Arkanoid: Doh It Again

Reading ability:U.S. Release

This game is another example of how Japanese have taken a good idea (such as Atari's Breakout) and turned it into something better (such as Taito's Arkanoid). Taito is well-known for it's other, more original titles, such as Qix, Puzzle Bobble (aka Bust A Move), and even the classic Space Invaders, but Arkanoid is such an innovation and improvement over Breakout that it's easy to forget the Atari predecessor while playing it. In the summer of 1989 when my family got our first computer, a 286 AT computer that ran at 12Mhz (later upgraded to 16Mhz), Arkanoid II: The Revenge of Doh was one of the first games I bought. Featuring beautiful 16-color EGA graphics, it was certainly a showpiece of computer gaming at that time. Then along came Arkanoid: Doh it Again for the Super Famicom, the third game in the series.

The Game:
Arkanoid is a good reason to get a Super Famicom Mouse. Arkanoid in the arcades, as well as the original Breakout, feature an analog knob controller. Arkanoid Returns for the Playstation can be played with a knob "volume controller" made by Namco, which I presume was made for Pachinko games in Japan. However, the Super Famicom has no such controller, as far as I know. But Arkanoid was made for analog, so forget about Mario Paint; this game is the real reason to own Nintendo's mouse. The mouse makes the game a lot better and greatly increases the control. I give the gameplay a 5 with the mouse, but a 3.5 without the mouse. It really makes that big of a difference, in my opinion.

As far as story goes, a group of colonists are traveling through space in search of a habitable Terra-class planet to live, and they dispatch their scout ship Vaus to investigate, only to be attached by Doh (not named after Homer Simpson's trademark phrase of frustration). Doh is basically just a big Moai head (those mysterious giant head-shaped statues on Easter Island in the Pacific). Japanese society has some bizarre obsessions with certain things, such as California sunfish and human feces. The Moai statues are one such strange fixations, almost as inexplicable as France's love for Jerry Lewis movies. Among video games, two famous Moai are seen in Taito's Arkanoid series and Konami's Gradius series. So Doh is a big Moai Space Head who has nothing better to do than harass colonists across the galaxy, and... oh heck, who really cares about the incoherent story? The only important thing is smashing bricks.

If you haven't played an Arkanoid game before (or Breakout for that matter), you control a small paddle on the bottom part of the screen and bounce a ball off of it to break bricks on the top half of the screen. Silver bricks take a few hits to break, and gold bricks are indestructible. On top of this, various alien creatures in many colors and geometric shapes wander around the screen and basically get in the way and sometimes help you. As soon as you destroy all of the destroyable blocks, you progress to the next level. Sometimes this can be rather difficult, so fortunately some bricks contain powerups that are released as the brick is destroyed. For example, the E powerup extends the length of the Vaus, the T creates an energy field to deflect the ball, C gives you a catch ability to aim your shots, D multiplies the ball eight times, M creates a green streaking megaball that passes right through the bricks destroying them all, L gives you lasers to fire from your Vaus, S slows the ball when the pace gets to fast for you, P gives you a 1UP, and B lets you exit the level before completion.

Graphics are clear and colorful, and gameplay is solid. I like the partially transparent backgrounds, revealing a background image underneath. From the first level you play against the background of your command ship, locked in a Macross-esque space battle complete with spherical explosions and laser blasts. I also enjoy the imaginative level designs. Among my favorites are the tropical fish of level 38 and the shmup-style space fighter of level 59 that looks suspiciously similar to the ship from Taito's Darius.

Sound effects and music are minimal, yet they are functional and the game is better that way. The trademark Arkanoid anthem announces the arrival of your Vaus with each turn.

Challenge and replay:
There are 99 levels of fun, with three modes of gameplay. Game A is the regular game, Game B features two player cooperative play, and Game C is two player competitive play. Also included is an Edit Mode, which allows you to create your own screen levels.

The Good:
The presentation is great, graphics and sound are nice, two player capability is a huge plus, and the Edit Mode is an excellent addition.

The Bad:
While they aren't necessarily bad points per se, I miss some elements from Arkanoid II, such as the rapid-fire laser powerup and the moving bricks (although I certainly don't miss the bricks that reappear after several seconds after destroying them). My only gripe is that the Vaus seems a bit slow while using the standard game pad. Even though pressing the B button will speed you up a bit, it still isn't fast enough at times. Fortunately, the gameplay using the mouse makes up for this.

I recommend Arkanoid: Doh It Again as a true classic to add to your SNES/SFC collection. And do yourself a favor: buy a SNES/SFC mouse to go with it!

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