The latest release by Sometimes You, Arkan: The Dog Adventurer takes classic Arkanoid (single player Pong) and turns it into a thoughtful twin-stick shooter. The approach is so simple but yet so effective it is a wonder why this formula has not been demonstrated previously.
Playing as a wizard Shiba Inu, the goal is to reflect your magical bouncing ball at enemies on the other side of the screen. The difference here is the player is not tediously tasked with destroying every brick. Instead, the player only needs to destroy each enemy; destroying the optional stars can also yield more rewards and provides incentive for completionists. Each stage takes place on a single non-scrolling screen so it is presented like a proper puzzle game and it only takes a minute or two to complete.
The left stick controls the wizard dog and plays just like any platformer. Here, the player can freely move anywhere on screen at any time. Moving, jumping, and teleporting is imperative because projectiles will constantly hunt the player almost turning the experience into a horizontal shooter. Take too much damage or fall down a pit and it is Game Over. Jumping by tapping up on the left analog stick takes a level or two to adjust but works well. Teleporting with the left trigger can be helpful in a pinch but the spawning spot seems random which yields a high risk/reward factor. You might have dodged that one incoming bullet but accidentally spawned in front of another.
Platforming is simple enough but the use of the right analog stick is where this game really shines. After you initially toss your ball, it will eventually make its way back towards you. Here, the player can aim with the right stick and then ricochet the ball back with the right trigger through a baton twirling animation. Regardless of this animation, the ball will always bounce in the direction of the analog stick even if it is behind the dog wizard. Until a certain point, the ball gains speed and strength with every hit too, causing it to destroy multiple blocks at once as opposed to one at the time. Also, the player isn’t penalized if a ball makes it passed the player and exits the left side of the screen. Instead of losing a “life” like in similar games, here the player just needs to restart the power meter from zero again, which is a player friendly compromise.
Each stage rewards the success of the player from one to three stars. Levels can be replayed at any time from an easy to navigate map so completionists should enjoy the experience. For a $5 game, the soundtrack is also surprisingly pleasurable. The pixelated visuals are a little fuzzy though. Not to be confused with low quality, it just seems like it was a SD game and bumped to HD without any upscaling. Sometimes the projectiles from enemies look just like your magical bouncing ball which can result in some frustrating, cheap hits too.
For only $5, Arkan: The Dog Adventurer has a lot to like. The twin-stick Arknoid concept is solid and well executed, the difficulty and pacing is spot on, and you get to play as a humanoid wizard dog for crying out loud! This is one dog you will want to take for a walk.
Also available on PS4 and Nintendo Switch.