Retro is definitely an approach to take when it comes to game development. Often, retro implies pixel art and a genre popularized in yesteryear, most likely platforming. It’s rare to see games go further back, into the Golden Age of video games when arcades were king. Antonball Deluxe does exactly that, taking inspiration from games like Breakout, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros and more.
Antonball Deluxe is an arcade platformer with Breakout style gameplay. If you’re not familiar, Breakout is a Pong style game where you have to move a paddle to smash and break blocks. Except, in Antonball bug exterminator Anton (and friends) is the paddle. Antonball Deluxe is based on developer Summitsphere’s Antonball, a game jam title that looks like a Game Boy game. The Deluxe version is a remake with three game modes, color, and a huge roster of characters to unlock.
In Antonball Deluxe, you play as Anton—a cross between Mario and Wario, and Boiler City’s top exterminator. There are lots of characters you can unlock, too. I love the throwback character designs they use for all Anton and his companions. But whether you play as Anton or other retro-inspired characters, the gameplay is the same: you punch balls to break blocks or take out enemies—or both, depending on the game mode.
There are three ways to play Antonball Deluxe: Antonball, Punchball, and Antonball Versus. Antonball, the eponymous game mode can be argued as the default way to play. It’s a platformer/Breakout hybrid that seems obvious to anyone who has ever played one of those old arcade classics. Like a platformer, you can move left and right, and even dodge enemies. It’s all single screen, though, and to the right you have a series of blocks to break. If you get touched by an enemy, or let your ball get past you, you lose a life. It’s simple, but difficult for a number of reasons.
As much as I was tickled by Antonball’s concept, I wasn’t as thrilled with its execution. It’s fun, but only just. Most of the time it’s frustrating as a solo player, especially since positioning for ball returns isn’t always a simple prospect. Some levels even add slippery floors to the whole endeavor. By default, your character can’t jump very high, but there is a high jump option that requires you to press down and then jump up. This feels almost unnecessary. Enemies can’t be defeated without getting hit by a ball, so if the ball is travelling, you have to wait for a return trip or avoid the enemy. As a Breakout style game, it’s a little basic: there are only a couple of power-ups: a pistol, and multi-ball. I think the concept of platformer + brick breaking style game could work, but Antonball doesn’t seem to pull it off. The versus version of Antonball Deluxe turns Antonball into a party game—and that’s where it really shines. Once you’re trying to defeat your fellow players, a lot of the frustrating mechanics of the solo Antonball turn into hilarious obstacles to overcome.
I much preferred Antonball Deluxe’s other game mode, Punchball. Of course, it’s just a variation of the original Mario Bros. Not Super Mario Bros., but the original arcade game that saw Jump Man get his name, profession, and brother, as they fought creatures in the sewer. Instead, now you’re an exterminator doing the same thing. Except you don’t jump under the creature you want to defeat to knock it over, you hit it with a ball. Ironically, this mode turns out to be a little easier than Mario Bros., and it’s fun if derivative.
To unlock new stages and characters in Antonball you have to collect poker chips. After getting 50,000 credits worth, you can spend it on a machine that dispenses unlockables randomly. I wish it cost fewer credits to unlock new characters, since it would take an awful lot of work to unlock everything.
Perhaps the best part of Antonball Deluxe is its presentation. I love the old school arcade feel. Even the screen is represented in a sort of 4:3 aspect ratio with screen borders—just like a classic arcade cabinet. There are even filters that further make the gameplay look authentic to the era it’s trying to reproduce. The sounds all match, too, with sound effects that are of a quality and type you would expect from that era.
As much as I wanted to like Antonball Deluxe, it’s just okay. It was more of a novelty for me than a full, satisfying game. I really wanted the platformer/Breakout concept to pan out, but Antonball Deluxe’s execution doesn’t live up to my expectations. It’s a great looking and sounding game, though, and it’s especially fun to play with friends.
Antonball Deluxe is available now on Steam.
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