Video games that feature a paddle and ball aren’t anything new. They’re as old as the industry itself. Pong got things started back in the 70’s, Breakout wasn’t far behind, and in the ensuing years we’ve experienced everything from Arkanoid to Radial 50. So when Spectranoid brings a paddle and ball to the table, it’s far from groundbreaking. What they do with that ball and paddle however, is. Spectranoid offers the kind of addictive twitch gameplay that feeds the challenge junkie in all of us.
Instead of trying to bust bricks or play table tennis, the objective in Spectranoid is to simply keep the ball bouncing. You’ll do this by activating a series of paddles on the bottom of the screen. These paddles are stationary, so you’ll need to figure out where the ball is going to land and be sure to turn the right paddle on. The trick is that you can only have one paddle active at a time. Once you begin working with a few balls at once, you’ll quickly realize how challenging this makes things.
The balls obey physics, so it’s never really too hard to figure out where they’re going to land (though sometimes it’s a closer call than you might expect). You’ll activate the paddles using the A, S, D, F, G, H and J keys. The game starts out with one ball and three paddles (A, S and D), but as you can guess by all the keys involved, things can get hairy pretty quickly. Since you can only have one paddle active at a time you’ll be darting your fingers on and off keys at lightning speed in an effort to keep all the balls in play. Once you’ve lost three balls, it’s game over.
The game also offers a neat twist for those who may not be able to survive past the first few paddles and balls. By holding down the space bar, you can slow the game down to make it easier to deal with. You’ll use up power to do this which regenerates on its own over time, so you’re not going to be able to cruise through the entire game with your thumb on it. Still – when you have 3 balls in play and can’t quite get a handle on getting every paddle up in time, that space will be your lifeline.
Slowing down time isn’t the only perk to enhance your performance, either. With every play your points are banked and can be spent in between rounds on upgrades. You can purchase things like extra lives, faster power regeneration, and faster score increases. None of these will make Spectranoid a walk in the park, but they can definitely give you a bit of an edge in the world of never-ending bouncing balls.
In a lot of ways, Spectranoid really reminded me of Multitask. Both games featured incredibly simple gameplay, and both games became insanely difficult by throwing so many things at you at once. It’s not the sort of difficulty that you’ll find frustrating – the whole point of games like these is to simply see how far you can go before you’ve reached the limits of your skills.
It may be both fun and challenging, but at the end of the day Spectranoid is little more than a one trick pony. It’s the sort of game you’ll break out at parties to see who can survive the longest, but it’s far from the sort of thing you’re going to develop a personal commitment to. Still – for the 20 or so minutes that it entertains, you’ll likely find yourself obsessed with adding one more ball or paddle into the mix. As far as afternoon timewasters go, Spectranoid should be more than enough to distract you from your work.