Arkanoid - In-depth Written Amiga Review With Pics

Arkanoid
Amiga, 1987 (Original Arcade 1986)
Taito/Discovery
$49.95,$29.95

*Alphabetical list of writings
*Game best played in NTSC mode with 4:3 aspect ratio, preserving arcade's 3:4 ratio

What does it take for a game that rips off the style of another to become the game some accuse others of having ripped off themselves? To achieve this feat you'd do best to start from a game that while popular enough to have been known, would have been unlikely to dot many personal favorites lists. This could be for a variety of reasons; perhaps the original was too difficult, saw release only on select systems, has aged with the passage of time, or simply did not offer all that much depth to its gameplay.

You must fundamentally raise the stakes of the game to another level, one upping every single category, or perhaps looking at things from a different angle. In this vein something such as Eye of the Beholder comes to mind. Taking from the game Dungeon Master, it took the basics from that concept, polished them significantly, and presented them in a way where most RPGs from that point forth took their lessons from Eye of the Beholder, not Dungeon Master. There's going to be no getting around it at the time, everyone's going to point out the original influence and snicker. But at the same time props will be handed out, for it will be immediately known that this is no ordinary clone. It takes a game like Arkanoid to shake away its influences, and perhaps none did it better.
^The story, the beginning levels

Released by the iconic Taito to the arcades in 1986, Arkanoid was squarely targeting the 1976 arcade game Breakout from noted designers Nolan Bushnell and Steve Wozniak, of others. There had been numerous Breakout clones over the years, many for the Atari 2600, but none of those names would compare to that which came after in the way Arkanoid would be. It did this in much the same way Breakout had done when compared to what it had taken influence from when created, Pong. Breakout was a solitaire version of that original arcade hit from 1972, a title that went on to spawn innumerable home consoles whose sole purpose was to play their version of Pong. Breakout would be compared to Pong when released, but the underlying changes it brought to that concept would cause many to note newer influences as having taken from Breakout, and this same thing would happen for Arkanoid with the games that came after.

It raises the stakes from the get-go by adding a story to the game. The era this story takes place is unknown, but the mother ship "Arkanoid" is destroyed during an attack. A spacecraft "Vaus" scrambled away, and in a direct quote from the game the introduction story ends with "but only to be trapped in space warped by someone..." I think we're feeling the Japanese origins of this one now! So it's not exactly deep, it's not long, and it kind of stretches your brain to even make sense of it due to the translation. But it is a story, and a pretty early one in terms of cut scenes featured in an arcade game like this.


^Add some lasers, and Arkanoid blows Breakout away

Once you start playing you'll notice the first level holds an uncanny resemblance to Breakout. Get past that, and you'll realize this is not a single or continuous level affair. Thirty-three uniquely crafted levels offering a range from pleasantly looking designs, like an homage to Taito's own Space Invaders, to diabolically challenging setups that were sure to have you inserting quarters into the original arcade cabinet. Vibrant colors adorn the game's bricks and a range of backgrounds will leave no doubt you've entered into 16-bit territory.

Several enemies are here in an effort to hinder your progression. You might get to experience a portion of the level without their shenanigans, but they'll inevitably pop out from hatches at the top of the screen. They'll fly all over the place, usually somewhat randomly while also tracking your ball at the same time. Eventually they'll make their way down to your Vaus level where they can be infuriatingly dangerous if a ball ricochets off them, necessitating lighting fast reflexes.
^Get your umbrella out, it's raining bricks, multiball

It's the various power ups which truly bring Arkanoid into a league of its own. Certain bricks you destroy have a chance of gifting you a capsule which will float down for you, should you be able to reach, though perhaps you'd rather avoid them altogether. A single letter and special color appear on them to denote their benefits, though I have to say some are a bit badly named. "S" and "L" have always stuck with me, the first slows down your ball, and the second gives you the most fun weapon of the game, the laser. Others are not so intuitive, "D" stands for disruption, which is like a multiball experience, giving you three balls to work with at one time. "B" is or break, which lets you skip ahead to the next level. Play the game enough and you'll hopefully get used to the various colors associated with these powerups, though I can't say the letters will ever stick with me for some of them.

