Game 19: Arkanoid (Taito, 1986)


Playing rules: Difficulty: Easy. Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life at 20,000, 60,000 and every 60,000 points. Continues: Not allowed
Special Rules: Additional lives may also be earned by collection of the "P" capsule.

Dip-Switches: 1=OFF/ON [Cocktail/Upright]; 2-7 = OFF; 9 = ON

Current Record holders
1st: 1,658,110 - Zachary Hample - 2000
...
19th: 108,275 - Mark Nason - 2004
20th: 28,730 - Mr. Kelly R.Flewin - 2005

21st: 4,520 - Dori Nordsletten - 2005

I would be surprised if there are many people that don’t remember this game in one form or another, I certainly do – both in the arcade and on my trusty Atari ST. For those that don’t recall or simply need a recap, it’s really rather simple; Arkanoid is a jazzy version of the classic game “Breakout”, (which itself, it could be argued, was a single player version of the grand-daddy himself “Pong”). You control a bat and the idea is to bounce a ball about the levels and into each of the blocks that just happen to be knocking about. Once you have cleared the screen of blocks you move on to the next level. That’s it.

Now, with such a simple mechanic, you really would need a fair bit of “jazz” to make it particularly exciting – especially as it is now 1986, the land of pigs in planes, magic paint rollers and all manner of crazy shenanigans. Well, don’t fear – Taito aren’t stupid, they know that as well as we do. However, they don’t just want to throw loonytune shit at you just for the sake of it, oh no. Taito want to tell us a story, get us involved in the game at an emotional level, BE the bat, live the dream – for their vision to work they need a rock solid narrative to keep us gripped. To this end, the second you start the game the story begins with a snazzy cut-scene:

“The era and time of this story is unknown”

Not the best beginning to be honest. As “setting the scene” goes that feels like a bit of a cop out – “No idea when this happened, sorry guv” isn’t the most effective way of getting the viewer gripped. But hang on you foolish person  you, maybe that’s just the genius storyteller at work; no need to furnish you with details that are of no importance to the story – I mean if it had said “The year was 2099” then it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference, in fact there would be an element of mystery shattered in front of your very eyes. Oh, bravo Taito – pray continue.

“after the mothership “Arkanoid” was destroyed a spacecraft “vaus” scrambled away from it”

See? Now we’re into the meaty stuff. That blue thing glowing red faintly at the bottom of the screen? That’s the mothership Arkanoid that is – the name of the game no less. And that little “bat” thing flying out of the top? That’s your ship, called “vaus” – obviously designed by some French bloke. Seems odd then that the game isn’t called Vaus, i.e after your ship rather than the name of the briefly mentioned and immediately destroyed mothership mind you. Hold on though, who’s to say that there isn’t a full and detailed backstory to all of this that will reveal itself tantalisingly throughout the game? Not I that’s for sure.

“but only to be trapped in space warped by someone………”

Oh.

I think we’re taking the piss now with the mystery – “someone”? Who? My nan? Hitler? My nan, Hitler?

I mean, make an effort people. Why bother with the detail on the mothership and the French bat if you can’t be arsed to flesh out a story for goodness sakes? What makes it worse is that the game begins at this point – leaving you with a bat and ball game, unmotivated and confused. It took all of my will and strength to not break down and cry right there on the spot let me tell you. Happily however, the kid in me doesn’t need motivation to want to break stuff with a bat and ball and the story was soon a long distant memory.

Before I get into that though, let’s have a quick peek at the scores. Now at my eventful trip to FUNSPOT earlier in the year I had the pleasure of very briefly meeting the world record holder, Zachary, and even saw him play a tiny bit of Arkanoid while I was there. I believe he may have even beaten the record held in the book, but I won’t worry too much about that – I’m sure I’ll get nowhere near his score anyway. At the lower end of the scores it all looks a bit more welcoming – that bottom score could be beaten using just my knob I reckon (not that I’d recommend doing such thing of course) – but it does ramp up rather quickly. I’ve included the next few scores up to show you what I mean. From all the way from about 10th to 19th the scores are all roughly 100,000 – so if I can get past that barrier that puts me in amongst the big boys. Well, not the big boys – they have over a million, but close enough for now at least.

