Review #1 by Sean Aaron
This is the game that the Namco Volume controller was packed-in with when I ordered it over it the net. It's an Arkanoid-type game except that you're looking at the bricks from the bottom of the paddle up rather than from the side like Arkanoid or Breakout. Also unlike Arkanoid or Breakout, the game isn't particularly unique or revolutionary, and if you have one or the other of the former, is probably not worth owning (at least I didn't think so). All that said, the collector should look out for this one since it is rather rare, and the Breakout fanatic will want it for its few unique features.
The game can be played with the regular d-pad, mouse or volume controller. All menus can be navigated with any of the above controllers as with Arkanoid Returns, so pick your weapon and go to it!
You are presented initially with the option to configure your setup (number of lives, load/save, autosave high score, continues, etc.) or choose your game: Story Mode, Two Player or Arcade Mode. The options screens are all English; in fact I can't remember any Japanese other than the save or load confirmation screen. Now I only played Arcade mode a few times, but I can't read the Japanese manual so I don't know what the difference is really. Two Player I believe is alternating--at least I didn't see screen shots to suggest otherwise. As a result, this review will be of the story mode game, which I played quite extensively--at least until Arkanoid Returns came out ;).
I can't discuss play control with the d-pad since I never had occasion to use it (I own both the mouse and the volume controller); I never used the mouse since I had the volume controller, but both of these controllers have two buttons, so I assume the operation would be the same. One button launches the ball; if you hold the other button and press launch you pause the game and can bring up an in-game menu that allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the control and select the camera angle to one of three choices: first person, where the paddle is in the forground and you see the blocks (which rise vertically from the playfield--unlike Arkanoid) from the paddle's point of view; a more isometric version of the previous one--this is default--which makes it easier to see what angle the ball is coming from as well as most of the brick layout; top-down view where you are basically looking at an Arkanoid/Breakout board, but can't discern the fact that some bricks are actually coming out of the screen--thus nullifying the 3-d aspect of the game.
Actual gameplay consists of bouncing the ball off the paddle to destroy bricks with the added twist that the bricks are stacked vertically on top of each other coming out of the playfield. Another unique feature is that you are represented by a character. This is similar to some of the Japanese puzzle games like Puzzle Fighter, except that there are powerups associated with each of the characters, although in the tradition of Super Puzzle Fighter II, the characters have no bearing on the actual game. The character art and animation is quite good, but the computer character doesn't seem to have much purpose since you aren't actually playing against anyone. There are six characters to choose from, and each of the other characters is your "opponent" for 10 levels, with a "boss" stage every ten featuring a different colorful, cutesy dragon as your enemy. The boss levels are actually kind of neat in that you aren't destroying bricks but bouncing the ball of of sheep that circle a polygon dragon in the center that you must then destroy--now if the rest of the game was that interesting, I'd still own it :).
The pieces are all polygonal--including the paddle--but it seems unnecessary. The sound effects and music are quite good (the audio is redbook in case you want to play it in your discman ;), which is a surprising treat as well.
The only other aspect of note is the aforementioned powerups. There aren't as many as in Arkanoid; nor are they very interesting. There is a powerup that acts like the break powerup in Arkanoid, which ends the level early, and it's even purple like the Arkanoid Break (how original). There are position ones: X+/- (plus or minus X determines how wide the paddle is) and Y+/- (moves the paddle closer or farther away from the blocks). Both are cumulative, although I've never acually fallen off the playfield from grabbing too many Y- capsules ;). There is also an S+/- which speeds up or slows down the ball (yippee). There are 6 selectable characters and each has a "native" powerup, but there are only three powerups between them. I found this disappointing--especially considering that only one of them is unique to the characters. Two characters have double X+ powerups, two have S- powerups, and two have a special powerup that causes the ball to break through multiple rows of bricks, clearing a swath with every pass. All character powerups are temporary and indicated with a meter underneath the character. Destroying red bricks charges up the meter until it starts flashing at which point the powerup automatically takes effect. The meter level remains from stage to stage, so if you almost have powerup activation at the end of one level it will be the same at the start of the next.
If you want to you can continue 3 times after using your three lives, but your score resets. Incidentally only the top score is saved and you don't get to sign your initials. Still, this is better than Nichibutsu Arcade Classics or Bubble Bobble where you can't save anything.
Really there isn't too much to add. What you have is basically a watered-down version of Arkanoid with cutesy characters that add nothing to gameplay. This is not a must-buy, however considering that the Volume Controller was what I was really after, I can't say that it was a bad game; besides, it did satisfy my craving for Arkanoid until Arkanoid Returns was released. So, if you have to get it to get the Volume Controller, then do so, but otherwise get yourself Arkanoid Returns or Atari Collection 1 and play the real thing.