While no powerups are inherently bad, there are certainly situations where you'd do best to avoid them. Most will cancel out the previous perk, so you're likely to  want to avoid nearly all capsules if you're already benefiting from the laser. The catch powerup, which stops the ball when it hits your Vaus and allows you a moment of strategy, can at times backfire on you with certain brick placements. The mere distraction caused by attempting to either get these powerups or avoid them, while also dealing with the ball, presents a nice risk/reward dynamic.
^Later levels, much death

In another example of going a step further, Arkanoid culminates with a boss battle. Not at all common for a 1986 arcade game. If you've managed to get this far through talent or quarters, you're now tasked with some bullet pattern recognition. Countless deaths were brought to me by this boss, appropriately named "Doh". Eventually I got a hint of the bullet patterns and later visits with him were much less eventful.

The Amiga version of Arkanoid featured here came out in the late months of 1987, with most coverage of it from magazines featured in the early to summer months of 1988. It was the first port to the home from the arcade original, and it would be quite difficult for any to claim this was not the definitive home installment of this classic. Well, at least in terms of the graphics and presentation. In the arcade the game was controlled via paddles, a perfect method for this type of game. Most home conversions would offer paddle support, the NES version going as far as supplying paddles with the game, but as far as I've been able to tell paddles are not supported in the Amiga version. Instead a mouse will be required, and even with quite the modern upgrade on my end with a laser mouse, I can't say the gameplay of the Amiga version feels as good as other versions I've played with paddles. ^Are you keeping up with the Commodore? - Amiga version features 33 extra levels

Paddles combined with skill will get you far into this game. On the Amiga however, a generous amount of luck is required to beat this game without using continues, and that's putting it mildly. Luckily the Amiga version features unlimited credits to support your continuing needs, our $50 worth of quarters for a home arcade version finally giving us what an equal amount of quarters would have done for us in front of the cabinet! Version 1.05 added a feature to slow the ball down. With the press of a function key even a four year old should be able to run through the complete game with many lives to spare.

A middle ground would have been nice if you ask me. Even with a paddle, given the nature of arcade games the hope is always to get you to pump in more quarters. This was done through level design as well as having the ball get faster in increments, seemingly no limit put upon this increase in order to guarantee you'll die sooner or later. Putting the game into the home faithfully makes sense, of course, but options for those who have likely spent countless more for a home version of a game they probably only ever spent a couple bucks on in the arcades is always appreciated. The slow mode is just too slow, I was bored  out of my mind while using it, there was no fun to be had. The normal mode was incredibly frustrating. This from someone who has beaten countless difficult titles, only to have been forced to use continue after continue here. Something between these two extremes could have made this mouse driven version something extra special.

^Only Amiga makes it possible

It would have made it extra special, but of course this Amiga version is still quite special. The conversion was developed and published by Discovery Software. Prior to this they were best known for their popular disk copying program, Marauder II, as well as a few other general utilities. Arkanoid would be their first game, though they would go on to make several other pretty good ones as well. Apparently they had approached Taito claiming they could make an Amiga version, and the planets aligned just right in order for Taito to give their blessings, as they had anticipated another year before getting involved with the Amiga.

The sequel Revenge of Doh would be developed by a different company on the Amiga, and it was a straight Atari ST port. Discovery made this original special on the Amiga. The graphics are unquestionably at least equal to the arcade version, and I'd personally debate they are slightly more polished than in the arcades. Sounds are likewise debatably better, with excellent samples compared to the originals synthesis. Quite a few of the home conversions left out the beginning and ending cut scenes, backgrounds, some even leaving out certain powerups like skipping the level. Wanting to preserve the arcades flipped monitor, the game uses NTSC overscan mode to get a bit more picture from your monitor, while preserving the arcade's 3:4 aspect ratio. ^Later levels from the expanded Discovery version

Several months after the original release Discovery updated the game, adding thirty-three levels of their own, and reducing the price from $49.95 to $29.95. While pure speculation, my feeling is this may have been done in an attempt to undercut the upcoming sequel which they were not involved in. Double the game at half the price... Discovery seemed rather shrewd in their business practices, their logo bigger than both Arkanoid's and Taito's, with an impressive if perhaps distracting copper effect used on it. The game's Amiga manual, while adding two pages worth of comic strip story to the game, also features an entire page of advertisement for other products. Advertisements in magazines for Arkanoid doing much the same, always making sure to point out Discovery's other endeavors. While I wish they had been involved in the sequel, it's really no surprise why Taito went elsewhere.

