Welcome back to 1986, where games were not nearly as entertaining as you remember.
I was elated when I received Arkanoid DS for review. I was a huge fan of the original game, Breakout, and then the shameless rip-off, Arkanoid. The concept has been revisited a few times since the 80’s, most memorably in the forms of Alleyway and Kirby’s Block Ball in the 90’s. Here’s the basic concept: there’s a vertical field with lots of blocks at the top, and you control a laterally-moving paddle on the bottom. You deflect a ball off the paddle to hit and clear blocks up top. Clear a stage, go to the next stage. Repeat ad nauseam. It’s been 22 years since Arkanoid gobbled our quarters in the arcade; Taito just released an update! Surely, they’ve managed to spruce up the package…right?
Wrong. Arkanoid DS is Arkanoid in color. No, I’m serious—there’s very little growth here. Sure, the blocks are all different colors, along with silver blocks which require two hits to destroy and gold blocks that can’t be destroyed at all. There are even some new power-ups, but that doesn’t matter much when the core gameplay hasn’t changed one iota in more than two decades. The primary single-player mode is Clear Mode, in which the player progresses through a series of “planets” to save the planet Arkanoid. Each planet consists of five puzzles. I beat Clear Mode in about forty-five minutes, but because it’s a high-score-fest with no unlockable content, I couldn’t help but feel bamboozled.
Even worse, later puzzles are so difficult that you have little incentive to continue playing. When a puzzle consists of a large square of colored blocks surrounded by gold blocks, with four silver blocks as entrance points, it’s hard to see the point of all the effort . Arkanoid has always been a little bit about luck, what with the ball flying off the paddle at various angles, but the late-game puzzles in Arkanoid DS seem designed to mock the player (for example, another “feature” is that the longer you stay in any particular puzzle, the faster the ball travels, which is very frustrating). Clear Mode’s one interesting feature is that you can choose the next planet you go to after every five puzzles. This isn’t much of a hook however.
There are two more options for the solo player. Arkanoid DS features a psuedo-mission mode, Quest Mode, in which your job is to clear a certain number or a certain color of blocks from the field within a limited amount of time. This is more entertaining than Clear Mode, but is ultimately a hollow experience which, again, eventually proves frustrating. During this challenge mode, you net points that you can use to buy boring bonus features, such as new backgrounds and block sprites. The other option is to battle it out with the computer, who, at AI level 2 and above, will decimate you. His ball is either traveling way too fast or he has more than one ball in play, destroying blocks at a rate far superior to your weak human reflexes. There are no prizes for beating the computer, so it’s just mindless repetition. Beat an opponent (or, more likely, lose to an opponent) and you can then choose to play again or go back to the menu. Intense.
The game also lets you play in Nintendo Wi-Fi mode. You can battle between one and three other people in a mode that’s structurally identical to single-player Vs. Mode. You can use the awkward Friend Code system or play with random people online, but good luck finding an opponent! At the time of this writing, I STILL haven’t been able to find ONE PERSON to play with online, and I’ve had the game for several days. Your other option is to play the game locally, at which point there is some relief. Arkanoid DS features single-card download play for up to three other people. Of course, because the core game is so boring, there are far better games to play with your friends (like Mario Kart, Pokemon, or…dare I suggest it…Metroid Prime: Hunters).
One design flaw that must be mentioned is the fact that the area between the DS screens counts as part of the gameplay field. Your ball totally disappears while in that void, and while its travel time through that blind spot is realistic given the ball’s speed and the gap’s height, it becomes unbelievably frustrating once the ball starts picking up any kind of speed.
It’s really a shame that Arkanoid DS is such a weak update of the original game. While the background tunes are enjoyable and obscure, they don’t match similar title like Lumines(which seems to have been an influence). If you want to experience old-school gaming with a new-school twist, Space Invaders Extreme is EXACTLY how you do it. Even if you’re a big fan of the original Arkanoid (aren’t we all?), there are better variations on that theme (such as Kirby’s Block Ball). Arkanoid fans should pass on this one.