Take a Taito Trip!

There are many video game companies who have been around for a long time. One of those is Taito Corporation. Makers of familiar hits like Bubble Bobble, Elevator Action, and the ubiquitous Space Invaders. Many of their games have seen sequels and spinoffs, and there’s been a lot of Taito game updates this year alone. Some really good, and some really bad, we’ll look at a few of them in this blog.

The first two games are recently released Nintendo DS titles from Taito, but brought over to the US by Square Enix. Why Square? Lots of video game companies have been merging lately (Namco-Bandai, Square Enix, etc.) In Japan, Square bought a bunch of shares of Taito so now they kind of own it. When Square merged with Enix, some people started calling them Squeenix. So what would they be called now that they’ve kind of ‘merged’ with Taito? My friend and I came up with a name that I thought was kind of funny: Square + Enix + Taito = Squinto!

Arkanoid DS
Usually when it comes to classic game updates, I usually enjoy them, but at the same time, I’m just as happy playing the original. Not so with Arkanoid. I’d much rather play it than Arkanoid’s older cousin, Break Out. The new levels and power ups for your paddle and ball made it a lot more fun than plain ol’ Break Out. And now you can play it on the Nintendo DS for only 20 bucks.

There have been other ball and paddle brick breaking games on the DS, but Break ‘Em All was a bit too drab and Nervous Brickdown was a bit too inconsistent. Arkanoid DS strikes a nice balance between the two, while remaining stylish yet familiar. And fun to boot.

The original Arkanoid is kind of a sentimental game to me, as me and my dad used to love to play it at the local Pizza Inn (no longer there). When I got my original NES, my first game was Zelda, but my second game was Arkanoid because I wanted a game that both me and my dad would have fun with. Plus it also came with a cool paddle controller. I’m kind of fascinated by paddle controllers for some reason.

Speaking of paddle controllers, in Japan, Arkanoid DS even came with a paddle controller that attached to the bottom of the DS GBA slot that you could use to control the game. When Square Enix announced that Arkanoid DS was coming to the US without the paddle controller, I found where I could import one real cheap (only 20 bucks). Only problem is that I had to get the pink paddle controller. So I thought I would save some money by getting the US version of Arkanoid DS and using the import paddle to go with it. Unfortunately, the US version won’t work with the paddle controller. Oh well, lesson learned. Normally I’d be more upset, but I’m only out 20 bucks (I’ve blown more money on worse), and stylus control works so well for this game that I don’t mind not using the paddle.

Arkanoid DS is everything you’d expect a brick breaking game to be. There’s a one player game where you go through levels with branching paths like a lot of Taito’s other games such as Pop N Pop, Puzzle Bobble, and Darius. By playing levels in Clear Mode this way, you can unlock them in Quest Mode, which gives you certain objectives to clear in a time limit, such a breaking a certain number of blocks, particular colored blocks, or enough blocks with a limited amount of volleys. There are more than 150 levels in all. You can also play two players competitively with a CPU opponent, a nearby DS player, or even online with the DS WiFi! About the only thing Arkanoid DS is missing are those ‘enemies’ that would float about and mess up your ball trajectory (I miss those little sailboat things).

I guess I should mention a couple of other little changes. Some people may think Arkanoid DS is too easy because they narrowed the playfield. But they keep things challenging with levels that really force you to angle your shots, and the ball moves faster, too. And instead of losing lives when you miss the ball, the ball will bounce off a bar on the bottom that has a color and a number and if you miss too much, it’ll be gone. This way is better because it keeps the game moving. So if you feel the game is too hard, just change the difficulty and your bottom barrier to zero for a real tough game!

Arkanoid DS is not only fun, but has a lot of style, too. The music is GREAT, and done by Taito’s in house band that does a lot of their game music. Their group is called Zuntata, and they’ve even done live concerts in the past (do a search for Zuntata on YouTube). I kind of like the fact that Taito has their own in-house band. Kind of gives them a sense of camaraderie, like the Disney animators’ Fire House Five (OK maybe that’s not a good comparison). The music is Arkanoid DS is a mix of rock, jazz, and techno, and is cool in a cheesy Katamari sort of way. One of the songs is a remix of one of my favorite pieces of video game music: the first stage of the original Darius game (song title: Captain NEO).