The added levels from Discovery are mostly a blast to play through. They tend to be much more artistically inclined, with the bricks arranged to represent familiar things. It starts off with a bang, the first level featuring the Commodore logo, the Amiga check mark makes an appearance later on as well. A cherry, butterfly, trees, these levels are more recognizable than Taito's. Many backgrounds have been added to the game for these levels as well, and I believe they're a marked improvement over the original's. When the designs are on the simpler side, I tend to like them quite a bit, though I fail to understand a need for the more sinister quarter devouring levels, as these were made solely with the Amiga in mind.
^Take your Doh's out of this dimension! - End cut scene

It's a game near and dear to my heart. Some of my earliest memories of the Amiga star this very game. Watching my sister and father play, always known to me as one of my sister's favorite titles. It very well may have been the first "real" game I was allowed to play on the system, as at that age I was mostly stuck with certain educational titles. In its default setting, Arkanoid can be quite a difficult game at times, but the never ending continues means you have nobody but yourself to blame for not persevering. It's a joy to see a 1987 title take an arcade hit and translate it so well to this great machine. While not perfect, it's mighty impressive, and wanting more from such an exceptional early title would certainly fall on the nitpicking side. Game's that came after this would be known as Arkanoid clones, not Breakout clones, even ones that lacked powerups and were clearly more influenced by Breakout. It takes something exceptional to accomplish that, Arkanoid is an exceptional arcade classic.

I hope you'll check out my video review, diving even deeper on the thoughts regarding Discovery, reading through the expanded story featured in the game's manual, as well as showing off quite a few magazine reviews from back in the day. Best Amiga arcade game from Compute, second best Amiga game ever from Amiga World, and best arcade game from Info, to name but a few goodies I show off. Readers of this may also be interested in my reviews for Discovery's Marauder II, my video review for the Super Nintendo Arkanoid: Doh it Again, or perhaps some more Amiga arcade goodness with Marble Madness. If you're wanting a taste of some newer Arkanoid, my friend Stygian Phoenix has taken a look at the mobile game Arkanoid VS. Space Invaders.

Comments

  1. I think this is one of the best arcade ports on the Amiga. Others for me would include Marble Madness, Star Wars, Gauntlet 2 and I suppose Pang (although I never played that one in the arcades back in the day). Honorable mention to the demo-scene group that did Donkey Kong, too. But this is way up there for sure. It looks and feels great.

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    1. Greetings there! Think that's the first time you've commented over here, appreciate that very much! Arkanoid is certainly a pivotal title, both in the arcades as well as this Amiga version. Arguably better graphically as well as with the sounds, though I sure wish I could hook up some paddles. I remember you saying you played it with your brother at the arcades. Never had that pleasure myself. By the time I was able to hang out at arcades they had gone another direction, trying to give experiences no home system could give you. Things like putting you on a bike that moved around while you played.

      The really popular ones that would have made it home often had crowds hanging around them and I was not comfortable waiting around for those. Things like Mortal Kombat come to mind...A lot of light gun games I remember utilizing wide screen or multiple screens, very early examples of that stuff. Of course there were always a select few "oldies" in the corner... PacMan, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Galaxian... The classics... Very few of the mid to late 80's cabinets seemed to have survived... I think Marble Madness was the revolutionary game in that department, as it was the first to allow easy replacement of the game. You keep the cabinet, keep most of the motherboard, just change a chip or two as well as the marques, and you've got a new game! So lots of those classics would fade too early from the arcades.

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