PATN Week 10 – Arkanoid arches rival gladiators in America.

Week 10 has in store for me one show tie-in and two ports, which usually doesn’t mean wondrous adventures await, but in this case, I can hardly complain. I have played two of these titles previously, and while they weren’t extremely notable for me, at least they made some impression. I haven’t come to the conclusion what I should do once I reach a game I have a lot of experience with; I suppose I’ll just play it again and see if the quality continues to measure up. I was thinking about this undertaking with the NES, and how this will likely take me on the upwards of 4 years to finish. I thought over 700 games was something to marvel at…but then I looked at the Playstation 2. Over. 2000. Games. Yeah, I think I’ve made the right choice.

Now on to the titles! Note: I am still running into games with bad headers, but making a list for future reference. All the games must be played eventually.

American Gladiators…oh, this takes me back. I remember watching this show with rapture as a kid in the 80’s and 90’s. So many bright colors, crazy contraptions and obstacle courses. Not to mention the varied Gladiators themselves. There was almost a wrestling-like aura to the sport, with special attention being put on the stars of the show: Nitro, Zap, Lace, Diamond, Turbo and many other radical 80s words. I knew when I turned this game from 1991 on, I knew I would be in for some deep nostalgia. I also knew it wouldn’t last. GameTek were the makers of this game, and while there actually is some amusement to be found, it was mostly found on the Wall. No, I mean it. There’s an event simply labeled “Wall”. There’s also Joust (random, repetitive, annoying), Powerball (a dramatic re-telling of when I was bullied in intermediate school) and Assault (I assume a liability waiver was signed by the contestants, so that counts as consent, right?). But, Wall? That’s where the fun was for me. This could easily have been its own arcade game in the early 80s. All the elements are there; even the crazy (but intuitive) control scheme easily could have been turned into some weirdo joystick. The overall presentation is nothing special graphically and even less so musically, but nothing immediately made me want to punch a seal. Sure, most of the game is a meh experience, but it was far less meh than I thought. There are only 5 events that mainly just ramp up in difficulty and that’s a bummer. Maybe it’s just the kid side in me, but it’s hard for me to totally discount this game. I didn’t get a chance to play anything in 2-player mode, but I have a feeling that’s where the game where would really start to shine. Try it!

The next two games are ones I’m familiar with, and this hasn’t happened yet. The first game, Arch Rivals, I had played as a kid on my Game Gear, Sega’s first portable system. I enjoyed it: colorful and silly, it bested Double Dribble in many ways and the graphics were better than most basketball games of the era. When I saw that Midway and Rare both had a hand in this game, I knew quality was sure to be a part of it. One thing that hadn’t quite solidified in my mind until playing it again was its direct relation to the NBA Jam series. Two-player action, punching allowed, no rules: just mayhem. The two experiences are basically the same, save for the lack of official teams here. Instead you get gems like “Natural High” (which are green, of course), Brawl State, Los Angeles and Chicago (boring, but obvious why). As far as I could tell, that was about the only difference. This was a port of the arcade experience, which had just been released the year before. Watching YouTube videos showed that it was a darn good port at that. The colors are fun, the action quick and the audience somewhat involved in the festivities. You are told if someone is good on defense or a top shooter, but there are no fast stats like in NBA Jam. There are no options whatsoever, just you get to play one team against another and then choose who you want to play as and then poof you’re off. Unlike other basketball titles, there was no way to change the length of the quarters or any other feature. You just hop right in and play as one of the 4 teams with different colors. I think it was sad they didn’t try to make the home experience any more deep with this version. Make a great port, yes, but since the audience isn’t playing for only a few moments, it seemed odd to not give the game the depth needed to make it a multi-hour endeavour. Arch Rivals was a watershed moment for sports games overall and ushered in a new era of no rules fun, and for that you should definitely Play It!

Lastly, I popped in Arkanoid. You know Arkanoid; maybe I should call it Breakout with bonuses. You keep a ball dancing on your little pill-shaped craft as it bounces back and forth, seeking to destroy every block at the top. Little upgrades fall from the top making you longer or faster (insert Enzytle joke here) or enable multiple balls (it’s difficult to dodge the entendre) to dance around the screen. This is a port of the original arcade experience from 1986, and from what I can tell, it’s a perfect re-creation, except for the screen ratio (which on arcade is flipped sideways to give you a longer screen. It’s never been a game I’ve played for very long, due to the difficulty, but I was always able to make it a few rounds. The only oddity is the lack of continues on the NES version and that it’s actually 3 rounds longer than the original arcade: meaning you have to defeat the game in one sitting. On one hand, it’s a very good port and if you had experience with the original, you’d be hard pressed to be left wanting here. On the other, it’s a fairly simplistic game and while that’s not bad, I can’t necessarily put it in the amazing category, but still if you’ve never experienced the original game and find this in the wild, I’d say it would be worth picking up. Interesting side note: the main boss is named “Doh”. I am not making that up. Play it!

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