When Hasbro bought the rights to produce a huge library of Atari games for consoles and computers, their mission statement was to keep intact the basic play mechanics of the original games while adding enhanced graphics and sound effects along with the proverbial power-ups, options and multiple levels of play. With Pong: The Next Level, Hasbro succeeded admirably on most counts. I say most because there is one huge problem I have with the game: the lack of an analog rotary controller. Whether you are playing the game using a keyboard, joystick or gamepad, you'll become very frustrated in certain levels because your (onscreen) paddle just can't move fast or precise enough for the action. Not only that, the game simply feels wrong without a little round paddle controller in your hand.
What I like about this game is that it dusts the mothballs off of Pong and makes it relevant again. Hasbro wisely left the basic game of Pong intact while breathing new life into it. Players control a paddle (or paddles) for use in whacking a ball back and forth across the screen. The object of the game is to not let the ball get past your paddle. This once-tired formula (the market was flooded with Pong rip-offs during the 1970s) works surprisingly well with all the new (interactive) environments, tilted tables, cute animals and new paddles.
If you can look past or even get used to the frustrating controls, most of the levels in this hyperactive version of Pong are fun to play. You'll get frustrated at times, but you can play the levels over and over until you finally win. This is a great piece of software for the office. If you've got a few minutes to kill while waiting on a client, you can play a few rounds. You can play the game for hours on end or in brief segments of time.
Pong purists may scoff at the notion of power-ups, 3D graphics, multiple paddles and balls, ice rinks, jungles, soccer fields and other enhancements, but if they give this game a chance they will find it mercilessly addicting and very challenging. It's especially fun in the two-player mode.
The editors at Next Generation magazine once voted the original Pong as one of the top 50 video games of all time. The voting was based not on historical value or importance to the industry, but on sheer entertainment value. Sluggish controls will keep Pong: The Next Level off most "best of" lists, but it is an enjoyable and competitive game that the entire family will enjoy.
Graphics: While certainly nothing spectacular, the graphics are cute. Also, I like the interactive backgrounds.
Sound: The sound effects and music are quirky and disjointed -- perhaps to counteract the precise nature of the gameplay.
Enjoyment: If Pong: The Next Level had paddle controllers, similar to those of the Atari 2600, it would be one of my favorite retro games. Each level offers a different challenge.
Replay Value: This game is highly addictive and features an excellent two-player mode.
People who downloaded Pong: The Next Level have also downloaded:
Pac-Man: Adventures in Time, Breakout, Pitfall: The Lost Expedition, Monopoly (1999), Tetris Worlds, TrackMania, Simpsons, The: Hit & Run, TrackMania Sunrise
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