Once again, PlayStation Mobile looks towards the world of retro gaming for its inspiration and not for the first time goes back to the dawn of the games industry with yet another clone of one of the earliest arcade games to be released – the arcade original created by Allan Alcorn for Nolan Bushell’s Atari – Pong…
Being such a simplistic game, Pong is one of those titles that you simply can’t go wrong with. The countless home units of the 70s recreated the game packaged it as all manner of different “sports” in multi-game systems referring to it as “tennis”, “hockey”, “squash” and others just with slight variations on the game while retaining the playability in its single or two player mode but regardless even with its simplistic gameplay it still managed to keep us all enthralled for hours at a time. Fast forward 30+ years and despite still retaining a certain charm, Pong has limited appeal in short bursts but not a great deal of long-term gameplay unless the game itself is adapted perfectly and this is where almost every version to hit PlayStation Mobile has failed so far.
With a game that is based around two bats and a ball, often recreated with minimalistic visuals you’d think that there would be nothing that could go wrong. All the developers need to do is ensure that the controls are fast and responsive, an accurate scoring system is in place, basic ball physics to ensure that the ball goes where you expect it to, there is competitive but not unbeatable AI for your opponent, and ideally player controlled launching for the ball. It shouldn’t take rocket science to create. Granted, I’m no programmer but I would hope that this wouldn’t be too great a task.
So that brings me onto Simple Pong… and this game certainly lives up to its name. The game has been stripped right down to the very basics and just offers a single variant of the game – the original two player mode seen in the arcade original. Upon loading the game you’re thrown straight into the game itself – no title screen, no menu or options… the game just starts without warning although there is a button on screen at all times that you can press to restart the game. This is something that I found rather curious because in the game itself all of the controls made physical use of the PS Vita apart from this reset button which uses the touch screen rendering the game unuseable on the PlayStation TV. There is no physical alternative to this on-screen function and this is a rather critical function of the game…
Unlike most Pong clones, there is no AI opponent – it can only be played as a two player game locally on a single console with player one using the d-pad and player two using triangle and X to move their bats respectively. Right away I was baffled by these control choices. As a game developed specifically to run on the Vita, a console that has two analogue sticks, I’m at a loss as to why the developer didn’t use these as the default controls. Most home Pong clones used paddles (as did the arcade original) so the game was always intended to be played in this way. If the control method itself wasn’t strange enough, while the ball physics respond well enough and certainly the balls goes where you expect it to, the bats just don’t seem to move quickly enough and there are times when you simply have no chance of reaching the ball no matter how hard you try.
Talking of the ball, this may seem like a minor point but this is something that has bugged me with almost every Pong clone I have played for the last few years but the ball releases automatically and rather rapidly after a point is scored. In the original I played in the 70s, the ball was launched under manual control by the point winner controlling the flow of the game better. In this case, not only does the ball release automatically, but it seems to be randomised as to what direction the ball heads in, never quite sure what side it is heading making the game all the more confusing to play.
The final gripe I really have with the game, and probably the biggest frustration I have is the scoring system. While there is a score counter on screen, to be frank this is meaningless. There is no limit at which point a game is won – the game just carries on ad infinitum and the only way to end a game is to press the aforementioned reset button. It’s fine if you want to play a “first player to score xx” game against a friend but if you want to play a regular game and not worry about having to check the scores yourself by continually looking at the screen then you won’t find that here.
I may sound as if I am nit-picking over this and the developer has admitted that this is his first foray into Unity and in fact his first game but regardless of that fact, when producing a clone of an existing game you must get the basics right and if you can’t do that it won’t give people faith in you as a developer or in any future products that you want to release. Unfortunately, without the key components needed for a good Pong game, this isn’t really something you should think about unless you need to have a two player variant to play on your Vita.
At A Glance
- Title: Simple Pong
- Publisher: ZeShirky
- System: PlayStation Mobile
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: Yes
- Memory Card Space Needed: 33Mb