Title Arkanoid Returns
Developer/Publisher Taito
Type Puzzle
English Version Not Available
Reviews #1

Review #1by Sean Aaron

Who hasn't played Arkanoid in the arcade who wasn't born after 1980? Taito decided that Breakout needed an update and produced a game unique enough to be a "classic" in its own right. Now many years later, there is a nice Playstation version that surpasses the original in many respects.

The Game

It should be noted that this is a Japanese game. I have heard no rumours about a US release, and given the poor record shown in bringing Japanese compilations over to the US, I wouldn't expect one. Feel free to write me if you need to know any online sources. You can still buy it pretty cheap (around US$50), but I wouldn't wait too long. Sooooo fire up your modded Playstation and put the disc in!

You can play the basic game with at least three controllers: Normal pad (great for edit mode--more on that later), Mouse (second best controller--not so cool for editing), and Namco Volume Controller (for those who don't know this is the tiny little Playstaton paddle that is only available in Japan. Needless to say this is the kind of game it was made to play, so it is the best controller to use). The analog devices named above are actually supported, meaning you can navigate menus and the like with them--unlike Tempest X3 where you could use the mouse to play the game, but that was it; you had to swap out controllers to do anything else (lame). Control is very good with the Mouse or the Volume controller. I can't speak for the pad because I haven't had the need to use it, but I imagine it's a little stiff by comparison. You can put some English on the ball and change the angle of the shots pretty easily: this helps avoid the trap of repeatedly bouncing the ball in a pattern that misses the last brick that used to happen a lot in the original Breakout game.

The first thing you're shown is a little low-quality CG movie with the big Easter-Island head that is Doh (not to be confused with the Homer Simpson expression ;) floating in space. He eats your little Vaus ship. Yay. Now on to the menu.

You have several menu options: New game, extra mode, edit, squash mode (2-player), and options.

Let's start with the options. You can set the game to autosave your scores and options, adjust in-game volume--music and sfx are one track, so you can't turn off the music without the sound--select difficulty, how many lives, and lastly, adjust the position of the screen. Apparently this was in the arcade (I'm guessing) so the screen is squished a little and you can move it up/down or left/right. You can also adjust the speed of the paddle here (you can do it in-game as well, but it's a little confusing). The option screen is all English; in fact the only Japanese you'll see is when you're prompted to save, which is pretty easy to figure out (just press X for yes).

The game itself is a cross between Arkanoid and Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh, which I owned for the PC and also featured an edit mode like Arkanoid Returns. The game looks identical in graphic quality to the original with some differences. There are nice background graphics of cities or abstract scenery which is colorful and adds a nice touch. All on-screen objects cast shadows now, in addition to having that beveled, quasi-3D look to them. Your Vaus has moving gears on it now as well. For the uninitiated this is essentially Breakout with powerups and suped-up graphics. There is a mixture of powerups from Arkanoid and Revenge of Doh. You still have the basics: Laser, Capture, Expand, Break, Disrupt, Slow, and Player, but there are new ones as well: T, G, and M.

Powerups are released by certain blocks when they are broken and take the form of capsules that slowly decend towards the bottom of the screen. If your Vaus (paddle) touches one you get that ability. With the exception of the T (trap?) powerup, only one ability can be posessed at a time, and each successive powerup grabbed will pre-empt the previous one. Here's a description of them (the capsule is designated with a letter and a color):

* L (laser): Transforms the Vaus into a shooting machine. By pressing the launch button, you can now destroy enemies and destructible bricks. A lifesaver for those tough levels.
* C (capture): The ball sticks to the Vaus when it touches it and can be re-launched. Your Vaus now has a little arc of lightning over it.
* E (expand): The Vaus gets wider, making it easier to deflect the ball--very handy when it's moving at an accelerated rate. Unlike earlier versions of the game, Expand is cumulative in Arkanoid Returns (i.e. if you have Expand and grab it again, the paddle gets even wider--!).
* B (break): Opens doors on the sides of the screen that the Vaus can slip through to go to the next level. Each door leads to a different level.
* D (disrupt): Splits the ball into 8--can't remember for sure, but it's definitely more than the 3 from the original game--until another powerup is grabbed or you lose them all. Nice to do when you have the ball at the top of the screen.
* S (slow): Slows the ball down a bit, and is cumulative (the more you get the slower the ball becomes). You will want this as the game progresses and the ball speeds up.
* P (player): 1UP!
* G (unnamed): The ball becomes a glowing orange sphere and destroys a wide path of bricks without stopping as it bounces around. Can not destroy indestructible bricks.
* M (missile): Ball becomes a green streak that ploughs through all bricks in its way--just like the G powerup. It appears to take out less bricks than the G powerup, though. Like G, the missile cannot destroy indestructible bricks.
* T (trap): Creates an energy barrier underneath the Vaus. The barrier stays until a ball hits it, regardless of what other powerups are taken afterwards. The barrier will reflect any ball that hits it--it's like a free miss...