Hang on though spanky, before you go on – If I remember rightly, the arcade had a spinner for it’s controls, and I recall seeing that your X-Arcade doesn’t have one of those. How come you are even playing this one when you’ve previously skipped games that you haven’t been able to play accurately?

Well that’s quite simple actually, Mr badly realised and presented voice of the reader. I only skip games that are either impossible to play under emulation, or involve some sort of physical interaction that would be lacking at home. By that token, the skiing games were skipped for example because as much of the skill is controlling the big stupid skis as it is playing the actual game. Arkanoid (and indeed most spinner games) can be accurately and fairly controlled using the mouse, so in my book that makes them fair game. So ner.

And play I do with a firm 100,000 score target set in my mind.

First thing that strikes me is just how bloody fast the ball moves. I had taken some comfort from the difficulty setting of “easy” listed in the rules, but let me tell you – it’s anything but easy. The ball starts off slow enough, but before you know it it’s ricocheting all over the place at great pace. Luckily the bat, sorry the mighty “vaus”, is nice and controllable but it becomes clear very early on that a knowledge of angles is needed here to survive; that and the reactions of a cat on speed.

Unfortunately these qualities are not that forthcoming and I flounder about like a drunk idiot, always on the edge, never comfortable with where the ball is going to land or indeed where it is going to go once I hit it. Luckily for people like me, there is a helping hand in the guise of power up capsules that appear every now and then once you break a block. On this first level alone, they are falling all over the place – and on collecting an “E” my bat stretches to twice the width and the world is at peace again. All of the problems that I was having are gone – keeping control of the ball is a piece of piss now and I stride on confidently breaking blocks like nobodies business. That is until I foolishly collect a falling “D” capsule and not only does my bat shrink to normal size again, but the ball splits into 3. You would have thought that this would be good news, I mean I now have three times as many chances to avoid losing a life surely? That would indeed be correct however, the sheer shock of my manhood being shrunk combined with the extra pressure of 3 bouncing balls (I’m going to leave the euphemism on that one) causes me to pretty much freeze with indecision leaving all three balls to fall. Bloody Nora.

I make a mental note to look up what each of these power up capsules does and strive on with my second life.

By this time some floating enemy things have started to appear from the top of the screen – for now they are safely trapped behind a single layer of grey blocks, but on hitting said blocks twice the barrier is breached and they come floating down towards me. That’s all I need, another bloody distraction, and jesus what a distraction they are. I quickly lose another life as the pressure of avoiding the enemies as well is too much for me and I weave away from the ball when a rather threatening rotating blue triangle thingie comes my way.

I can hear the more Arkanoid knowledgeable amongst us calling me a fucking tart from here. Yes, I know the enemies don’t hurt – well to be more accurate I know *now* as a few clatter into me at the beginning of my last life with absolutely no effect. Makes me feel a little soppy for losing a life dodging one, but I recognise that, and that’s the key to recovery that is, or something, so we shall speak of it no more. NO MORE.

In fact: I laugh at their pathetic ships. They may have the technology to create pretty spinny blue triangles, whoopie do – look at me. When it comes to trying to hurt a stupid bat shaped ship called the vaus however, they’re all a bunch of poofs. “Chase me I’m a daffodil” I hear them call as they float about, well I’m not scared of you so there……oh.

You guessed it, one of the fuckers deflects my ball off just as I was lining up to hit it. GAME OVER

Score: 18,320

Right, I’m not having that – straight back in. Hang on though cowboy, let’s look those power up capsules up first; and because I’m such a lovely lad – here they are in all their glory:

S – Slow : slows down the energy ball.
L – Laser : enables the vaus to fire laser beams.
C – Catch : catches the ball and shoots it when you want.
B – Break : allow player to move to next playfield.
E – Expand : expands the vaus.
P – Player : gains an additional vaus.
D – Disrupt : splits the energy ball into three particles.

