sends it flying off at a random angle too. The best of the new features introduced here though is the power-ups. Some of the bricks release capsules when destroyed which drift slowly down the screen and each has a different but helpful effect: Enlarge (increases the size of the Vaus), Laser (equips it with lasers - my favourite!), Slow (slows the ball down), Disruption (splits the ball into three), Catch (catches the ball allowing you to reposition), Break (opens a warp to the next stage, and Player (extra life). These splendid capsules obviously make life a lot easier (and more interesting) but don't lose a life grabbing one!

Arkanoid may have been released a full decade after Breakout but the simplicity of both games means neither really requires a huge amount of computing power. Indeed, while the graphics here are tidy and colourful there's nothing really noteworthy about them and there's no music at all, just a few sound effects, but none of that really matters with a game like this, which is still regarded as the pinnacle of its genre. There's good reason for its reputation too. It was always amazingly playable and that remains the case today. Control over the Vaus is as precise as you could ask for thanks to the paddle control and the collision-detection is ultra-accurate too, both of which help you to make steady progress through the game, although the ball does increase in speed the longer you play which takes some getting used to (and lightning reflexes!). That specialised controller does make the game a little unrealistic to play via emulation though, so unless you're lucky enough to find this cabinet anywhere, or even more lucky enough to actually own one, you'll probably be better off with one of the mighty fine conversions (the Speccy version took up a sizable chunk of my youth!). Regardless of which format you play Arkanoid on though, you'll still no doubt play it to death - it was and remains one of the most addictive games around!

RKS Score: 9/10


  1. I love Arkanoid. I was able to beat it on my Apple IIC as a kid way back in 1988. Nowadays though I can never get past the fourth level on my Famicom. The vaus controller is a must as the regular controller just doesn't cut it. My vaus controller is a little off though, so I am cursed, doomed to never get past the fourth level.

    Anyway, nice post!

  2. Blimey, you must have fast reflexes! I've never been able to beat it without cheating and even then only the Speccy version. Good old 'PBRAIN'... :P

  3. Oh Arkanoid, such a wonderful game and many happy hours spend sat in front of my C64. A great example of a pick up and play title that remains popular today thanks to touchscreen technology.

    Also was a big fan of Batty, especially the 2-up mode.

  4. That's a very good point, Stiggy, I might have to see if there's a version for my phone! :P As for Batty, I'm sure that can be looked at later in this series :)

  5. A seriously intense game, this. It demands your full attention and concentrations at all times - no room for error. It's still great to play though and a rare arcade rip-off that is actually miles better than the original.

    Outside of the arcade original, the best way to play these is on Atari ST and Amiga thanks to the intuitive mouse control (just make sure you've got a decent mouse).