"In an era and time that only the gods remember, humans living on a war-ravaged Earth-like planet fled their home in a photon-powered mothership." This is a grandiose intro for sure, and one that might lead you to believe that Arkanoid Live is something other than a 20-year-old bat, ball, and bricks game if you're not familiar with the series. Strictly speaking, this isn't a 20-year-old game of course, because the Xbox Live Arcade version of this classic boasts online features and updated visuals. Sadly, not all of the updates can be considered improvements, and--believe it or not--the controls aren't always up to the simple task of moving your bat left and right across the bottom of the screen and bouncing a ball at patterns of bricks.
There are a number of control options to choose from, but they're all flawed in exactly the same way: While using the analog stick to move left and right, you have to hold down a button or two to double or quadruple your bat's speed. Not only is this an unwieldy system, but because your movements lack precision when you increase your speed, it just doesn't work well. The best thing that can be said about the speed-up buttons is that you shouldn't need to use them too often, regardless of which mode you're playing.
Arkanoid Live's Arcade mode spans more than 60 levels, which are divided up into two chapters that culminate with forgettable boss battles against polygonal disembodied heads. Levels include a good mix of those that simply have colored bricks arranged into different shapes, those in which indestructible bricks are used to create narrow openings to get the ball through, and everything in between. Some of the levels are tricky enough that they border on frustrating, and the difficulty curve is all over the place, but there are a few hours of fun to be had in Arcade mode, and more if you want to improve on your scores for the online leaderboards. There's also an option to play cooperatively with a friend, which unfortunately isn't a particularly worthwhile addition. The problem is that as the second player, you occupy a plane directly beneath your partner's, so unless he misses the ball, you rarely have anything to do. And if he misses the ball because he's trying to avoid a negative power-up (one that will shrink your bat, for example), there's a good chance that you'll do the same.
Power-ups that drop from certain bricks have always been a fun part of Arkanoid, and Arkanoid Live features a number of returning favorites, such as a longer bat, multiple balls, and lasers that can be used to shoot at bricks like they're motionless Space Invaders. In Arcade mode these power-ups can be a real blessing if you're struggling to hit an individual brick or just want to speed things up a bit, but in Versus mode--where there are additional power-ups designed to hamper your opponent--they often turn matches into tests of luck rather than skill. It's good that you still have a chance of coming from behind in a level if you get the right power-up, but nothing ruins a multiplayer match like one player having lasers drop from the very first brick.
Versus mode takes place on two identical boards that appear side by side so you can see what your opponent is up to, and in the middle of the screen there's a scoreboard that lets you know how many bricks each player has left to destroy. At its best, Versus mode is a lot of fun to play online, locally, or against the AI, but it's unfortunate that there's no option to customize which power-ups appear or even to turn them off completely. With that said, the power-ups that are designed specifically for Versus games--slow your opponent's ball, shrink his bat, and add more bricks--really help to keep the competition fierce.
Regardless of which mode you're playing, Arkanoid Live's audio and visual presentation isn't up to the standard set by other XBLA games, including developer Taito's other recent remake, Space Invaders Extreme. Most of the sound effects are indistinguishable from those in previous iterations and now play on top of a generic techno soundtrack. Similarly, the bat (or Vaus spaceship) and the bricks in each level haven't benefited from any kind of makeover but now appear on top of garish, distracting, animated backgrounds that, thankfully, can be turned off in favor of a more-pleasing all-black look.
As Arkanoid games go, Arkanoid Live is a pretty bare-bones offering that lacks many of the options found in last year's Arkanoid DS. Taito didn't break Arkanoid on XBLA, but it's charging 800 points for a stripped version of the game that has imprecise controls, a lackluster presentation, and not enough content to make it a good value.