Arkanoid DS (DS) review
"Basically, the game is meant to be played with vertical orientation (like Tetris). To make full use of the space provided, this means that the developers had to split the playing area in two, with dead space at the center. If you were playing this at an arcade and someone set a yardstick across the middle of the screen, the effect would be roughly the same."
Someone responsible for package design at Square-Enix must have been bored. Check out this description of Arkanoid DS from the game's case:
You know the drill: reflect the ball to break the blocks. Power-ups can make your job easier--or, sometimes, harder. Challenging new stages and options await.
That might not sound particularly intriguing, but really there's no better description of Arkanoid DS. The series premise is and always has been extremely simple. That's okay, of course. Just don't expect this newest entry to set your world on fire.
One of the first things you'll probably notice about Arkanoid DS is that it includes a versus mode so that you can play online. That's cool, but who really plays a game like this at home? It has “road trip” written all over it and that means wi-fi generally won't be around. Unless you have a sibling or bosom buddy with a DS handy (only one copy of the cartridge is required for local multi-player), you'll probably spend most of your time with the single-player mode. Fortunately, your options here are relatively robust: Clear Game, Quest Game and VS Com.
As you might suppose, Clear Game is the general campaign. You bust through stages in lots of five at a time, selecting from a branching pathway (as in Taito's other recent revival, Space Invaders Extreme) to proceed to the next batch. This design ensures that you'll have to play multiple times if you want to encounter each new puzzle. Quest Game lets you replay stages you've already completed, but adds restrictions on things like time or the number of times you can reflect the ball. Finally, VS Com lets you go up against the computer. The goal is to either break all blocks first on a randomly-selected stage, or to focus on being the first to clear a certain color. It's a nice diversion, but mostly just practice for the main campaign.
Controls in Arkanoid DS take one of two forms, which you can easily modify--along with difficulty level--at the start of any attempt to play through Clear Game mode. You're allowed either to use the d-pad to steer your paddle along the bottom of the screen (with 'B' launching the ball at the start of each round), or you can move it about with your stylus (and press 'down' to launch your ball). Sensitivity can also be modified if needed, so that the game truly bends itself to your preferences. I had no reason to complain about even the default settings, since the two options are well-executed and precisely what most players would hope to find.
I wish that I could say the same thing for the sound effects, which quickly got on my nerves and prompted me to mute the volume. The clink of the ball as it bounces from one object to another quickly becomes abrasive, an attribute that is at odds with an excellent soundtrack. New songs play on many of the five-stage sections you explore and many of them are quite good (some even with vocal bits). The game's audio efforts are a mixed bag, but fortunately you can adjust sound effect and music volume independently of one another on the “Options” screen if you wish.
Tweaking is encouraged, by the way. As you clear stages, you'll receive points that can then be spent in the store (accessible from the 'Options' screen). Here you can make purchases and modifications to your heart's content, provided you have enough in-game currency. One especially cool design element is that you can change the visual presentation of the blocks to look like the aliens from Space Invaders. You can also adjust things like the border and the appearance of the paddle. These things don't affect the actual play mechanics, but they're welcome just the same. The only problem I had is that I couldn't find a way to conveniently make global changes. I had to go through and adjust settings individually for numerous stages, something that was quite tedious. I appreciate the depth of customization options here, but sometimes it seems almost like too much.
A more serious issue I have with Arkanoid DS isn't even entirely its fault. Basically, the game is meant to be played with vertical orientation (like Tetris). To make full use of the space provided, this means that the developers had to split the playing area in two, with dead space at the center. If you were playing this at an arcade and someone set a yardstick across the middle of the screen, the effect would be roughly the same. The ball is still active when it passes through those areas, only you can't see it until it comes out the other end. That can get brutal in some areas where the speedy little orb is careening wildly and it's all you can do to react in time. Taito would have done well to simply instruct the player to hold the system on its side and to ignore one of the dual screens.
Technical issues aside, Arkanoid DS is a decent puzzle game that simply hasn't evolved much in the years since its debut. Space Invaders Extreme took a lot of risks and was a satisfying extension of the beloved franchise it represented, but Taito played things safe this time around. You're still just directing a ball as it ricochets around a chamber and as you try to prevent it from passing beyond you and damaging a barrier. When power-ups slowly float down from above, you're still hoping that you don't collect the wrong one (which could be disastrous) and still looking for the right ones (which make clearing the last segments of some stages a total breeze). That's the extent of the main experience.
That ultimately means that Arkanoid DS is almost exactly what you'd expect. If you've always been a huge fan of the series, then you'll probably be willing to customize things here and eliminate most weaknesses. You'll possibly even ignore the distracting bar through the middle of everything because it means that now you can play on the road. If you've generally found the franchise a bit on the shallow side, though, you can safely ignore this newest installment. While it's a competent package and faithful to its predecessors, it doesn't offer anything particularly compelling for the modern gamer. Unless you're a total newcomer, the packaging was right: you know the drill.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 28, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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