Game 20: Arkanoid Returns (Taito, 1997)

Playing rules: Difficulty: Normal. Start: 3 lives. Continue Play: With/With-Out. Game Style: D. Continues: Not allowed

Current Record holders
1st: 906,640 - Dwayne Richard - 1997
2nd: 69,040 - Ron Corcoran - 2001
3rd: 44,070 - Brien King - 2001

Two reactions can be expected here. Either, “Arkanoid again?”  or “What happened to Arkanoid 2 – Revenge of DOH?”. If it’s the second one, then well done Mr Memory – Revenge of DOH was the game that I remember the most on my Atari ST and while very similar to the first game it had some really nice minor improvements, such as being able to choose your route through the levels (neatly avoiding the getting stuck situation I found on the first one) and some funkier power-ups. Well it’s not in the book for some reason, so we leap past it straight to this bugger, Arkanoid Returns.

(A cookie here to anyone who notices that Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh could have still been on the list regardless of this game as alphabetically it comes afterwards anyway. Well done, have your cookie and sit over there – I’ve written the intro now and I wouldn’t be able to mention it anywhere else anyway, so it stays.)

Taito left it 10 years before releasing this sequel, I wonder how many of those years were spent on the story – have they managed to flesh out the meagre effort from the last game? Well, no. No they haven’t. The title is a load of bollocks for a start – “Arkanoid returns”. Does he? I don’t see him. Keep up Taito doughboys, you called the destroyed mothership Arkanoid not the bat. The bat was called Vaus remember? The bat returns, yes (as does the pesky DOH) but the mothership does not. See what you’ve done? You’ve fucked the whole thing up haven’t you? Did you learn *nothing* from the constant confusion that is Frankenstein? Victor Frankenstein is the geezer that CREATED the monster, not the monster himself – Arkanoid is the mothership that blew up 10 years ago, not the bat. Gah! I mean really, it’s this level of detail that people care about, isn’t it guys? Hello? I said “isn’t it guys!”. Ahem, maybe it’s just me then. Move on!

So – we can see that the story is non existent, so what have they been doing for 10 years? Well take a look at the screenshot at the top there. Notice how fluorescent the graphics look? That’s nothing pal – the whole game has been given a sickly dayglo (wow, I didn’t know that dayglo were an actual company!) overhaul and everything in the game now looks like someone has been sick on it. In comparison to the original game, which had crisp, clean graphics, the sequel looks awful, absolutely awful. Not good; not good at all.

Thankfully I’ll look away from the game for a second and take a peak at the records. Only three records for this game, and I can see that the Arkanoid master Zachary Hample has kept well clear of the whole thing. Dwayne has happily jumped into 1st spot though with what looks like another mighty score. Again I think my aim should be 100,000 – which in this small list would be 2nd; I’ll take that.

Problem is, none of the signs look good for this game. The screenshots look awful, the records list is minute, the record holder for the original won’t play it – looks like this baby might be a bit rubbish.

As ever, with an open mind, there is only one way to find out – get stuck in!

Soon as the game starts up you get a little intro explaining the story. There are no words in this one and it essentially boils down to this: Your little bat Vaus is floating through space minding his own business, obviously celebrating it’s recent pimp upgrade as it now has spinny bits on either end, when out of nowhere comes DOH (the big face thing) and for no reason he sucks you up inside him and off you go again, the cad! That’s it. Nice one. This all goes on before you put your money in – i cialis generique pas cher.e as part of the attract sequence, so my guess would be that people would walk away from the machine at this point and who can blame them? Not I. I stride up to the (pretend, emulated) machine and put my (virtual, not real) money in without fear of lameness (mainly because I have to) and off we go.

Fuck me.

The game jumps straight in to the first level with what I can only describe as a hideous 80’s gameshow jingle – it is truly horrible and LOUD. Thankfully it stops and if that was anything to go by, the fact that there is no music to this game is very much appreciated. Jesus though – the screenshots were garish enough but now it’s in front of me in all it’s glory it’s so much worse. It’s like “Arkanoid – fuzzy, special needs edition” – everything is uneccessarily large and the graphics have no definition to them at all – like a bad Amstrad game. Oh dear.

Through squinted eyes I manage to get going, and thankfully gameplay wise they haven’t changed a great deal (not that you can change a bat and ball game that much, but I know what I mean). The ball is still awfully fast and the blocks and power-ups all look roughly familiar – except that the power-ups are now massive ugly squares that look, well a bit stupid. No need to patronise me game, I managed to work out the different power-ups in the last game and the blocks were no-where near as large, I mean really – why do they find the…….WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? ARGHHHHH!

Silence is golden they say. They were right. This game DOES have background music after all, and it kicks in after roughly 30 seconds of play – and by the gods it is AWFUL. Imagine the worst kind of elevator musak – jazz it up a bit and make it LOUD and you’re not far from the mark. I would have happily traded my ears in on the spot for a couple of magic beans if I could, but sadly a trader was nowhere to be found (I mean its Friday, nobody works on a Friday. What was I thinking?). Why on earth did Taito think this music was a good idea? I mean *really*.

