Greatest Game of 1986: Arkanoid
“THE TIME AND ERA OF THIS STORY IS UNKNOWN. AFTER THE MOTHERSHIP “ARKANOID” WAS DESTROYED, A SPACECRAFT “VAUS” SCRAMBLED AWAY FROM IT. BUT ONLY TO BE TRAPPED IN SPACE WARPED BY SOMEONE……..”
You are commander of the spaceship VAUS. Upon your escape from the recently destroyed Arkanoid Space Dock (the game’s namesake), you find yourself piloting your suppository-shaped vessel in uncertain surroundings. You are bound by walls on either side and are flying directly into a candy-colored blocky star field. This star field is unlike any other you have piloted your way through before – seemingly organized by a mad OCD Lego god. If you have the piloting skills and the patience of a saint on Xanax, you may get to meet this god, DOH, the evil Space God of Arkanoid (on level 33). I personally never encountered DOH, and I always certainly perished by level 5 or 6, but I continue my quest to conquer his reign of terror on my Blackberry while sending new brown spaceships of similar shape through the porcelain water space-time vortex that was left in the wake of Arkanoid’s destruction.
Ok, enough of that.
Arkanoid is a great arcade game that has been ported to countless consoles and devices in many forms. Arkanoid itself is a port from an Atari game called Breakout, and this game continues to be known by its original name on most of the consoles it has been ported to. Having played Arkanoid on a number of consoles, I can say that its influence on the video game history that followed is unprecedented and possibly unmatched to date.
In my opinion, looking at this from a high level: Arkanoid brought Breakout to the masses, which was a very important step in migrating the success of pinball in the1940-1960s to the electronic format and gathering acceptance and momentum for the video game format’s future success.
You could say that is hogwash or oversimplification, but I believe the similarities of the Arkanoid gameplay to that of the traditional mechanical pinball united previously divergent groups. Both pinball and Arkanoid rely on the player to achieve a set of goals while keeping a ball in play. Prior to Arkanoid, pinball and video versions of pinball were the only games that followed this equation. Arkanoid brought in a futuristic aspect of game design and story (albeit a joke of a story relative to today’s terms) and added important features that could not be accomplished in the mechanical format: falling power-ups, warps, and multiple-level formatting.
I particularly like the decision-making aspect of the game related to power-ups. In Arkanoid you could have only one active power-up at a time. Whether you chose the extended VAUS ship, the catch, the laser (easily the best), slow, fast (arguably a power-down), or triple-ball was up to you. Also, risking a “life” on retrieving an agonizingly slow-falling power-up was also a critical element in how far you were able to progress through the game; I have lost many a life going for an extended VAUS ship…
The game’s levels were also pretty interesting in their design and the shape of the levels helped determine what strategy you were going to attempt to conquer it. The limiting factor on beating these levels was the speed of the ball. You had to make sure that you hit the ball with VAUS as few times as possible otherwise the ball would be impossible to track as the level progressed. There were few things as satisfying as hitting the ball up near the top of the level and letting it bounce around 50+ times, thus clearing out most of the level. This simple satisfaction was probably the greatest joy you could get from Arkanoid.
I continue to enjoy playing this game that was conceived over 40 years ago. To many individuals with cell phones, this game remains a satisfactory way to kill time while riding a bus or sitting on the pot. I will not consider my life complete until I meet DOH and punish him for destroying Arkanoid, the last great ship in the galaxy.
A quick note on Arkanoid’s competition in 1986, Ghosts ‘n Goblins:
Arkanoid’s only real competition came in the form of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Some people remember this game as “the one where if you get hit you run around in your underwear.” In the gaming culture, however, Ghost ‘n Goblins is considered a classic. It also is brutally difficult.