Right then. I already know that the “E” is a winner, but I like the sound of the “P” and the “B” especially.

And what do you know, the very first capsule that falls down on my second go is a “B”. Ok, it’s pink, but I won’t let that stop me collecting the bugger forthwith. However, and believe me this is a major theme throughout this game, I can’t collect it. Why? Well, I want to collect it and all that, but the ball is heading towards the bottom of the screen waaaaaaaayyyyy over the other side. Maybe I can collect the capsule and then leap across the screen and save the ball? Hang on though, avoiding losing a life is more important. What I’ll do is bounce the ball and then whizz back here just in time to get the capsule! Is there enough time for that though? Maybe I should just get the ball, there’ll be another very valuable “B” in a minute anyway I’m sure. Ok, I’ll get the ball and see how it goes. Oh – too late. Neither it is then.

This genuinely happens throughout the WHOLE game. While I’m convinced that with a bit of skill you can make sure that the ball is directed in the same general direction as the pickups, therefore making both options possible, it’s beyond me most of the time. Any sort of delay or greed will pretty much always lead to a lost life, so you really have to keep such desires in check and get that ball – Safety first and all that. Of course what tends to happen is that you get the ball and then slap across the screen in a last ditch attempt to get the power up as well and just miss it. Depending on your present company there is an optional stage here where you pretend that you didn’t really want it anyway, but you can skip that one – I certainly do, I find a nice healthy dose of swearing is the best approach in this situation regardless of whether my nan is in the room or not.

It’s not all doom and gloom though – I get through to the 2nd level this time with some well earned laser fire (stick the “L” on the good list as well) and all is well again – I get an extra life at 20,000 as well, which was nice.

The second level is a bugger, first row of blocks are all silver (therefore needing 2 hits each to break) except the extreme right one, which is a normal red. It’s clear that the idea is to get the ball through the red block and let it bounce around at the top for a while as you sit below, safely picking up the power-up capsules as they fall like cherries. Fall like cherries I said. Fall like cherries. FALL LIKE FUCKING CHERRIES ALREADY!! Glowing with joy that I actually manage to aim the ball where I wanted, the game decides to fuck me in the ear and not give me a single power-up for a good 30 seconds. Blocks are breaking all over the place, don’t worry about that – the ball is going mental at this stage, but for some reason the second level is stinge town when it comes to bonuses. Eventually a “S” floats down – almost as a peace offering, but it proves entirely worthless as although the ball does slow down, the respite lasts all but half a second before the ball bounces off the back wall and speeds up suddenly –  even faster than it was before the “S” in fact.

Without the bonuses to prop me up, I’m truly knackered and soon enough the ball escapes back down from the top of the screen and screams past me into the void.

Score: 28,150

Fuck me this game is tricky. My 100,000 aim is looking a LONG way away. Time for some more boning, time to look up some tips. Ok, that’s interesting. Apparently the key to a high score is to whore the bonuses. What that means is that you collect every single bonus you see, while actively ignoring their benefits – i.e purposely losing 2 of the 3 balls immediately or not shooting with the laser. Each one is worth 1,000 points, so the more of them you can farm the better. Interesting indeed, but I am concerned that it will leave me in a bit of trouble as so far it has been the power-ups that have been helping me stay alive. Hey ho, sink or swim as they say – I need to do *something* to get that score up that’s for damn sure. Also the tips recommend that you avoid hitting the ball onto the back wall as much as you can, as that is where the major speed up happens. They also chillingly say that if you have collected a few “S” power-ups and the ball is going nice and slow, be prepared for a massive surge of speed the minute it hits the back wall. Nice. I’ll worry about that later I think, let’s concentrate on the scoring.

