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 system 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 objectives 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, and in this modern age of unending content, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders is a great representative of articulately designed, bullshit-free action.