Title Megaball 4 Company Intangible Assets Manufacturing Game Type General Action Players 1/2 (hotseat) HD Installable Yes Compatibility Both AGA and ECS version on disk Submission Joachim Froholt Profiled Reviewer Review For people who have never experienced the addictiveness of an Arkanoid clone, these games must seem like some of the most pointless ways to waste time ever devised by man. And it's hard for me to come up with a good explanation as to why these games are so fun and addictive - they just are. The success of the genre is proof enough that there must be something Arkanoid clones simply do very, very well. If you've never heard of Arkanoid, then, well, I find that hard to believe given that you somehow managed to stumble on to this review, but anyway, here's a brief description of the concept: You control a paddle (or bat) at the bottom of the screen. You also, indirectly, control a ball which bounces around the screen - your paddle is the only thing between this ball and oblivion. If you let it miss the paddle, you will lose it. The reason you want to keep the ball on the screen is simple : The screen is also filled with various bricks, which disappear when the ball hits them. When you've cleared the screen of bricks, it's off to the next level, which contains more bricks for you to destroy. And that's the general idea.. yes, I know this was a pretty lousy explanation, but it's not exactly easy to explain something as abstract as this. The genre started way back in 1976, when Breakout was created by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (the guys behind Apple) when they were still working for Atari, who were looking for a game to continue the success they had had with Pong. Sure enough, Breakout became the success Atari were hoping it would, and it spawned a huge number of clones. But it wasn't before 1986 that a "Breakout clone" really added something new to the genre - this was the aforementioned Arkanoid, from Taito. In this title, the pattern of bricks varied from level to level, making the game much more interesting. Bricks came in different colourful flavours as well as the normal bricks. There were some that were indestructable and some that had to be hit several times. Finally, Arkanoid added various bonus icons which appeared when certain bricks were destroyed and had to be caught with the paddle. In the years that followed, there were not only a bunch of commercial Arkanoid clones, but a horde of PD clones of various quality. Back when magazines used to review PD stuff, almost every issue featured reviews of one or more Arkanoid clones - it seemed that every self-respecting PD programmer just had to do one. Most of these games failed to catch the public's attention, simply because they usually didn't add anything new to the genre. If you had seen one Arkanoid clone, you had seen them all.. nearly. There were a few exceptions, and - you guessed it - Megaball is one of them. Megaball was created by two brothers, Ed and Al Mackey. It began life in the early nineties as a shareware game which became immensely popular, and thanks to people's interest in the game, it grew and grew, until it was finally snapped up by IAM (Dale L. Larson's company, famous for publishing Dave Haynie's "Deathbed Vigil" video) and published commercially near the Christmas of 1995. My first experience with Megaball was back in 1992, I believe. I had just bought my first Amiga, and a friend of mine gave me a disk with seven PD/Shareware games. There were a few gems on this disk (including Hemroids, a nifty little Asteroids clone and Amoeba Invaders, which is widely regarded as one of the best remakes of Space Invaders), but it was clear right from the start that the game called Megaball was something special. First of all, this was because it was obviously the game that had been played the most - the highscore table was impossible to get on to. Secondly, almost all the names on this table were female... which was quite unusual back in those days, when computing was largely considered to be a boy-thing (btw, thanks Hippie, Grethe and Joerund, whoever you are, for not saving any space on the highscore table for me.. grumble!). But the fact that I couldn't get on the highscore table no matter how hard I tried didn't deter me from having loads of fun with the game. That version didn't have many of the bells and whistles that later versions featured, such as exploding blocks, but it had all the basic elements which, together, made it a highly addictive game. It's hard to say what exactly set it apart from the crowd, it just did all the things it did better than most other Arkanoid clones around. Megaball 4 is really just a further development of the original Megaball. It looks pretty much the same (though you can use the AGA version for better graphics) and it plays pretty much the same, only there's more blocks and bonuses. Bundled with the game (which comes on three disks) is an easy to use board editor which can be used to create sets of up to fifty boards each, plus a huge collection of boards for you to play (we're talking many hundreds here). So if you get addicted to the game, there's little to stop you from playing it for months, or even years... There are plenty of different blocks for you to get rid of. The aforementioned exploding blocks are perhaps the coolest of the lot. When they blow up, they take the neighbouring blocks with them, and if one or more of these is an exploding block as well, this in turn cause it's neighbours to blow up - thus huge chain reactions can be created. A slightly less fun version of the exploding blocks leave weaker blocks behind, so if you blow one up, every space around it will get filled. Then there's the lock and key blocks - some areas of a board may be inaccessible because invincible locked blocks are in the way. But these have a special key block which, when hit, will remove all the locked blocks from the board. A final mention must go to the breeding blocks, which will spawn new blocks around them until the cluster has grown so big that it touches a block of a different type. Then they will all turn in to blocks of this type - nice if it happens to be an exploding block, and not so nice if it is a steel block (which require several hits to destroy). When you destroy a block, there's the chance that a bonus icon might appear and float down towards the bottom of the screen. Catch this, and you get the bonus. These bonuses range from the traditional ball slowdown (the ball will speed up during play), extra paddle, jump to next level, expand paddle to multiball, lasers, brickthrough (where the ball and lasers will simply move through any obstacles, destroying everything in their path) and dynamite, which will add more exploding blocks around any existing exploding blocks. But there are some nastier "bonuses" as well. One will instantly kill you, while one will add gravity to the board, which makes the ball harder to catch. Luckily, it's easy to distinguish the bonuses from each other, and you won't pick up a death bonus thinking, for instance, that it is an extra life. The graphics are pretty decent. As mentioned, the game comes in both an ECS and an AGA version, and both versions are colourful and pleasing to the eye. Of course, some will argue that it would have been nice with a picture in the background or something like that, but that would probably also have obscured the view. The sound effects are okay, though there's nothing really special. There's a large number of in-game music tunes, most of which sound pretty good, in an 8-bit kind of way. Overall, Megaball 4 is perhaps the best Arkanoid clone available for the Amiga, and at the time of it's release, it was probably the best Arkanoid clone anywhere (indeed, many newer PC based titles describe themselves as Megaball clones, which says a lot about the lasting quality of this title). Basically, it does everything you'd expect an Arkanoid clone to do, and it does it flawlessly. It's one of the most addictive games I've ever played, and a quick round of Megaball can quite easily turn into a whole evening in front of the computer.