Preview: VRkanoid – Another Brick in the Wall

Arkanoid, first developed and released by Taito in 1986, has been made and remade repeatedly throughout the past four decades. The original landed in arcades and migrated over to pretty much every platform known in the gaming world. It’s a tried and tested title where the player controls a moving platform known as a paddle; this must be used to bounce a ball around a playing field and break colourful blocks. So, I’m sure you can imagine already how VRkanoid plays.

Utilising the motion controls within the controllers, you are now the paddle. Though it should be noted, it’s not quite a flat paddle platform; to make the game more approachable, you’ll be controlling rackets and bats. There are still blocks to break, and this is done by hitting balls down a narrow field of view. It’s a bit like those arcade games where you throw balls at targets to win tickets.

After playing for a few hours, I feel like I’d seen everything VRkanoid could throw at me, yet I didn’t want to put the bats down. Even more puzzling is, the videogame isn’t even that great. Outside of the physics of the ball, which bounces and whizzes through the air with a satisfying grace, the progression and individual levels leave a lot to be desired.

Each level gives a star rating, out of three, for how well you perform the task set. It might be ‘break all of the target blocks’ or ‘don’t miss any balls shot from a turret’ or even ‘break this one really big block’. It’s all very samey. Doing well gives you the stars which can then be used to unlock new bats, colours of balls and perks which liven things up incrementally.

The perks are the most interesting, although I only ever really used the ‘two bat’ perk which allowed me to play with both hands. The developer tries to spice things up by giving in-game abilities – these are activated at random by hitting a glowing spark which releases from the blocks as they break. There’s one that tips gravity on its side, another that adds a fence bouncing the ball closer to the blocks and an ability that sets the ball on fire.

None of these abilities or perks really make for a more exciting game. They don’t take away from the frustrations of trying to hit a tiny target, some distance away, with an erratic ball. The closed-in walls make for a game that crossbred Ping Pong and Squash, your reactions need to be razor-sharp.

Despite these annoyances, I kept playing. This is mostly because the act of striking the ball cleanly and watching it arc through the air became quite joyous. It was nothing to do with hitting targets, it’s that sensation you can only get in VR; the tactile feedback of everything coming together. The levels I enjoyed the most never had breakable blocks, just a turret randomly serving me the ball for a return hit. 

VRkanoid, despite its plain gameplay mechanic, is still an addictive short-lived experience. Nothing grates enough that I walked away thinking I’d wasted my time playing, but I didn’t come away with a sense of achievement either. It ticks lots of boxes and passes some time, but it won’t become a sturdy fixture in your VR play-time.