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Impressions: Arkanoid Vs. Space Invaders

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Yesterday, an unthinkable yet logical crossover finally occurred. While seeing these two classic game series collide might come as a shock for some, Taito's more recent history suggests that this isn't so odd. They've been pushing Space Invaders quite a bit on cell phones, with games like the stellar Infinity Gene, and while Arkanoid doesn't get quite so much love, it did have a song featured in the bizarre Space Invaders/music mash-up game Groove Coaster. Taking these two known properties of theirs and putting them together in the one place where they're still relatively relevant, the mobile games scene, makes a lot of sense.

What's more important is that when they want to, Taito's capable of nailing these things on phones, and at least for now, they appear to have done the same with Arkanoid Vs. Space Invaders. The base gameplay makes simple yet clever use of both games and playstyles: controlling the Arkanoid paddle known as Vaus, you connect with shots from the invaders to deflect them back their way, hopefully taking them out in the process. A shot's direction varies based on where it hits the paddle, but charging forward just as a shot connects causes it to launch straight forward instead, allowing limited direct control in what you do with the invaders' ammunition. This is the basic crux of AvSI: deflecting shots back at attackers and either destroying all of them or taking out all the Arkanoid blocks in a level, while trying to avoid running out of time. This repeats ad nauseum until you've beaten all the levels or you get bored and find something else to do.

This is a rather basic introduction for what will becoming an increasingly taxing game, however. The game introduces new elements at certain intervals, often as a new 'area' of fifteen stages begins, that'll changes things up dramatically. Gold blocks and enemies get introduced, which cannot be destroyed, cores get added as the new objective(s) to eliminate in levels, flow currents with arrows attached alter the trajectory of shots on both ends, and so on and so forth. There's also more to piloting the Vaus than simply paddling shots around, as an Attack Gauge fills with every deflection and the collection of certain power-ups. Maxing it out puts the Vaus in Attack Mode, where all shots disappear from the level, things in the game world slow down ever so slightly, and you attain control of a giant bow with a single glowing ball to aim. You can see the basic path the ball will take when launched, and unlike normal shots, the Attack Mode ball will not dissipate upon hitting a solid object. On the contrary, the ball lasts until the Attack Gauge deflates or until you miss a return volley with your Vaus.

Then there's combos, attained when you deflect multiple shots that hit and destroy blocks or invaders without missing any, power-ups that give you bonus coins, fill your Attack Gauge and give bonus time, and Skills that vary based upon which of the 40 characters you're using at the time. These characters, only buyable under the right conditions (usually upon completion of a certain number of levels), are often based upon beloved or forgotten Taito series. I've seen Bub, Bob and a Monsta from Bubble Bobble, the guy from Elevator Action, Kage from The Legend of Kage, and someone named Lufia that I'm gonna assume is from the same series, because I can. These Skills, also attained through power-ups, can make a huge difference in battle, and the deeper down the roster you go, the better abilities get. You might be able to stop enemies entirely, cause the ball in Attack Mode to go through blocks it destroys instead of bouncing off them one at a time, give your shots a lock-on effect to nail particularly evasive enemies, or call upon a UFO to provide you with bonus shots to deflect.

As for the levels themselves, there's a clear amount of variety in their design. Some will focus more on filling the screen with invaders, some will focus on blocks, some put golden blocks in strategic places to require expert deflection or judicious use of Attack Mode to clear things out, and some are clearly just-for-fun designs that are meant to feel fun rather than tough. I will say though that sometimes the difficulty can be aggravating. Some levels might seem daunting for awhile, like one in particular that had six walls of moving, golden blocks that you had to expertly aim an Attack Mode shot through to hit one particular trigger that'd turn them all to normal blocks and make it feasible to hit the core. I struggled with this one, and with all the bonus power-ups they want you to spend coins for (which I'll get to in just a little bit) I felt like this was a way to cheese you out of your hard-earned currency. Then in one run I cleared out the core without even touching the trigger at all. Then I had to destroy blocks made out to look like a sprite from another Taito game that was loads of fun, and all was forgiven.

So far, I've completed 105 of the 150 levels and collected 20 of the 40 characters. While I've not beaten it yet, I can say I've gotten my $4 worth easily as is. Speaking of that... the game's currently on sale for $4, and you're saving a whopping 20% on the title. That means the basic price is a decidedly more exorbitant $5. For the price, you get a game with 150 levels, with at least two difficulties for each level, 40 characters to unlock, achievements that'll provide you with bonus coins or characters upon completion, and a challenge level where you have 60 seconds to rack up as high a score as you can, where missed shots take away from your overall time. Characters tend to cost 1,500 currency each when unlocked, and there are four power-ups you can buy for coins before a match starts, one of which costs more than a character does. You can power-up your shots, increase the size of your Vaus (I need this power-up in real life please), and have one last emergency Attack Mode use when time runs out. I've used each power-up once, all in the same round, on a level I was struggling with, merely because the first time for each is free. I've not used or needed them since, though some levels have made them awfully tempting. Even if they did, after buying half of the roster at 1,500 coins a pop, I still have 20,000 some coins. I dunno yet if you can buy more coins for cash, but if so then Taito's made it alarmingly easy to ignore that.

One final important thing: I've tested it and, that I can tell, the game is playble offline. You will likely need to be online to get updates for the game though, and for the initial download and install, as the 300 MB download through iTunes (I used an iPhone 5S) doesn't give you the entire game. In any event, while I wouldn't call the game a must-play, it's clear some care was put into making this a solid title, and for $4 or even $5, you're gonna have a good time for the cash.

(will update the article later with screenshots. I want to use my phone to take some, and I have to get ready for work in a half hour, so I don't have the time right now. Ultimately, I just wanted to get something written and out there, while I'm feeling moderately motivated to. That, and offer impressions to others that might have a passing interest in this.)

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About Lawmanone of us since 8:42 PM on 03.01.2011