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DS  header logo

Arkanoid DS

For: DS

Without a paddle

Product: Arkanoid DS | Publisher: Square Enix | Format: DS | Genre: Conversion, Retro | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network), sharing one cartridge | Version: US
Arkanoid DS DS, thumbnail 1
It's a sad fact that we live in a society that seems to be obsessed with youth and ignorant of anything old or outdated. Switch on a TV set and you're likely to be bombarded with images of fresh-faced metrosexuals advertising the latest MP3 player or swanky mobile phone, while the more mature members of the population are cruelly sidelined into appearing in commercials for Werther's Originals.

Thankfully Japanese video game veteran Taito has a little more respect for things from the past. The company has already given some of its older titles the opportunity to mix it up with the younger generation and is now foraging even more enthusiastically through its considerable back-catalogue to give us some enhanced games from yesteryear.

Released alongside Space Invaders Extreme, Arkanoid DS is an updated version of the classic 1986 'ball and bat' arcade game, which in turn is heavily indebted to Atari's seminal Breakout. These titles rank as some of the most pure examples of video gaming, chiefly because they're essentially based on the play mechanic seen in Atari's groundbreaking table tennis simulator Pong.

Bearing this in mind, can such a release really hack it in today's competitive market, even with modern embellishments?

For hardcore fans of the original, here's the good news: Arkanoid DS is, by and large, a dependable and thoroughly honest recreation of the arcade game you know, love and wasted countless amounts of pocket money on all those years ago. The game showcases an intuitive touchscreen control method which does a pretty efficient job of replicating the distinctive analogue paddle interface seen in the arcade original.

Those of you savvy enough to follow events in the import market will be well aware that the Japanese version of Arkanoid DS actually came bundled with a dedicated paddle peripheral which bolted into the DS's GBA slot and provided an experience so authentic you'd have to buy the original arcade cabinet to better it. Sadly, the same can't be said of the western release.

We're guessing that the publishers didn't want to shoulder the increased cost of bundling this unique controller with the game and lamentably Arkanoid DS's appeal is severely curtailed as a result of this decision. The controls as they stand are still perfectly acceptable, but playing without the paddle is much like owning a really smart BMX but being forced by your mum to ride around with the stabilizers attached – it works, but just doesn't feel right.

Putting this concern aside for a moment, there are still positive aspects to this particular update. Taito has wisely kept the visual enhancements to a minimum, ensuring that the game looks clean and presentable without destroying the simplicity that made the original release so aesthetically engaging. That said, there's the opportunity to unlock garish backgrounds should you find the default set-up to be too staid for your liking.

The music proves to a big deviation from the soundtrack heard in the original, however. Zuntata, Taito's legendary in-house music team, has crafted some thoroughly likeable techno-tinged accompaniment that compliments the action perfectly. Naturally, those of you that harbour an intense hatred for this form of music may not be quite as enamoured with what's on offer here, but you can always turn the volume down.

In terms of gameplay, things are mostly as you might remember them. The aim is to clear the playfield of blocks by hitting them with a ball. Using your bat (which is actually a spaceship, fact fans) you can send the ball in different directions but must also prevent said projectile from reaching the bottom of the screen. Arkanoid improves on the basic Breakout concept by adding power-ups – such as a wider bat and the ability to make the ball 'stick' to your onscreen avatar instead of rebound – but essentially the core gameplay is the same.

When you've exhausted the standard Clear mode (which, as the title suggests, is all about removing the blocks from each stage) you can try your hand at the Quest portion of the game. Here you're given set objectives to fulfil, making the gameplay a lot more focused and often quite tricky. It serves as a nice division from the main game but the restrictive nature of the tasks involved will make you crave once more for the freedom of the Clear option.

Although Arkanoid DS makes use of both the top and bottom screens of Nintendo's handheld, the play area is quite narrow and restricted. This actually makes the game easier – almost too easy, some might argue – as the ball is unable to fly around the screen as freely as it did in previous instalments. Consequently you're able to keep better track of its movements.

It's here that Arkanoid DS's biggest failing becomes apparent – a general absence of challenge. Arkanoid DS makes it far too straightforward for the player from the outset, and within the space of a day or two you will have seen all the levels the game has to offer. Granted, some of the later stages throw up some troublesome obstacles that slow your progress and actually require some effort, but on the whole this just isn't anywhere near taxing enough.

Thankfully there are some multiplayer modes included in order to extend the questionable longevity of this title, both local wi-fi and online. Online scoreboards (which helpfully track your single-player performance) help to keep things interesting; if you're a fan of the traditional high-score challenge and have some like-minded buddies then you can expect Arkanoid DS to swallow up a reasonable amount of your time.

Despite the fact that it's well-stocked with impressive multiplayer clout, Arkanoid DS is badly letdown by its single-player component. The narrow play field is a glaring design error on Taito's part and while it doesn't represent as much of an issue when you're playing against a human opponent, it sours the solo experience and prevents this otherwise encouraging update from being the definitive version of Taito's arcade classic. Perhaps some things really are best left in the past.
Arkanoid DS
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 19 June 2008
The ability to play Arkanoid online is extremely welcome but ultimately this somewhat lightweight DS instalment fails to improve on previous versions of Taito's classic Breakout clone
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