Taito fans will also dig Arkanoid DS as you earn points by playing the different modes, and then you can spend them to customize your playing experience with new music, backgrounds, blocks, and paddles. (only problem is you have to decorate each round separately, so only dedicated Arkanoid decorators will do it) One of the paddles you can buy looks like the one from Taito’s Puchi Carat game (a mix of Arkanoid and Puzzle Bobble). Some of the new kinds of blocks you can buy looks like Bobble Bobble bubbles or Space Invaders! And some of the backgrounds you can have while you play include Darius, Bubble Bobble, Lost Magic (never played that game, how is it? Mike?), Cameltry DS/Labyrinth, Exit (a Taito game I don’t like), The Legend of Kage (another one I don’t like), and Cleopatra’s Fortune (fun puzzle game).

So to conclude my tribute to Arkanoid DS and how much I like it, here’s a list of all the other Arkanoid games I’ve played. Of course I’ve already talked about the first Arkanoid game. Later on I saw Tournament Arkanoid at a hotel game room. It’s the same game but with different levels and a two player cabinet like the old Nintendo Vs. arcade titles. Later on I saw Arkanoid 2: Revenge of Doh at an arcade in a water park. Doh is the badly named bad guy in the Arkanoid games who looks like a wire frame Easter Island head. On the Super Nintendo, they had Arkanoid: Doh it Again. Jeff and I used to play the two player cooperative mode on that tons of times. And that’s all the Arkanoid games I know!

Space Invaders Extreme
Most reviewers will probably say that Space Invaders Extreme is the better of the two DS Taito games from Square, but I’ve been finding myself playing Arkanoid DS more, actually. But Space Invaders Extreme is fantastic, too. The DS version has online play so it’s probably the better pick over the PSP version of Space Invaders Extreme, but the PSP version looks slightly better visually. And since both versions have the same fun gameplay, you’re a winner with either version you pick (both are only 20 bucks, too).

There’s actually been a Space Invaders update on the DS before. A few years ago they quietly released Space Invaders Revolution, but Extreme blows it out of the water. It has a trippy techno feel to it, like Pac-Man Championship Edition and Lumines. The object of the game remains the same: shoot the advancing droves of aliens with your shooter that only goes back and forth. But this one has new waves of invaders, power-ups, bonus stages, and ways to score big.

If you shoot four of the same colored invaders, they’ll drop a power-up to help you destroy more aliens. Some include a laser, wide shots, and exploding shots. If you shoot the required number of colored aliens in a row, a flashing UFO will come out and you can go to a bonus stage. Finish the bonus stage to go into Fever mode where downed UFOs get you jackpot points. It’s like getting multiball in a pinball game! You can also score points by shooting rows and columns of invaders in a row and more. There are even giant invader bosses after so many waves.

Extreme kind of has a ‘Rez’ feel to it as the gameplay is closely tied to the music. In each level, your shots and hits sound like part of the background tunes, and the playfield backdrop has trippy effects (that you can turn off if they become too distracting). I wonder if you get bonus points for timing your shots to the beat of the music?

Play control is easy to learn, and the good thing is my imported paddle controller works with the US version! On the menu screen, there’s a blank spot, but if you stick the paddle controller in, the game senses it’s in there and lets you toggle paddle controlling off and on. With the paddle controller, you can make your craft whip around the screen quicker, but it feels a little awkward to play it that way to me. Oh well, at least my import paddle controller isn’t a complete waste!

So yeah, Space Invaders Extreme is also great, and I plan to play more of it after I get my fill of Arkanoid DS. One last fun tidbit for Taito fans. When you are in the menu screen of Space Invaders Extreme, and go to the Exit option that takes you to the title screen, you’ll see the guy from Taito’s Exit game go by quickly across the screen! Ha!

Taito has done lots of Space Invaders updates in the past. My favorites are Space Invaders 91/Majestic Twelve, the silly Space Invaders 95/Looney Landers. And Activision’s Space Invaders update on the PSOne that had you get power-ups like how you do in the new game. But Space Invaders Extreme is so fun that it’ll probably be my new favorite Space Invaders game.

New Zealand Story Revolution
A while back, a company got the rights to do some Taito updates on the DS using the ‘revolution’ moniker, and came up with a couple of sub-par to awful updates with Bubble Bobble Revolution and Rainbow Islands Revolution (the Bubble Bobble one was so bad there was a bug in it that kept you from getting past a certain stage). In an effort to redeem themselves, later they came out with New Zealand Story Revolution, which turned out MUCH better!

I nearly forgot about this game coming to the US earlier this year because I was wanting to wait until the price dropped. But after watching a promo video of the game Toki Tori (a real good WiiWare puzzler), Jeff thought it was a New Zealand Story update and I remembered I needed to get that DS game. Luckily I found it for ten bucks!