The bricks are more colorful than in the original and there are some new ones. As in Breakout, destroying all bricks (by whatever means) allows you to go to the next level, which features a new brick layout. In addition to the normal bricks which can conceal powerups, there are also transparent bricks that show the color of the capsule inside. As in the original game, there are special gold and silver bricks. In Arkanoid Returns you have two types of silver bricks--2 and 3 shots to destroy; the brick shows visible damage when it takes hits that do not destroy it. There are two types of gold bricks. Both are indestructible, and they look different (one appears to have a white gem in it), but aside from appearance and making a different tone when hit they appear to be the same--in function at any rate.

Enemies from the original game also appear, but act differently. Players of Arkanoid will remember little geometric shapes that came down from the top of the screen. If the Vaus or the ball touched them, they were destroyed. When the ball destroyed one, its course was altered, so bouncing the ball into one close to the bottom of the screen was a bad idea. In this game there are four distinct enemies with different effects on gameplay:

* The blue segmented cone (hard to describe) acts the same as in the first game: if the ball hits it, it is destroyed and the ball bounces away.
* The green saucer (it looks like a small, green ufo) explodes on impact destroying nearby bricks--verrry handy :).
* The cluster of colored balls breaks apart when hit by the ball. The three balls then proceed to bounce around like your ball, destroying bricks. If they hit the Vaus they are destroyed, so they only last until they go off the bottom of the screen. Kinda handy, though.
* Lastly, there is a new enemy unique to this game: The sparking S. This enemy shoots off sparks in four directions periodically and makes an annoying buzzing sound. If the ball hits it when it's not "buzzing" it is destroyed. If the ball hits the S when it's buzzing it gets reflected off randomly and the S remains--it becomes rather irritating when trying to hit the last brick :-).

I'm not sure how many levels there are, but you do get the option to continue should you desire to see them all in one sitting. You can also sign your name up when you get a good score. If you continue your score is reset--unlike Rampage World Tour.

Before I forget, when the game is paused you can fine-tune the speed of the Vaus' back-and-forth movement by pressing the launch button. You will be presented with a screen that essentially asks you to set the distance on the screen from left to right. You can then set a number between 0 and 220 for both sides. What this refers to is the number pixels (or some unit of measurement) your Vaus can cover as screen width. The smaller the difference in numbers, the faster the Vaus will move, because it essentially thinks that the screen is only that wide. I always set Left to 0 and Right to 220 for more precise control. Setting both variables to the same number means that your Vaus will be stuck in whatever position on the screen that number represents, so it isn't a good idea to do that. Anyway this took me awhile to figure out, and I'm not sure why it's there since there is a speed control setting in the Options screen.

In addition to the normal game, there is an alternate version (extra mode) with different brick patterns and some new bricks to deal with. These bricks are noticeably different from the others and do nasty things like fall down on your Vaus after they're shot by the laser or hit by the ball. You have to be careful here...

I haven't played the two player mode, but from the pictures it appears to be 2-player co-op with two paddles on-screen at once, one above the other. From watching the in-game demo, whoever the ball touches last scores the points--even if it results from powerups or random events! It seems a little unfair because if the player who's on top is really good; player 2 won't score too much--but this is from the demo, so there's probably more to it.

On top of all this you get to design your own brick layouts, save them and play them! The d-pad works best for this mode (for some reason the mouse doesn't move around very well on this screen--and no, my mouse rollers weren't dirty ;); the volume controller is totally useless here.

You can lay down any color of bricks, plus the silver and gold bricks, and powerup bricks. Unfortunately you can't hide powerups inside normal bricks, so you won't get any surprise powerups. As a result you must choose them wisely for play balance. Unlike Revenge of Doh for the PC, the levels you create are not integrated with the rest of the game; also unlike Revenge of Doh you can only save one edited screen per memory card--yes that's correct, if you clear the screen and make a new one and save it, it will automatically overwrite your previous screen. This was a total downer when I discovered it and I've decided to delete the extra block that the edited screen took up as a result. It's not much fun to play one level, but I may be making a mistake somewhere. I've played around with it a bit but if I'm overlooking something, someone please correct me so I can get more enjoyment out of edit mode!

Summary

What can I say? I still own this one. The music is excellent ambient techno, the graphics are sharp; there is no slowdown and you get several great game modes. What more could you ask for? Aside from the major disappointment of the edit mode the only thing I would have done differently is had separate volume control for FX and Music, because I'd like to hear the music better. Other than that this is a must buy for the classic enthusiast.