Breaking My Backlog #8 – Drawkanoid

by Christopher David Lawton

Breaking My Backlog is a semi-regular features on in which I attempt to complete my entire backlog before buying any new games. You can read more about the quest and see my backlog here.

In Ecclesiastes, the unknown author writes that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” and in a way of confirming this, in 1994 Barenaked Ladies sang, “Everything old is new again, everything under the sun.”

In 2018, QCF Design released Drawkanoid, an updating of the classic arcade game Arkanoid, which may or may not be related in some way to the quotes above.

Now, if you’ve never played Arkanoid, I can guarantee you’ve played a clone of it. Here‘s a list of them. Here’s another list. Here’s one where you rescue chickens. I don’t know what’s going on with that one, but I love it. My point is Arkanoid, or Breakout, or whatever you want to call it has been made and remade and remade again, multiple times over the past 30 years, and chances are, unless you’ve lived under a cliche’d rock for the past 30 years, you’ve probably played something like this at least once.

So, within that context, when a company tries to make a new iteration of something so ubiquitous, how can they possibly make it different? Simple. They add bullet time.

Drawkanoid takes the classic Arkanoid formula — hit ball with paddle, break blocks with ball, hit ball with paddle again — and injects it with enough amphetamines to choke a cow, an analogy that will no longer make sense if the Green New Deal has its way. That’s topical. The play screen is broken into two sections. When the ball is in the top section, which also features the bricks, it moves at an imperceptible speed, bouncing around and breaking bricks. When the ball drops below the dividing line, though, time slows down and the ball’s speed drops considerably. You then “draw” your paddle, choosing length and angle, to bounce the ball back into the top section to break the bricks at super-high speeds again. When a certain number of bricks are destroyed (signified by tiny symbols on special bricks within the field), a boss appears. You then hit the boss once to clear the level and move on.

For the most part, after you’ve done this a few times, you’ve seen all the main game really has to offer. Each level randomly pulls from one of a handful of brick layouts, but it doesn’t take long to see them all, and eventually, you’ll start to notice the same boards over and over.

By now, then, you may be asking: if there’s not that much to see past a few rounds, Chris, why have you clocked hours upon hours upon hours into this game over the past few weeks?

Well, first, because it’s really fun. I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh this game feels, especially since it follows a formula established thirty years ago. I think this is mostly due the shift between speeds. It does take a few rounds to get used to switching between the fast and slow pace, but once it clicks, it clicks hard and well. By the third or fourth round, you’ll be a pro, following the ball as it bounces around the field exploding bricks, and quickly determining the best move when time slows down.

The second reason I’ve invested so much time into this game is because I love a game that gives me a good loadout system. As you play the game and defeat the bosses, you earn money. In between games, you can then take that money and buy new powerups. These can be latent abilities, like the item that gives you 30-percent extra money each level, or active powerups, like the Aim ability that allows you to see the path the ball will move once it bounces. You’re given a limited amount of space in your loadout, requiring you to make some hard decisions about what powerups to bring with you into the main game. I enjoy trying all of the different powerups, and finding the right combination that works for me. At the very least, it keeps the game fresh each time I head in.

And keeping it fresh is really important, because Drawkanoid is not a complex game. The loadout system has a heavy cross to bear, because the bullet time thing is a good addition, but it’s a novelty that wears off eventually. And if there were nothing else to see, when that novelty wore off, you’d be left with nothing but a flashy breakout clone.

Not that that’s bad, of course.

I don’t find anything inherently wrong with games that borrow game elements or loops from previous games. The original Breakout, really, is just a one-player Pong, which was cut almost whole-cloth from Tennis on the Magnavox Odyssey. But, there are degrees of thievery a developer must consider, and the greater the degree, the more quickly the game starts to feel tired.

We’re starting to see this a bit in the Battle Royale genre. BR games have been the in-thing in video games over the past few years since PUBG defined the genre, and Fortnite rocketed it into the mainstream. We’ve seen a lot of them come and go since then, and we still see new BR games enter the arena on a regular basis. Even established series are adding BR modes to their newest entries in an effort to compete. But each new entry into the genre is having trouble finding its footing. Some of them, like Call of Duty: Black Ops, are hanging on, usually by name recognition alone. Others, like Radical Heights, fail to find their audience, and disappear. The reasons whether or not a game may succeed are hard to quantify, though. There’s no formula. I think a big part of it, though, is whether or not the game has done enough to separate itself from the other BR games. It’s not enough to have just a new aesthetic or new weapons, or even be a really good game. By all accounts, Radical Heights was a fun game. But, you have to have more. You have to do something to completely turn the genre on its head. You have to become the game everyone else starts to copy.

Time will tell whether or not Drawkanoid will achieve that. It’s still a fairly new game, and it hasn’t gotten a ton of notice. Heck, I hadn’t even heard of it until Humble gave it away for free. It will probably never get the traction it needs to get a fair shake in the world of Breakout clones. And, ultimately, I think that’s a shame, because I’ve actually had a lot of fun playing it. I like it even more than that one where I rescue chickens, and that’s impressive.

Because I love chickens.

Backlog Update:

So, I finished one game, but I also scored a free game from Epic Game Store. So, one step forward, one step backward?

Total Backlog: 241 241

(All images from the Drawkanoid website.)