After revolutionizing the world with a video game called Pong, Atari followed up with a similar hit called Breakout. The paddle and ball were still there, which the player now used to knock down a wall of bricks. Imitators followed in droves but one game stands out as a worthy competitor – Taito’s Arkanoid, released a decade later and full of interesting variations.

While the game looked much like its predecessor at first glance, looks can be deceiving. Sure, there was a paddle and a ball, and should said paddle ever miss the ball, leaving it to fall to the bottom of the screen, one of the player’s three lives was sacrificed as a result. It was the fundamentals of pinball, designed for a new generation. This is where the comparison between Breakout and Arkanoid ends.

With each level in Arkanoid, blocks were introduced in a new pattern and some were impervious to damage, meaning the player needed to work around them. Some blocks were a little more robust, requiring multiple hits before they would destruct. Then there was those pesky brick walls that surrounded some of the blocks. With only a small opening that exposed the block’s vulnerability, it took careful aim to penetrate this brick fortress.

Perhaps the most exiting innovation was the paddle itself. Certain blocks were labeled with a color-coded letter. Knock one of these babies out, then intercept the falling letter, and soon that regular paddle was ready to do some amazing things.

Hitting the letter “D” for example would split the ball into three. An “S” acted to slow the ball down considerably, giving better opportunity to aim and react. “E” increased the paddle size and “B” opened up a welcome escape hatch at the bottom of the screen, which immediately moved a player to the next level without having to complete the task at hand.

The letter “P” had alternate abilities. The pink version gave you an additional life and the red version armed your paddle with a gun, allowing you to shoot as many blocks as you could muster. And should all of this become too frantic, too confusing, hitting the letter “C” would mercifully return everything to the original settings, which was often quite a relief.

Far from just being a clone, Arkanoid earned a solid reputation of its own, thanks to its unique approach to a time-tested classic. As a result of its overwhelming popularity, Taito followed up with a sequel in 1987 called Arkanoid 2: Revenge of Doh which added even more interesting twists to an already entertaining game.

Ten years after it’s introduction, the game got a facelift for its debut on the Sony Playstation console as Arkanoid Returns, introducing the experience to legions of gamers too young to have ever heard of that mysterious thing called Pong.

Do you have fond memories of playing Arkanoid at the local arcade, or on one of the many home systems that offered the game? We’d love to hear your memories in our comments section below.

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