Written by  :  Wurtzly (1072)
Written on  :  May 02, 2014
Platform  :  Commodore 64
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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A perfect showoff game for the Commie

The Good

I was wondering recently, which Commodore 64 games would be the best for the occasion, that if you put it up running, any laic would get the idea what it is about without much additional explanation, while it laid-back shows the better side and overall aura of the system, and puts the awkwardly dated aspects behind. From those I have on the real machine, Uridium and Arkanoid are the perfect candidates.

I don't think Arkanoid needs much introduction. It is heavily inspired by Atari's "blockbusting" game Breakout from the late '70s, but it enhances the formula in just about every way with well thought-out elements in the Japanese way (a supposedly epic story, each level is unique, different power-up pills you also have to catch, randomly appearing alien lifeforms that get in the way, even a boss fight!) Like the most of Taito's games, It is simple but addictive, and became a hit in the arcades. Then it received conversions for just about every home system that were around at the time. In the latter half of the '80s, many arcade-to-C64 conversions have born in the UK with absolutely no support from the original developers, a big number of them became lack-luster and rushed, but Imagine did a very good adaptation of Arkanoid.

The graphics has fine pixel-art details on it and got a good usage of colors, with metallic blue as dominant. The sprites are fluidly animated. The iconic space destroyer ship on the title screen is drawn a little bit sloppy, but the low resolution of the C64 hides the imperfections unless you examine it more carefully.

The title music composed by Martin Galway is exclusive to this version, although he used an earlier form of the tune in the ZX Spectrum port of Cobra. It even has crude digitized sounds for the beat that play during the music. Also, there is a rendition of the Arkanoid theme at the end of the game that sounds ace! The in-game sound effects are no less awesome. Every sound is bassy and POWERFUL. A pleasure listening to them on a hi-fi system with volume high up (you might think it's obvious, but for example Rob Hubbard's tunes with a real SID chip sound on a hi-fi wrong for some reason.)

There are multiple options for controls. The game can be played with keyboard, joystick, mouse, and some unique controllers called paddles that are designed specifically for such kind of games. I personally use a Sega MegaDrive joypad which is much better than a joystick here. It is almost as sensitive as mouse controls in the DOS version, although the precision is a bit less accurate.

A two player mode is implemented, where each player can take their turn if the other player lost a life or finished a level. which is cool I guess. I haven't used this feature.

The Bad

It has no big flaws, just a few annoyances.

It is very hard! The ball constantly gets faster until it is impossible to keep up. You can pick up slowdown pills. With them, it gets really slow. The backside is that it already takes ages to clear out a level and get to the next one. When there are just a few blocks left on the level, the ball can keep bounce around without hitting anything but the side walls of the playfield. There are some power-ups that could help on this, like the missiles, or the early exit, but they are rare. And the game has 33 levels! Normally, you would need the patience and instincts of a spider to beat the game. Since I have a cracked version on the tapes I inherited with the system, it has trainers installed, which allow for more lives and a level selector. These are a must for me.

Sometimes the ball or the power-up pills fall through the paddle. I guess this happens when you touch them with the side of the paddle and not the exact top, but when it occurs, it's peculiar.

There are two things I miss: a pause feature and a highscore list.

The only problem with the music is that I have a machine with a newer, revised SID chip... yep, this means the awesome title music plays a little bit butchered, because the digitized beat is very quiet.

The Bottom Line

Talk about the aura of the C64, it's pure space-age science-fiction! A rather clunky and obsolete one, but it is nonetheless. And Arkanoid fits pretty well for that. Whenever I think of the C64, the aesthetics of Arkanoid come to my mind as well.

I do not recommend it for beginners, because it inherited the difficulty that was bent on to eat up all your coins in the amusement arcade. If you look for a more leisure Breakout fun, try out Krakout. Or a modern game.