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Retro Corner: 'Arkanoid'

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'Arkanoid' screenshot
First Released: Arcade (1986)
Now Available On: Xbox Live, Wii Virtual Console, iPhone

When smartphones were not even a twinkle in the tech industry's eye, the arcades were the place to enjoy fast and accessible gaming. Based on Atari's 1976 arcade title Breakout, the Taito-made Arkanoid has managed to endure from arcade cabinets, through 8-bit consoles and into the modern day on consoles and the iPhone. This just goes to show that good gameplay never really dies.

The idea behind the game is wonderfully simple. You control the "Vaus" spaceship, essentially a paddle, and have to use this to prevent an "energy ball" from dropping off the bottom of the screen. The trick is that there are rows of coloured bricks in the air and you must use the ball to strike them, causing them to disappear. When all the bricks are gone, you move on to the next level.

'Arkanoid' screenshot
The story is delightfully vague. Even the game itself states that the time and era of the narrative is "unknown". A message on the opening adds: "After the mothership Arkanoid was destroyed, a spacecraft Vaus scrambled away from it. But only to be trapped in space warped by someone..." Um, OK.

But really who cares about story when gameplay is this good and addictive? There is real skill involved in angling the paddle to get the optimum shot on the ball, and this becomes even trickier as the bricks start to disappear. You have to really angle the shots with precision to get a lone brick, while also not risking the ball from disappearing off the bottom of the screen.

The game ramps up the action with enemy ships and a number of different variations in the bricks, such as ones that have to be hit multiple times. Then there are levels with yellow/gold blocks that cannot be destroyed, requiring you to be more careful with your shots to get around them and into the smashable blocks. In a sense, the game is a bit like Pong meets Space Invaders.

'Arkanoid' screenshot
Alongside the ball, you get a range of bonus gameplay options with which to blast through the levels. Destroying certain blocks drops down power-up items, including some really cool options. One bonus sends out multiple balls to maximise the destruction; another conjures a ball that can crash through anything in its path; and a rather exciting power-up equips laser canons to the paddle. Oh yes.

Players can bounce their way through 30-plus stages in the game and then take on the final boss, Doh, who has a head a bit like the Easter Island statues. (As a side point, I wonder if Matt Groening ever played Arkanoid before he created Homer Simpson.) Doh is apparently wreaking havoc by scattering blocks throughout the solar system (goodness knows why), and it's up to you to take him down.

Arkanoid's success spawned multiple versions of the game, including Tournament Arkanoid and the rather hilariously titled Arkanoid II: Revenge of Doh, both in 1987; Arkanoid - Doh It Again (ha ha) and Arkanoid Returns, both in 1997. These were initially released on arcade, but later ported to computers and consoles with varying degrees of success. Arkanoid DS was released on Nintendo DS in 2007, and the most recent game is Arkanoid Plus! on WiiWare.

'Arkanoid' screenshot
Arkanoid has also been referenced in other titles, such as id Software putting a version of the game in one of the accessible computer terminals in Doom 3's Resurrection of Evil expansion pack, instead titled "Hellanoid". But wherever you play it, Arkanoid endures due to its great gameplay. The rise of smartphone and casual games in recent years shows that sometimes simplicity really is the best policy, and it all started with titles such as Arkanoid.

Do you have any fond memories of Arkanoid? Post a comment below:

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