Stupidly I stick by my beliefs that I should play the games as they were intended and I leave the volume up. Not long to the end of the first level by the looks of it, at least give the next level’s music a chance. Only the music doesn’t stop at the end of the level, in fact it doesn’t even skip a beat. It’s almost as if it was added as an afterthought over the top of the game – after all, Taito obviously wanted to make your eyes bleed by making the game look so horrible, why let your ears off the hook? Why indeed.

Happily when you lose a life the music stops however, it’s only a brief respite and soon enough your ears are back in rapesville tennessee as the music starts again from the beginning. Game over couldn’t come quickly enough.

Score: 20,480

What a horrible experience that was.

Yet, there was some endearing about the game that I couldn’t put my finger on. Therefore my next go I make an effort to get past the bad graphics and sound (at least it isn’t anything significant eh?) and play the game properly. And whadya know, the game is actually a bit of a grower. The few new power ups are quite funky and a few of the older ones have had a revamp. While the “L” laser, the sticky “C” and the elongated “E” are all the same, the “D” has taken a visit to crazy town. Instead of splitting the ball into 3 it now explodes the ball into a million (ok, about 8 ) balls that scatter all over the screen at stupid speeds. This is a whole new dimension as it clears the levels pretty damn quickly and if you can collect a “D” while the ball is trapped near the top of the screen then, as the kids on the street would say: the blocks? you fuck ’em up real good. Downside to this is that on collecting another power-up all of the balls bar one disappears immediately, which is a bit shit. How the game decides which one to keep I have no idea.

The new additions that I can see are a mixed bag. There is a “G” which turns the ball into a big red fireball thingie, which breaks through rows of blocks without bouncing. While powerful there were times where I lost a life purely because I expected it to bounce and it didn’t. Also there is a “M” which turns the ball into a green thing which oddly behaves exactly the same as the red one – god only knows the diference there. Finally there is the “T”. Now this one is ace; on collecting this a forcefield appears on the bottom of the screen behind your bat. This is in effect an extra life as it will deflect the ball if you miss it, which helps the game no end – it even stays there if you subsequently collect other power-ups and really does help alleviate the frustration somewhat.

Anyway, enough of the background – the second go is a lot more successful. I try to use the power-up farming technique and it sort of works despite the absolute mess that the “D” power-up makes of the blocks – it’s almost like a bloody smart bomb. The levels are a lot more forgiving and to be honest i’m not sure why that is. There are certainly a lot more indestructible blocks than before, but even levels that have some tricky to reach places don’t drag on too long and somehow avoid a lot of the annoyances the original suffered from. That’s not to say the game is much easier, it really isn’t, but you do seem to flow through the levels a bit better. That being said, I still get killed before too long.

Score: 32,720

A few other new parts start to show themselves after a few plays. I was puzzled somewhat when one time my forcefield (thank you “T”) disappeared even though the ball was nowhere near it. Then one of the last remaining blocks was cleared, again with the ball nowhere near. What was going on? Well, it turns out that some of the enemies explode into ball like things themselves when hit, and they then break blocks and stuff as they float about. A nice touch indeed. As before the enemies don’t hurt you if they happen to hit your bat, but at least on one occasion I comically died when I went to deflect one of the ball enemies instead of the ball despite the fact that they are multicoloured and look quite different. Oh how we all laughed in the Arkanoid pub afterwards (wankers).

Despite everything, including myself, I actually begin to really like the game – which is some feat considering how much I was repulsed by pretty much all of it initially. After my third go ( with another similar score), I played again – and again. Before I knew it I had played it a dozen times, which although fun isn’t really what I expected at all with this one. Rather than list all of the scores, I’ll let you into the secret of the best one.

Score: 54,950

Yeah I know, again a failure as far as my target was concerned – but it isn’t far off 2nd place as you can see – and for now I’m happy with that.

Now for a Jerry Springer style summing up moment:

Sometimes a game can look ugly, feel ugly – hell it can even sound ugly. That doesn’t make it bad. All too often games are dismissed, especially sequels, all too readily. Would it be too much for us to sit back and actually try playing these games before kicking them to the curb (girlfriend – uh-huh uh-huh)? I don’t think so and nor should you. Ok, so the game has awfully garish graphics. Ok, the designers have obviously taken you for some sort of an idiot that can’t be trusted to understand what a small block with a letter on it means or that a gold block is indestructable even without a little dot on it to seperate it from the others. That doesn’t make them bad people. We as human beings should try to look past the faults and see the beauty within. I know you haven’t tried it, but just LOOK at the attract sequence demo and marvel at the wonderful looking 2 player mode where you have both bats on screen at once, one behind the other. Doesn’t that look like a barrel load of fun? Sure it does. It’s a good game, it will just take a bit of effort on your part to see that – and I would say that was an effort well spent.

That’s all for tonight. Take care of yourselves………..and each other.

Phew – that’s Arkanoid done and dusted then, we already know that Revenge of DOH isn’t on the list so we can move on……….Or can we?

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