Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders Review — A Breakout Success

by Jed Pressgrove

Retro fans may not want to read this: Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders, a phone game, is better than both of the popular arcade staples it’s based on. With numerous characters to play as, varying objectives, a time limit for every level, and continually evolving threats, this amalgam functions as a hyperactive puzzler, where reflexes and accuracy must drive strategic solutions. The varied challenges and the unrelenting pace of the action (just skip the story) make even the most exciting versions of these classics, including 2008’s Space Invaders Extreme, seem cautious and unimaginative.

Developer Taito borrows more from Arkanoid for the premise: at the bottom of the screen, you control a paddle-shaped ship that can reflect bullets from enemies. With a slide of your finger, you can move the ship anywhere on roughly the bottom third of the screen — a departure from Arkanoid’s single-plane, left-right restriction. This new level of spatial freedom, combined with the ease of the finger-slide controls, gives Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders a distinctive frenetic feel.

Indeed, part of the challenge is not letting the effortless movement of the ship distract you from the importance of careful positioning. To beat a level in Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders, you must accomplish a specific objective, such as destroying all invaders or destroying all blocks, within a set time (typically 30-60 seconds) by reflecting alien fire toward the middle and upper part of the screen. Depending on where a bullet hits your ship, the trajectory of the reflected shot will be altered. Thus, if you have one invader to destroy and only two seconds to do so, your last-ditch bullet reflection will need perfect accuracy, whether that translates to a straight-ahead shot or an angled shot that ricochets off the left or right wall in such a way to hit the final target.

The proceedings are loaded down with a variety of interesting variables. As you reflect bullets, a bar fills up. Once the bar is full, your paddle is temporarily replaced with a giant bow and arrow. After you fire the arrow at a chosen angle, it becomes a super shot that will bounce off multiple blocks/enemies until the aforementioned bar depletes, but you must reflect the shot with your ship if it travels to the bottom of the screen. The super shot is essential to success, as it freezes the time limit for the level, and certain levels seem impossible to complete without this advantage.

The other variables allow you to play the game with a specific style. After you complete a world (which consists of 15 levels), you can unlock new characters with points that you accrue. Each character has a special type of skill that can be used when your ship touches an “S” icon. For example, certain heroes can slow down time (including the level’s time limit), while others can temporarily shoot missiles. Sometimes the key to advancing in Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders is knowing how to exploit these different advantages.

This title also encourages experimentation after failure. When you don’t beat a level, the game sends you right back to the screen where you can switch protagonists. Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders has well more than 100 levels, and the challenges become trickier puzzles as you enter new worlds. In one later level, the mission is to destroy two main switches, but they are located at the top of the screen with a lot of blocks between your ship and them. The issue is that some of the blocks encasing the main switches are indestructible unless you hit two secondary switches, which can’t be reached with bullets until certain blocks move on their own to open up enough space for an angled shot. The final kicker is you need bullets to break through the blocks, but enemies are limited, meaning that a poorly aimed reflection can lead to a dead invader and fewer bullets to beat the timer.

This brand of devious level design threatens to catch you off-guard several times throughout the game. Given the various obstacles that might be at play in a given level, choosing the right character to execute a plan can be a daunting but very rewarding hurdle to clear. And because no level lasts long thanks to the time limit, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders operates under a fun type of pressure — one that can demand sharp precision without weighing down the player with a monotonous time commitment. That’s the arcade way. In this modern age of unending content, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders is a great representative of articulately designed, bullshit-free action.

Growl Review — Immature Ideology

by Matt Paprocki

In Growl, a pithy number of mammals are saved by sanctioned murders, a style of overboard slaughter that separates legs, arms, and heads, a spectacle of hypocrisy. Oddly connected to Taito, a Japanese studio known for chipper military games, run-and-gun espionage thrillers, and harmless alien fantasies, Growl is an outcast beat ’em up full of unapologetic political litter.

Around 40 animals are rescued throughout Growl’s 20 or so minutes of anti-poacher carnage: eagles, elephants, lions, deer, gorillas. Comparatively, hundreds of human lives are lost. Men in turbans are brutally kneed in the face. Others are stomped into the ground. Some drown. Women explode into chunks after grenades time out. Growl is among the earliest video games to feature women of color prolifically and blows them up at the hands of four “heroic” white men who make up the Ranger Corps. Growl is apathetic to all, because animals.

The graphic violence is not necessarily repulsive in and of itself (though Growl’s ferociousness was unorthodox in 1991). Rather, Growl chooses to be crude and reactionary, content that an audience willing to pour in quarters would accept such a heinous depiction of human execution. The imagery is outright vile. PETA could hand out Growl as a digital business card. Sympathy for poaching is inexcusable, but believing this to be a solution is equally grotesque. Growl is as effective in its messaging as a campaign yard sign.

Weirder still is Growl’s playfulness. Cartoon words across the screen — “Shboom!” — degrade the fiction to camp television standards, a display of artless cruelty. Colorful, comic words are no shield to Growl’s abhorrent bigotry. Fern Gully this is not.

Growl is among the more critically confusing mass-produced arcade games of its era. A rallying cry of “Defeat the evil hunters!” is swept away by the nonsense of its closing act in which a rogue clown sprouts a rocket launcher for a neck, tosses around a tank, and rips open upon defeat to reveal an alien worm who was controlling members of the villainous poaching squad. Preceding actions take on the connotation of an exploitative zombie movie, matching the B-level tonality of the trailer-esque intro screens.

Growl’s sci-fi horror only makes things worse. Body parts and blood remain — now of innocent people controlled against their will, not poachers. Aliens are comforting foes. Slithering, slimy. Green. They’re often vapid as villains, too. But what would an alien want with these animals? Growl has no idea. Neither will an audience. Growl becomes expressly salacious without reason.

As a surface allegory, Growl is partly caught in the limited narrative bandwidth of the arcade form. Instant gratification is of prime importance, not storytelling patience, so the game calls the poacher group RAPO. Underneath this lack of subtlety is a competent brawler. Punches are fired (and sound) like machine guns while mayhem is celebratory, a fireworks show of scattering intestines. Dull moments do not exist.

Certainly, the game stands in contrast to an industry feeding on low-grade Cabela-licensed hunting simulations that flagrantly use birds, cheetahs, and alligators as mere antagonistic filler. Taito’s Growl loves those animals, just too much so and it’s damned mean about it.

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 15 years. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can follow Matt’s body of work via his personal WordPress blog and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.