Doh Returns

Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh

Upon its release, Arkanoid was a hit in arcades. As I noted in that game’s reviews, it was hard to find an arcade in the 1980s and early 1990s that didn’t have an Arkanoid machine. It took the simple brick-and-paddle gameplay of Breakout and turned it into something cooler. With sci-fi touches, power-ups, and a Moai head boss (that few ever reached) taunting you as you lost, the game had enough to set it apart and keep players pumping quarters in to see if they could get through the stages and face the villainous Doh.

Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh

With a hit on their hands Taito quickly put a sequel into production. Built on the same base engine, the game would be compatible with the original machine’s hardware, requiring conversion kits (but not a whole new setup) to get the new game boards up and running. This made it a quick purchase, and upgrade, to the new title. And for fans of the original this meant new adventures, new enemies, new power-ups, and a whole lot more Arkanoid for them to play through. If they had gotten through the first game then this new set of challenges would provide new material to defeat. And if they hadn’t gotten through the first game, well, at least they could die on all new stages. It’s a win-win, right?

As a direct upgrade to the original, Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh doesn’t deviate far from the mechanics of the original game. You are once more in control of a little spaceship, the Vaus 2, as you pilot your way through the Doh mothership. This requires going room by room through the ship, clearing out the various bricks that lock the way forward. Each level will consist of a mix of regular, colored bricks (which can be destroyed in one hit), silver bricks (which take increasingly more hits), and gold bricks (which cannot be destroyed). Clearing the bricks out opens the way forward so the Vaus 2 can move to the next room and begin the process again with a new layout of bricks.

There are a few new twists to the gameplay that alter the basic feel of the game. First, some bricks can now move. If they have room on their sides, these bricks will slide back and forth horizontally, adding to the aiming challenge. There are also new, indented silver bricks which, like standard silver bricks, take multiple hits to break. However, these new bricks also will regenerate over time, reappearing after a pause, forcing you to take them out again. In some stages, the mix of moving bricks and regenerating bricks can cause quite a few problems, absolutely ratcheting up the challenge of the game. You don’t have to clear all these special bricks to move on, but they are often placed in ways to be truly annoying.

Of course, the various enemies from the first game return now, once again getting in the way and causing problems. Many of the same enemies are back, but they’re joined by a couple of new obstructions. The three-sphere enemies can now multiply when hit, adding more obstacles to the path of the ball. And there are bouncing sphere enemies which can’t be destroyed. The only way to deal with this is to let them fall into the pit, but, of course, more will appear at the top making a constant flow of enemies that can be obnoxious.

While the early game of Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh isn’t much harder than the original title, it’s in the late game that I would say this game reveals its true, devious challenge. As the regenerating silver bricks become more prevalent, with some stages using these bricks to completely block the path forward until you’ve cleared them out… only to have them come back. Add on enemies coming down narrow passages, sending the ball bouncing back when you’re trying to navigate it towards the bricks you need, and you have a recipe for truly nasty board layouts. You’ll see a lot of this in the late game.

With that said, if you get good at certain challenges you can learn the game and find the puzzles that are best for you. The sequel features gates at the end of each stage with a selection of where to go, left or right. Which side you choose will set up different puzzles, letting you navigate through interesting variants of the game. This also offers more to explore, and more replayability. Having trouble on one stage? Maybe try selecting a different stage on the previous puzzle’s end and see if that works better for you. While the game will still be challenging it’s possible you can find puzzles that work better for your brain that way, or just experience new things on a new playthrough.

The game does also feature more power-ups this time around to make the experience more varied and, in some ways, a little more manageable. Joining returning favorites Catch, Laser, and Extend are interesting variants and new bonuses. Duplication makes not just three balls this time around but a massive pile of ten going all over the place. There’s also a regenerating version of Duplication, in white, that will ensure there’s always three balls on the play field as long as one ball is still alive. There’s variants for the paddle as well, like the duplicating I pill, which puts two paddles side by side, or the phasing I pill which puts a phase trail behind the paddle as it moves, and that phased version of the paddle will still bounce the ball. And then there’s the absolutely amazing R pill, which turns the ball into tearing streaks of carnage, breaking everything in their wake (without stopping), including gold bricks.

The game features, of course, the return of Doh, who is now a two phase fight. But he’s joined, at the midway point, by a brain sub-boss as well. In both instances, the basic mechanics remain the same: hit the boss enough times to defeat them while avoiding obstacles they throw and bouncing the ball around to keep it alive. I would say the boss fights are, honestly, the least interesting parts of the game as they feel kind of basic and even a little generic in comparison to many of the devious stages. While I liked the idea of a boss at the end of the game for the original Arkanoid, I think they needed to do way more with the concept this time around to make these fights interesting.

And while we’re picking at nits, some of the stages, despite their seeming complexity, aren’t really all that interesting. There are a few that are absolutely loaded with gold bricks, where the trick is to get the ball shoved into a single opening and let it bounce around inside the layout until it randomly hits a few of the bricks needed. Often this leads to you watching the ball bounce around for seconds at a time while you have nothing to do. And if the ball gets caught in a loop of bounces between a few gold bricks, you basically get to wait until the game shoves the ball in a different direction on its own… which can take a while. These stages feel like they were designed to be evil but weren’t tested enough to make sure they were actually fun and viable.

Still, this is a solid little upgrade over the original game with plenty of fresh ideas. While it’s considered a sequel it does, in ways, feel more like an expansion pack. Which, well, it was. It’s an upgrade for the original hardware with new layouts and new puzzles, but it still was clearly built on the same bones as the original game. I don’t consider that a big slight, though, as it did lead to more Arkanoid and it’s hard to consider that a bad thing. This is a fun expansion of the original game, with more cool things to do on more stages of play. It’s everything a fan back in 1987 would have wanted.

If only the arcade kits had ever left Japan. This one was an exclusive for Japanese markets which is why those of us in the U.S. likely never saw these machines. But if you were lucky enough to get to play it then you got the grail: more Arkanoid. Consider yourself blessed.