The New Zealand Story is a cute 2-D platformer starring a little yellow bird named Tiki as he shoots arrows at enemies in colorful environments. But despite its cute nature, the game is brutally hard! One hit and you’re dead, and if you get hit by a projectile weapon, it’ll stick to your little bird’s head as he does his cute little death dance! One time while playing Taito Legends, Jeff was bound and determined to beat New Zealnd Story. He never did beat it, but he did find out something I never knew. Sometimes when you die in the game, you’ll go to a cloudy ‘heaven’ stage, and if you beat it, a goddess will tell Tiki, “You’ve worked hard, your quest is over.” And then it says GAME OVER! How evil is that? Ha!

New Zealand Story Revolution doesn’t mess with the core gameplay of the original much. Most of the levels are laid out just like the arcade version. But it improves the gameplay with new control options and gameplay enhancements. Tiki can now double jump, take more than one hit (he still dances with an arrow stuck in his head), and hold down the button for a charged attack. You also can get new weapons like a sword and shield and even aim your arrows this time, handy for beating the bosses. And you can save your progress after every level now, too.

Touch screen comes into play with little mini-games during the levels. Some are fun, like when Tiki falls into a pit and you have to ‘catch’ him with the stylus and fling him up to the top screen. But some are a little more frustrating like when you have to find the difference between two screens as well as run around and avoid enemies! But it’s still a fun game that keeps the core gameplay from the original intact. I wonder if the DS game has that heaven stage?

Bubble Bobble Double Shot
Unfortunately, not all of Taito’s DS updates have been so great this year. Probably in an effort to redeem themselves from Bubble Bobble Revolution, Double Shot came out this year, and while it’s bug-free, it’s still not good. It’s a shame because Bubble Bobble is one of my favorite Taito properties, and they can’t seem to make a good update lately.

In Double Shot, you can switch between three bubble blowing dinos. Bub (green), Bob (blue), and newcomer Bubu (red). You must switch between each one because certain enemies can only be encased in certain color bubbles that each dino blows. Only problem is that the enemies that have to be beaten this way only have little dots around them that let you know which color defeats them, and it’s hard to see. And in later levels you have to MIX color bubbles to defeat enemies, needlessly complicating a game that thrives on its simplicity.

When you lose all your lives, you play a simple touch screen mini-game and if you win, you can continue. But if you lose, and the games do get harder, you must start back at level one. All this plus bad graphics that are too small to see and you have one game set to burst your bubble. Avoid it!

The Legend of Kage 2
This is a new DS game in Japan, and I don’t have it, but I know it exists. And I’m not going to import it because I don’t really like the Legend of Kage game. It’s just a really hard (and bad) hack & slash 2-D ninja game. I heard a rumor that it was coming to the US in September, but I don’t believe that rumor because it was on the Internet. So I can’t tell you much about Legend of Kage 2.

There is a DS game that just came out that I’m thinking about importing, though. It’s called Bokura no TV Game Kentei from Namco. It’s a video game ‘training’ game that is like a Wario Ware game with classic Namco titles. Only problem is the high import prices. So what do you all think? Should I import it?

Heavenly Guardian
We move from the DS to the Wii for some ‘unofficial’ Taito game updates. These claims aren’t confirmed, but for a while I heard a company got permission to make Taito game updates on the Wii, but then something happened (probably Square) and the updates were halted. But the games they made were still released under new names and some cosmetic changes. But they still play like the games they were based on.

The first of these games was going to be Kiki KaiKai World, a Wii update to the Kiki KaiKai/Pocky and Rocky games. These arcade and SNES games were 2-D top down shooters where you play as a card throwing priestess girl (Pocky) or as a leaf throwing tanuki/raccoon (Rocky as player 2). You would run around Japanese temples and locations and shoot Japanese mythical monsters and ghosts.

So the Wii version is now called Heavenly Guardian in the US and instead of Pocky & Rocky, you play as an icicle throwing ice fairy girl named Saiyuki. But other than that, it’s pretty much Pocky and Rocky. Saiyuki is a generic anime lady, but she does have blue hair and a flying rabbity thing, so I guess she’s still cool.

You can swish the Wii remote for a snowstorm attack that takes out tons of enemies and helps your combo count. And when you aim the remote at the screen, the little flying rabbity thing acts as your cursor and you’ll aim where you point so you can shoot and walk in different directions. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well as it sounds because the cursor moves around so choppy and slow. And plus, the game is as hard as the old Pocky and Rocky games (so yeah, it’s tough). But other than that, it’s the best of the three Wii pseudo Taito games.