And it works! curiously I even get to the 3rd level using this technique this time, and the score is much better. Two things though:

1) Level 3 is a complete cunt.
2) Without the benefit of power-ups you may, like me, find yourself bouncing around for EVER like a plum whilst trying to get the last few blocks on a level. So scared of missing the ball, I tended to keep the angles simple and it is surprisingly easy to get the same angle again and again each time you hit the ball. (Of course if you actually *wanted* to do this at any stage, the bugger would no doubt fly all over the place). This leaves you desperately trying to vary the angle a little bit so that you can hit the last few blocks without missing the thing altogether, all the time watching the ball speed up more and more. In the end you actually WANT the ball to bounce off of the enemies (of which with an screen empty of blocks they are EVERYWHERE) just for a welcome change of angle.

As you may have gathered from point 1, I died at level 3.

Score: 40,300

That’s better, almost halfway to my target score.

Now, as it has been a while since the last update – I decided to play on. Not just a few times, but 19 times in total. See, I was convinced that level 3 was where I hit a brick wall (literally, ho ho!) – so I was determined to get past it and get my score doubled at least. How did I get on? Well it sort of worked.

Seeing as most of you will only see the first 3 levels, I shall stick some pretty pictures up to briefly explain the challenges with each one.

This is the first level. See how harmless it looks? Well for the first dozen blocks or so it is. Prepare to be showered with gifts – either take ’em all for the score or stick with the one that you like. If you are a fan of the “E” like me (you puff) then you may want to avoid everything, even the extra life “P” as it will reduce the bat to normal again. As I say, you shouldn’t have much trouble with this level and if you are farming for scores then you should be over 20,000 by the end of the level, which is nice.

And then it’s Level 2. See that tempting red block I spoke of? You get the ball through there it will bounce around for ages wreaking havoc as it goes. Get ready for it to speed up something rotten though as it comes back. All in all too much for me to handle.

Ok, this is level 3 and to be honest I only really wanted to show you this level. What a complete shit this level is. Why? Well, you see those GOLD blocks? They can’t be broken. Do what you like to ’em, they ain’t moving. Which leaves a small opening to the right with which to try and get the ball through. Which I simply CAN’T. FUCKING. DO.

The problem is that not only are the gold blocks really close, they also ping the ball off at a great speed from the word go. Many a time did I lose a life straight away after one bounce. ONE bounce. So embarrassing. The few occasions that I did get the ball to travel up the passage (leave it) it tended to bounce straight back out again at three times the speed it went in. For sucks sake.

Ok, I feel better now I have shown you that.

Here are the first 18 scores:

18,320
28,150
40,300
28,250
33,770
34,720
32,150
27,180
27,030
54,640
36,150
36,490
48,490
41,590
29,620 (cock it)
31,150
31,100
46,110

As you can see, that’s pretty bloody consistent that is. A few times I somehow got past level 3 and onto level 4, which was actually much easier, albeit very fast – but apart from those I think It’s clear that 100,000 is out of my grasp. A bloody shame, as I reckon despite all of the tomfoolery I am quite good at this game – it’s just a shame that I find a few of the levels so troublesome.

You see, that’s what I thought.

Yet, and I shit you not, I played one more time as I was writing this – purely to remind myself what the enemies on the first level looked like (spinning blue triangle things in case you weren’t paying attention) and I had an absolute stormer. I didn’t do anything differently and level 3 was made all the easier with a very handily placed “D” bonus that turned my single ball into 3 right slap bang in the middle of the passage, but still.

Score: 76,370

Ok – it wasn’t the fabled 100,000 target, but it was enough of an improvement to suggest that the state of play isn’t as desperate as it seemed before that last go. Ok, it’s nowhere near the million plus record scores, but it would certainly be respectable – I reckon 100,000 is well within my reach now, so I will continue playing for sure.

Just not at the moment though eh? I did just play it 19 times after all.

2 thoughts on “Game 19: Arkanoid (Taito, 1986)

  1. i remember this game in the arcade. didnt it have a dial that you turn in order to move the ‘mighty vaus’ or am i thinking of another game?

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