Paddle to the Colony

Arkanoid: Doh It Again

The Arkanoid games were mainstays of the 1980s arcade scene. Whether the 1986 original or its Japan-exclusive arcade sequel, Revenge of Doh, one of these titles would be sitting in an arcade anywhere you went during that era. The games, though, weren’t just released in arcades but also, eventually, saw ports to home consoles on both sides of the pond, and as the home console market grew, and arcade shrank (at least here in the West), it became important to ensure that franchises followed their audiences, staying relevant for players even as their playing habits changed.

Arkanoid: Doh It Again

Arkanoid: Doh it Again was the first console-exclusive title game in the series, releasing worldwide in 1997, making it a fairly late entry in the SNES’s life-cycle. It was largely ignored by consumers due to so many of them moving on to other consoles (the Nintendo 64, the Sony Playstation), but the game was praised by reviewers for its controls, its amount of content, and its presentation. It’s a handsome game for the Arkanoid series, and having a version of the franchise on the SNES was nice. But if you already had a copy for your NES (or either game for the Famicom), or had just obsessively played Arkanoid back in arcades, this might have felt like just another title in the series without much new to speak of.

The basics of the game should be familiar to any fan of the Arkanoid series. You are the captain of a colony ship, out in deep space, when the evil Doh shows up. As you work your way through his stages, breaking blocks via a ball and your paddle ship, the Vaus, you will progress to fights with Doh himself. After thirty-two stages the final confrontation will occur, and if you succeed Doh is defeated and your colony ship can escape. The one big twist here is that then you have to do it again, across thirty two new stages… and then again with a final thirty two. Counting all the boss fights, this game has ninety nine boards to clear before, finally, Doh is sent off to a pocket dimension and the colonists can finally find peace.

So yes, this is a standard Arkanoid game. The paddle and ball will appear at the bottom of the stage, with a grid of bricks above, and you have to break them. Break all the bricks that can be broken and you’ll move onto the next stage for a new brick layout and more brick-breaking to perform. Every eleven stages a boss will appear, whether it’s a giant worm which crawls around the screen, or Doh accompanied by little Doh heads, all of them shooting lasers at you, or the final confrontation with Doh who will punch at you and turn the stage to confuse you. And then you progress on again to do more block breaking for two-plus hours of action.

This was, at the time of release, the longest Arkanoid game yet in the series. 99 stages is a lot, and two hours of this game is a lot to sit through. That’s both a bonus for the game and kind of a knock against it. While a password feature is provided, in case you want to try and get through the whole game over a number of sessions, that’s still a lot of the same basic action to play over and over again. While the hardcore among us likely would get through the game eventually, I have to wonder how many others would bother as the game progressed and you felt like you were on an endless loop through the same kind of sights and sounds.

Frankly, two hours of this game is a lot, and even as a hardcore fan I was starting to tire of its basic gameplay well into its third loop of stages. The layouts were different on each loop, yes, but there are only so many different things you can do with a block breaking game, especially when you’ve seen all the new additions to the formula within the first, thirty-three-stage loop. Forty minutes feels just about right for that first loop. Everything else is a lot more of the same, and you have to be really dedicated to want to get through it. Hell, speedrunners have leaderboards setup for one-, two-, and three-loop adventures just in case they don’t want to get through the whole game in one sitting.

Many players will likely feel as though they’ve seen everything on that first loop, new stages or not. That’s in large part because the designers didn’t really push the format of the game after that first loop. Every thirty three stage group the game repeats its, and every eleven stages within that group has the same set of three bosses, Worm to Doh to Final Doh. And then you loop again. It’s a bit disappointing, really, as it would have been nice to have a bit more content to play with. New stage background every eleven stages, new bosses at the end of each section. It couldn’t have taken very long to make the backgrounds, and while bosses would need a little extra work, none of them are overly complex. Some variety, some new challenges would have been nice to keep the game feeling fresh.

At the same time the power-ups don’t feel all that special this time around, either. If you played Revenge of Doh then there’s very little here that’s new or interesting (although if all you had played was the arcade original then this might seem like an upgrade in power-up quality). The same standard power-ups from Revenge of Doh are here, from the Extend (E) paddle (although you can now double-extend as well), the duplication ball (D), and, of course, lasers (L). Extra life (P) and quick exits (B) are also here, although with a variant of a previous power-up, the brick clearing Meteor Ball (M). Penalty power-ups have largely been removed, though, which while nice, does take a lot of pressure off in the game.

In fact, I’d say this is one of the easier versions of the game in general. The game doesn’t really get challenging until the last loop, and even then that’s just because the stages are full of the unbreakable gold bricks and clearing stages comes down entirely to luck and hoping the ball goes where you want. Making things even more manageable was the fact that this title was compatible with the SNES Mouse, giving you fine-grained control over the Vaus. Even then, if you did play with the standard controller it felt pretty responsive and, at least in the first couple of loops, not too hard to keep up with even the fast ball speeds. It’s a very kind game.

Really, the largest disappointment I have with this game is that it feels very safe. The Arkanoid series is fairly basic, a block-breaking game with some power-ups to change up the mechanics of the genre. But since that 1986 original the series hasn’t really pushed itself very far. Revenge of Doh added in a lot of new power-ups, which was great, but after 11 years there has been little more done to make the series new and interesting again. The one truly new mechanic, Doh spinning the stage in one boss fight, only appears there and nowhere else. Could more stages have done interesting layouts? Could stage flipping have become a mechanic that was used more often? It feels like another missed opportunity here to not more fully explore that idea after it appears in a boss fight, another example of the game feeling stagnant when it could have pushed further.

As a basic Arkanoid game I enjoyed Arkanoid: Doh It Again well enough. It’s fun as a basic Arkanoid game, but it doesn’t feel like the series is evolving. After more than a decade with the original mechanics, something new is needed to keep this series feeling fresh and interesting. Sure, there’s only so much you can do with the basic, Pong-like mechanics of a paddle and a ball, but there were so many little things here that could have been done to improve this title… and they weren’t. It’s solid enough as Arkanoid but it’s also nothing more than Arkanoid and, at this point, I’ve played that a lot.