Standalone WiiWare Review: Arkanoid Plus!

If you started playing arcade games in the mid-80s you probably have never laid eyes upon the original Atari brick-breaking game, Breakout (or its superior sequel Super Breakout), but no doubt you’ll be familiar with Arkanoid: the Taito brick-breaking franchise that took the Breakout concept and redefined it in such a way that other brick-breaking games now seek to emulate the tagalong, rather than Atari’s original classic.

In fairness Arkanoid really is the definitive brick-breaking game, adding a more sophisticated graphical appearance to the blocks and paddle, but more importantly arranging the bricks in patterns to keep up player interest and adding further challenge in the form of power-ups, enemies and different brick types.

If you’ve played Arkanoid in the arcade Arkanoid Plus! will look very familiar. All playfields are presented in the middle of the screen preserving the original arcade aspect ratio (as with many arcade games Arkanoid was presented on a vertical monitor rather than a horizontal one like a circa-1986 T.V.). Surrounding the playfield is a moving background consisting of alien landscapes with drifting clouds or a “lava-lamp” effect with floating geometric shapes. The effect is nice without distracting player attention from the game. Sound effects are the same as the arcade game which will please fans; music is a poppy-sounding techno beat that creates a bit of tension without being obtrusive and is generally pleasing to the ear.

You can choose your game mode from three selections: Arcade, Timed or Versus. Arcade Mode consists of two Zones of over 50 levels each (Zone 2 can be unlocked for an additional 200 points from within the game’s shop menu). When launching any of the modes you’re given a choice of options before starting the game. For Arcade Mode the options include: one of three difficulty settings (this effects the ball speed), whether to have a stock of extra paddles or a barrier that will reflect the ball if you miss it, the number of paddles or hits that the barrier can take (choice of 1, 3, 5 or 7) and finally whether or not to have enemies present.

The gameplay is largely the same for all three modes: your paddle launches the ball and you must bounce the ball into bricks to smash them; if you miss the ball upon its return to the bottom of the screen you lose a life. You continue until all bricks are smashed or all lives are lost. Adding to the basic play are different brick types, power-ups and enemies.

In addition to normal colourful bricks, you’ll find silver ones that take two hits to smash and gold unbreakable bricks that act as obstacles; some of which move back-and-forth after being hit in some of the more challenging levels later in the game. Power-ups are small capsules which are sometimes released by colourful bricks when smashed. If your paddle intercepts them before they leave the screen the power-up is activated. Most of them are from the original Arkanoid:

E extends the length of your paddle
R makes it smaller (although points for smashing bricks and enemies are increased)
S slows down the ball
L gives your paddle a laser to blast bricks
C causes the ball to be caught by your paddle for relaunch, etc.

You also have a couple of power-ups from Arkanoid II:

T creates a temporary barrier below your paddle that can take a single hit
M causes the ball to smash through all breakable bricks and enemies as if they weren’t there.

Enemies are geometric shapes that enter the screen from the top and work their way down. They cannot hurt your paddle, however if the ball hits them it will bounce off in another direction; sometimes right back at you!

After breaking all the breakable bricks a door opens on either side of the screen giving you a choice of which level to try next; after the 1st level you’ll find subsequent levels have an L or R after the number to indicate which side they were accessed from. This is also true of the Zone 2 pack of levels and both Zone 1 and Zone 2 appear to have a final level of 30 with a boss fight where you must bounce your ball off of some large enemy until it is destroyed. In the event you run out of lives you may continue as many times as you like, however as with other recent Taito’s Collection games, Bubble Bobble Wii and Puzzle Bobble Wii, your score will reset to zero if you do so. As with Puzzle Bobble Wii, you only get an entry in the local high score table if you complete the game.

Timed Mode presents a choice of a number of random levels to complete in a fixed time period using only a single paddle. You have the option to have enemies or not and select a difficulty level, but that is all. You may face 3, 5, 7 or 10 levels. The clock only stops between stages, so if you spend a lot of time on the first level you’ll have that much less time to complete the rest. In this mode the S power-up will be seen frequently, but due to the timer it is definitely not your friend! Both this mode and Arcade Mode can be played with two players cooperatively, with one paddle being above the other and doing the initial ball launch and the positions swapping every other level.

Versus mode sees two playfields being displayed side-by-side. You can play against a human or computer opponent with the goal being to clear a certain number of boards first in a best of 3, 5, 7 or 9 contest. R and S power-ups you collect affect your opponent in this mode for a little extra back-stabbing fun. If playing against an AI opponent you can choose an AI skill level from 1-7. I was unable to beat level 1 in my sole attempt at this mode so I can only imagine how challenging the higher AI skill levels are!

The control scheme for this game is not the same as the arcade which used a round knob to move your paddle. Whilst the Wii remote has proven its worth as a good substitute for dial and paddle controllers both using the pointer (Geometry Wars) and twisting motion (Bit.Trip BEAT), Taito have elected not to implement any analogue control at all. Instead, Arkanoid Plus! uses the d-pad to move the on-screen paddle, whilst the 2 button makes menu selections and launches the ball or fires lasers as appropriate.

D-pad control can be tuned in the top-level Options menu with one of several settings, but I found the default to be fine with the paddle moving smoothly whilst holding left or right and stopping promptly when released. Whilst the decision to go digital may disappoint purists, I didn’t find the d-pad detracted from my game at all; in fact my game is much better than it was in the arcade with less balls being missed due to a last-second twitch of the dial.

Taito has managed to do a nice reworking of the classic Arkanoid games in a WiiWare title that’s sure to please Arkanoid fans and people who like classic arcade games generally. Even without the unlockable content there’s plenty of challenge which can be shared with a friend. Arkanoid Plus! definitely holds the crown as the definitive brick-breaking game on the Wii; the fact that all menus are in English should mean this game will be offered outside of Japan in the near future so everyone can get a chance to enjoy it.