Arkan: The Dog Adventurer Review – Pawsitively Different

Developer: Taverna Game Studio // Publisher: Madao Studio // Price: $9.99 (Steam) / $4.99 (eShop)
Review copy received from publisher

One of the things I love so much about indie games is the combination of ideas; indie game developers are not limited in their ideas.  There is nothing preventing an indie developer from making a turn-based racing puzzle game if desired.  (If someone actually makes that game, please send me a key; I would love to know what that looks like).  Arkan: the Dog Adventurer is not limited in its ideas as it meshes three unrelated game genres into an interesting and  unique game

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Breaking Bricks and Taking Names

The core of Arkan: the Dog Adventurer is a brick breaker.  It obviously takes a generous amount of inspiration from Arkanoid, as evidenced by the name of the protagonist, Arkan. The levels are constructed horizontally rather than vertically with the blocks stacked on the right side of the field. The game adds in platforming elements giving Arkan the availability to move vertically.  Like Arkanoid, Arkan: the Dog Adventurer also has enemies in the field, but these enemies are constantly firing projectiles at Arkan, making this game a bullet hell on top of a platformer and brick breaker. 

The similarities to Arkanoid extend further than the idea of breaking blocks while avoiding enemies.  The blocks in the field are constructed from different material which impacts the number of times the brick must be hit before it is cleared.  This makes it more difficult to attack the enemies which are now the key part of each level.  Clearing a level isn’t about breaking every brick, but in defeating all of the enemies.  Three are also scattered through each level.  By collecting stars, additional stages are unlocked.

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Peanut Butter, Jelly and Pickles

The brick breaking and platforming elements are nicely merged together.  Dodging projectiles while jumping on platforms is a natural action for a platformer and the double jump capabilities for Arkan do not feel out of place.  It is fairly common for platformers to provide opportunities to upgrade weapons, but Arkan only has his staff.  Instead of upgrading weapons, the ball is upgraded with successive deflections from Arkan, allowing it to take out tougher blocks with fewer hits.   

However, the bullet hell elements do not mesh well with the platforming and brick breaking pieces.  The major part of a brick breaker is keeping the ball in the field by deflecting it toward the bricks, but the bullet hell makes this practically impossible. More often than not, the focus becomes dodging the projectiles instead of deflecting the ball across the field. This creates a tedious experience because a volley cannot be established.  It becomes very difficult to position Arkan in the proper position to deflect the ball due to the need to dodge all of the enemies’ projectiles, so the ball only hits a few blocks before leaving the field and forcing a relaunch.  With the limited availability of a volley, it is harder to break through the blocks to defeat the enemies, thus prolonging the bullet hell.  

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Playing with a controller added to the frustration.  Aiming and deflecting the ball are both handled on the right side of the controller with the right stick and right shoulder button, respectively.  This caused some hand contortions at times.  The double jump was also hard to pull off if the left stick was not pressed straight up.  A keyboard/mouse combo could have worked better here using the mouse to aim and left click for launching and deflecting the ball and WASD controls should make it easier to jump. As an alternative, the option to remap the controls would be welcome.

Final Verdict

I like what Arkan: the Dog Adventurer brings together, but the genres don’t quite mesh.  I thought I was getting an interesting twist on a brick breaker, but the bullet hell elements completely overshadow that aspect of the game.  Multiple difficulty levels are available, but all of them have the same drawbacks.  The primary difference between the difficulty levels is just the number of enemies in each level.  Additional powerups, similar to those in Arkanoid, could help. Powerups like a shield, faster speed and higher jumps could help counter some of the bullet hell elements, making for a less frustrating experience.

 

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