The Adventure We Should Have Gotten Before

Arkanoid R 2000

1997’s Arkanoid Returns felt like a stale rehash of 1997’s Arkanoid: Doh It Again. Releasing both games within a few months of each other, one for the SNES and then a later version for arcades and the PlayStation, felt like a weird move, especially when so little changed between versions. Power-ups were largely the same, boards were reused, and the only real difference between the SNES game and the later version was a bit of extra spit and polish. Make no mistake, the improved presentation was nice but it wasn’t enough to make up for a game that felt like lukewarm leftovers.

<em>Arkanoid Returns</em>

Two years later, though, Taito made up for it. With their improved version, Arkanoid R 2000, the company released the version of the game that, frankly, should have come out all along. Whatever pressures were on the company in 1997 that made them decide to release two different games in the series that barely changed anything between titles, they did it and then it was obvious what they did. Arkanoid R 2000, though, puts in all the additions – new boards, new bricks, a new power-up – that fans wanted to see in Arkanoid Returns. This is the better version of the game, the proper version of the game. It’s just a pity it seems like most fans ignore it because, “it’s just a rerelease.” That’s on Taito.

To be clear, the original Arkanoid Returns is included in this package. That’s the main game while what I’d consider the “meat” of this game is included as a secondary “extra mode”. The basics of the game are the same between the two: 100 stages to play through, start to finish, with the game getting progressively harder (both in overall speed of the play as well as the specific boards) as you play through. Nothing is changed in the original mode; all the improvements and new features are relegated to extra mode, making this the new game we’ll actually focus on for this review. And, man, it’s actually pretty good.

The first thing you’ll see upon playing extra mode is that the game has new bricks in the pool. The first are vanishing blocks that will appear and disappear on set times. Sometimes they come and go slowly, other times quickly. When they fade out they can’t be hit so you have to wait for them to come back and then hope you can aim for them in time. This is kind of annoying, as it does feel like the game knows when the ball is aimed just right and decides, “hey, time to fade the brick out,” just as the ball shoots over… but this is also probably not the case and just bad luck on my part. Time and again. And again… and again.

The second brick type are activators for the gold bricks. This is actually a massive improvement and makes me think this was a feature that was planned for the original Arkanoid Returns and then just not implemented until later. The activators turn all gold bricks on a stage into breakable bricks (starting as standard bricks and then becoming low-level silver bricks in later stages). This allows for patterns where you have to work your way to the activator bricks so that you can then clear out the gold bricks. But the key is that it only works on some bricks, the standard gold bricks, not the ones with weird dots on them, and that’s why I think this was a feature meant for the full game as those special gold bricks are in both modes but the activators are only in extra mode. Why have them in standard mode if there wasn’t a difference between them and normal gold bricks? I’m glad that it got cleared up in extra mode, and I like this feature. but it’s still weird how the game goes about using the special golds in both modes.

And then there’s the cascading blocks. These are special bricks with golden borders. The red type, when hit, will then fall towards the paddle, the Vaus, and if it hits the paddle it’s a lost life. The blue versions explode, but then cause a cascade of other blue-and-gold bricks as the paddle passes under them. These are pretty wicked because your brain is trained that when things fall towards the paddle you’re supposed to catch them, both from the balls and the power-ups. Now you have things you have to dodge and if you aren’t paying attention you could lose a life.

Joining these new bricks is one new power-up: the rainbow (which becomes the Vanish V power-up in later games). When collected the next standard brick will cause all other standard bricks of that color to vanish from the stage permanently. It doesn’t work on silver or gold bricks, but just being able to eliminate a chunk of bricks from the well in one hit is a massive change. It’s pretty cool to see huge swaths disappear in a single connection, and I just wish these could work for the specialty brick types as well. Would make some stages more manageable.

And, finally, the extra mode adds in a new sub-boss to the game. The worm (which also appeared in Arkanoid: Doh it Again) shows up here, every 33 stages. The fight is different from the SNES version as the beast can now fire lasers and lightning bolts from time to time. The arenas also have power-ups that drop down from the top of the well, and these are, at times, different from the main selection. There’s a barrier power-up that puts a protective shell around the Vaus, a flipping C/G power-up that will either grant you the Catch or Giga-Ball abilities, and a purple version of M that, well, doesn’t seem to act different but does look different. These power-ups also show up in stage 100, the fight against a black version of Doh (who functions the same as his original incarnation in the main mode), making that fight feel different (and pretty fun).

Overall I like all of these additions and I think they help to make the game more interesting. A better, more fleshed out sequel, if you will.

With that said, not everything is perfect in this extra mode. The big issue is that the level designs in the late game are pretty garbage. In a move reminiscent of Tournament Arkanoid, far too many stages rely heavily on being difficult without actually being fun. There are a lot of stages where you have to blast through one-tile gaps, or take out a single five-hit silver brick, just to get to the actual bricks beyond, while gold bricks surround everything. It’s all trial, error, and luck to clear these stages without any real strategy to be had.

Worse, it feels like power-ups become far less common in the later stages. Some of this could be due to how many silver bricks there are (and silver bricks don’t drop power-ups). Some could be down to bad RNG when I was playing, with the game not giving up the goods. I do think, though, that the game simply withholds power-ups more often in the later stages just to make your work for it more. This combination of harder levels and less forgiving power-up drops makes for a long, tedious slog in the back part of the game. That’s a pity, too, because the first two thirds of the game (give or take a few stages) are really, quite solid.

Even with a bit of flaws in the late game, I would absolutely recommend Arkanoid R 2000 to fans of the series (if you can find a copy, of course). This is a much improved, and far more interesting, version of Arkanoid Returns, that gives fans everything they wanted in the sequel. It’s two full games packaged together, normal and extra, for a single price. I could list things I would have wanted differently in the game, sure (better stages in the late game for extra mode, some of these improvements in extra mode getting back-ported to the main game), but overall this was a solid experience. This is the version of the game that should have been released instead of Arkanoid Returns, frankly.