Arkanoid’s Break Away From Breakout Was What Arcades Needed
Being an obvious imitator in the video game industry is always a gamble. The developer risks exposing their product to immediate comparison against the influencing work. Is it as good as or better than the original? Is it worse? Does it set itself apart enough to warrant its own existence or is it simply a cheap attempt at pulling revenue away from the original product? These are questions that come with the release of a video game closely resembling another video game. Fortunately for players everywhere, Arkanoid was more than just a clone. It brought its own world of inspiration to the table and invited arcade goers and consoles around the world into a whole new era of Pong-based single-player action. Today, we celebrate the release of the original Arkanoid arcade machines back in 1986.
As an imitator, Arkanoid’s story starts well before its time with the original innovator, Atari’s Breakout. Conceptualized by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow, and originally programmed by Steve Wozniak, Breakout’s entire purpose was to supply players with a single-player Pong experience. It started the trend of giving players a side-to-side scrolling paddle that would be used to bounce a ball off layers of bricks, clearing them away one by one. Breakout was highly successful and would inspire many clones, perhaps the most prolific of which was Taito’s Arkanoid.
Arkanoid came about a decade after Breakout’s original release. By this time, the concept was thought to be stale and so-called “Breakout clones” had crossed player hands in various official and unofficial forms throughout the years. Taito came out of the gate ready to prove its newest product was far more than a simple rehash of old ideas. In many ways, Arkanoid was a truer sequel to Breakout than even some newer Breakout games. Arkanoid embraced the simplistic concept of its spiritual predecessor while giving it a fresh and gleaming coat of paint, a new means of special control, and some novel new tricks to keep things interesting on both sides of the game board.
As in Breakout, players would control a small paddle in Arkanoid, this time stylized as a small ship known as the Vaus. The title actually refers a large mothership known as the Arkanoid, from which the Vaus escapes at the beginning of the game. The object of the game is still to break bricks in Arkanoid, but quite changes came to the original formula. Many bricks had different rules to them, such as being able to take multiple hits or drop power-ups when broken. Furthermore, while the original Breakout's rainbow layered brick pattern appeared, many other layouts appeared as well, not the least of which was a board inspired by and designed to look like one of the alien enemies in the classic Space Invaders. Finally, some levels featured mobile enemy ships that fly around and pose an extra threat to the Vaus.
To aid the player, the aforementioned power-up drops would supply any number of bonuses to the Vaus, such as expanding the ship, arming it with brick-destroying lasers, or splitting the ball into multiple projectiles. The game controlled just as its predecessors did through simple right and left movement, but it featured both digital and analog controls in many releases. The Vaus could be moved with simple buttons and joysticks, but for the most control, tracking balls, mice, wheels, or paddles the way to play best, as the Vaus could be moved much more quickly via these methods as opposed to the static movement speed of arcade sticks and control pads. The original NES version of the game even featured a special Arkanoid controller that shipped with it and would not only become the most desirable way to play the game, but also a rare item among current collectors.
Arkanoid was most certainly an imitator. The influence of Breakout upon the game is as transparent as glass, yet it’s not simply any clone. Arkanoid almost single-handedly brought the Breakout concept back to life and revitalized its presence on the video game market. It brought fresh and pleasing upgrades to both the artistic style and technical aspects of the game to make it a product that players were willing to fill with quarters in the arcades and purchase for themselves in its re-releases on consoles in years following. With a fresh take on a classic flavor, Arkanoid was itself an instant classic, gaining accolades in the year of its release and inspiring imitators of its own.