The Monkey King
Chuka Taisen, or Cloud Master in the US, was an old Taito 2-D sidescrolling shooter where you played as the Monkey King riding a cloud and shot enemies while flying across a background filled with traditional Japanese style art. The Wii update is simply called The Monkey King and plays like a pretty generic 2-D shooter. Parts reminded me of Ordyne as you fly into places to get power-ups, but other than that, this one feels more like it should be a WiiWare game. It’s still kinda fun, and pretty cheap, too. You can tilt the remote to make enemies come faster or slower toward you, but I don’t know what good that really does. It’s also annoying when you die and you’re all powered up, but you have to start back again with your normal peashooter weapon. And the 3-D backgrounds don’t have as much style as the old game did. But as a simple shooter game goes, I guess it’s not too bad.

Spy Games: Elevator Mission
After looking up info on those two Wii games, I found another one on the company’s (UFO) Web site called Spy Games: Elevator Mission. Was this supposed to be an update to Taito’s Elevator Action? It reeked of Wii shovelware, but when I found it for 8 bucks, I figured I could spend that money to satisfy my curiosity. Well, if this is supposed to be Elevator Action, it’s in the least sense of the word. You are in a building where floors are randomly generated each time you play. There are elevators for you to go up and down. But that’s it. You walk through 3-D hallways, using the remote to aim and shoot spy assassins who make a retarded “durr” sound when you shoot them. Supposedly certain spies have one of five secret documents, and if you get them all and leave the building you win the game, so I guess that’s KIND of like Elevator Action (there’s no way to tell which spies have the documents, though). But the game itself is really bad and should be avoided. I’ll be selling this one after I write this blog! If you want to play a REAL Elevator Action update, get Taito Legends 2 and play Elevator Action Returns. I’m not a fan of the original game, but I love Returns.

Taito Kids
And that’s all I have to say about Taito for now. All these games with the exception of Spy Games are safe for all kids and have limited cartoon violence at most. Though since these were originally quarter munching arcade games, the challenge level may frustrate some youngsters.

I always say I’m a big Namco fan, but I guess I’m a big Taito fan as well. What are your favorite Taito games and updates?

8 Responses to “Take a Taito Trip!”

  1. I’d been thinking about getting the DS Space Invaders update, since I could see all of us playing that … but my DS is just too busy right now! Cool reading!

    It is funny – I don’t readily identify with Namco or Taito or any other of the console game makers …

  2. I identify with game companies like Namco and Taito not only for their console titles, but for their arcade games as well. My first video game experiences were really more in the arcade rather than on consoles. Man I miss arcades.

    You should pick up Arkanoid DS along with Space Invaders. –Cary

  3. I honestly don’t even know who made many of the games I loved in the arcades … it is funny since I have strong brand loyalty for many PC game makers, but I would have to look up things to see who made my faves of the late 70’s and early 80’s.

    Yeah, Break Out was my era of arcade games 😉

    But I’m thinking about it – could be fun for while we’re on vacation in a couple of weeks.

  4. Arkanoid DS and Space Invaders Extreme were lifesavers when I was in Alabama. They’re great for vacations! –Cary

  5. I once toyed with the idea of getting one of those cool furry space aliens with the spear on the side of the Space Invader coin-op as a tattoo. Taito is a very important company as Cary has just proven.

  6. Like Cary, a lot of my earliest gaming was done in the arcade, and as I’ve probably mentioned before, my time in the arcade was limited to family vacations, so I have a large amount of nostalgia here, with Taito being one of the big names.

    I also played a lot of New Zealand Story on the Amiga, seeing as it was one of three games bundled with the computer (Batman and FA/18 Interceptor being the other two). I can still hear the death music without having played the game for years.

    Here’s an interesting (or not) fact about me: Arkanoid is the only game to have caused me physical distress. I came home to play it on the Amiga (or Atari ST, I can’t quite remember) and for some reason the sound the gold blocks make when you hit them was making me feel nauseous. Weird.

    I’ve only briefly played the DS update, and I wasn’t impressed. Space Invaders Extreme on the other hand, is awesome.

  7. Aw, man! Cary you’re increasing my “want” list over on Goozex all the time…

    If only I had time to play these things I’d be even more envious…

    Where are you buying your games cheaply?

    I’m going to have to look into Arkanoid, as I love that too. The first time I got the laser drop and started blasting away at the blocks, I was won over from Breakout forever…

  8. I look at sales at Amazon.com and I use the GamingWithChildren link! And DEFINITELY look into Arkanoid DS. I love it. –Cary

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