Originally released by TAITO in 1986, the roots of Arkanoid can be traced back a decade earlier to the original “bat-and-ball” games of the 1970s, especially Atari’s Breakout. Of all the clones that appeared, Arkanoid is probably the most well-known, and it too was responsible for inspiring another legion of similar games in the late ’80s.
The basic gameplay within the block destruction genre has been pretty-much constant, but what set Arkanoid apart from previous examples was the inclusion of that 1980′s phenomenon, the power-up capsule. As the blocks were cleared, random coloured and lettered capsules would fall towards the Vaus; the player’s ship (or “bat”). These could affect the gameplay in a number of ways such as altering the size of the Vaus, or even introducing the ability to shoot the remaining blocks with a laser.
The blocks themselves were also arranged in interesting patterns, with some being indestructible or requiring multiple hits to make them disappear. Last but not least, a number of alien enemies would move around the levels. These did not fight back, but by simply acting as moving obstacles, they could prove to be a nuisance and make unwanted alterations to the ball’s trajectory.
These new elements, plus some very smart graphics and a deeper-than-you-think scoring system made Arkanoid a hit and feel surprisingly fresh.
In this new incarnation for XBLA, fresh is not the first word that comes to mind. Unlike Space Invaders Extreme, TAITO have not tried to reinvent the game, so what you have for your 800 Microsoft Points is just good old Arkanoid with new graphics and audio. Even the block patterns in Episode One are largely, brick for brick, the same as the 1986 release. Episode Two does introduce some new levels and a different end Boss, plus another two additional episodes can be purchased for 240 Points each. Even without coughing up for these DLC packs (they’re not required after all), Arkanoid Live! is still packing some 60-odd levels. While that’s plenty, the fact that Episode Three / Four are sitting there, greyed-out, in the menu from the start does rankle a little.
An attempt to modernise the visuals has been made by introducing some Lumines-style animated backgrounds, however there’s not enough of them and they’re pretty dull since they don’t react to the gameplay. This could be seen as a good thing since you have to keep track of a fast-moving ball (arguably an issue in the Wii game, BIT.TRIP BEAT due to it’s “busy” visuals), but compared to the cacophony of noise and visual effects found in Space Invaders Extreme, it comes across as being a bit half-baked. Especially since famed in-house studio Zuntata have provided the game with some nice music.
The game can now be played with some slightly different rules though – instead of lives, you can play with a barrier that will take a number of hits before disappearing, plus there’s Versus and Cooperative play over Xbox Live. But, as mentioned, the gameplay itself is basically unchanged. The core elements of what made Arkanoid good can still be felt some 20-odd years later, which is not exactly a bad thing. The controls – something that could make or break a game like this – are perfectly adequate, allowing the Vaus to be moved about smoothly, and the tension of trying to clear those last few blocks whilst the ball gets progressively faster and faster, or the sense of relief that collecting a certain power-up brings, is still palpable.
Overall, Arkanoid Live! is a slight disappointment. There’s definitely scope for TAITO to have reinvented it for a new audience, but they simply haven’t bothered. However, despite this, it’s still a good game and probably a must-have for fans of the original.