“Beep. bop. beep. bop. beep. bop.”
Possibly one of the simplest early arcade and home console games is Pong. The idea is dead simple: you have two flat paddles on each side of the screen that move up and down to bounce a small ball back and forth. Anyone who has ever played or watched tennis, table or full court, knows exactly how to play Pong and how to win.
Over the years, Pong has gotten numerous sequels, clones and variants; in fact the brick-breaking classic Breakout, is a single-player variation on Pong. But the pure and true retro remake of Pong is Pong: The Next Level for the Sony Playstation. This game takes the classic gameplay mechanics of Pong, throws a 3D engine on it and pimps it out with some innovative new features. There are six themed zones each with three different types of Pong challenges. For instance, the first stage is a simple matter of hitting the ball back and forth across a snowy icecap. Until you hit the penguin waddling back and forth down the center of the playing field, then it lays another ball into play. There are also power-ups unique to each level that change the playing field to give you an advantage or disadvantage against your opponent.
The graphics and sound are very whimsical with the paddles wiggling and jumping around making sounds like chipmunks. Also instead of the timeless Beep. Bop. of the paddles, you get a solid, satisfying thock. The environments are bright and vibrant, but not too hard on the eyes.
As far as extra features go, there’s a handful of single-player Pong challenges that test your skill on controlling the ball alone in various environments. If you’re feeling like some straight up classic Pong, you can unlock the original arcade version to play as well.
After all this praise, I should probably mention Pong: The Next Level‘s major downfall: the controls. Now the controls aren’t broken by any stretch, they’re just not optimal. Using the analog stick or d-pad isn’t quite as accurate or fluid as the original wheel/knob/dial controls on the original arcade or console.
So what about the original Pong? How does it stack up against this “new” 3D remake? Pretty well, actually. Pong excelled in its simplicity; there were no difficult controls and no complicated gameplay mechanics. It was just you and the ball. While its simplicity still holds up today, it also makes for a rather boring game after a time. Granted, playing with a friend can help, but still, how long can you really sit there going beep, bop. Beep, bop? The Next Level adds so much more that will keep you coming back, plus it keeps the super simple gameplay intact and the fancy audio/visual wrapping is a bonus. While The Next Level sacrifices some precision in its controls, it mostly makes up for it in content and presentation.
This may be a bit sacrilegious for a retro gamer, but I have to give the final award to The Next Level for truly taking Pong, to the next level.
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