An Honest Review – Pong Kombat

When you’re not creative enough to come up with your own idea, you take someone else’s, but execute it differently. That’s what has happened with the unofficial rebirth of the unofficial freeware parody game called PONG KOMBAT.

Forewarning: this is, admittedly, a biased review written by the actual developer of the game, but is intended to be an honest assessment.

Pong Kombat (1994) - Choose Your Paddle

Stefan Gagne’s original Pong Kombat, released in 1994, featured a bunch of colorful characters.

Recap

In 1994, Stefan Gagne and his cohorts decided to create a computer game for a school project. As with all learning exercises, they started at the beginning by re-envisioning the classic Atari game, PONG, and adding in gameplay elements of the popular Mortal Kombat arcade game (originally by Midway Games, but now developed by NetherRealm Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) such as Fatalities, storylines, and projectiles, along with lots of humor, fun, and secrets. Remember the Spam-ality?

After being posted to a bulletin board (wow, that term feels dated), it quickly gained notoriety amongst the Internet. Nowadays, you might’ve said it had “gone viral.” As it turns out, the game’s concept is a wonderful stepping stone for people interested in learning about game development. Most often, game makers in training gain valuable experience and knowledge from creating simpler projects, like Asteroids, Breakout, and Tetris. PONG KOMBAT adds to the basic premise with different scenes (title, story, and gameplay screens), game states (volley/combat, animated fatalities, announcers), and input methods like button sequences for special abilities.

A few sequels were created in the mid-to-late 90s, but with the advances to JavaScript and HTML5 elements like canvas, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me–a life-long gamer and professional web developer–to combine many of my interests and allow me to do something very creative, while learning valuable lessons in game development, design, as well as improving my understanding of web tools & frameworks, social media integration, and project management.

Pong Kombat (2014) Choose Your Paddle

Quantastical.com’s 2014 Pong Kombat rebirth reimagines the original and brings the creativity to another generation.

Gameplay

The 2014 edition of Pong Kombat is a game that can be played in a web browser. Two paddles volley a ball in a 2D overhead simulation of tennis, but the paddles aren’t just wooden bats…they’re living, breathing characters with background stories and are trained in combat. Inputting a special button sequence causes the paddle to shoot a projectile towards their opponent. Instead of scoring points by getting the ball past your opponent, each player has a life bar that is depleted when scored against or hit by a projectile.

As satisfying as it is to defeat your opponent, you are rewarded with the opportunity to finish them by performing a Dismantle, which is the equivalent of Mortal Kombat’s fatality, resulting in a humorous and humiliating animation. The rebirth project successfully reproduces the gameplay mechanics of the original title, but it also expands on these to create a new experience.

Players are now able to move their paddles horizontally, as well as vertically, giving them an additional strategy to employ since each character also has a unique personality, with varying sizes and speeds. There is also a variety of power-ups that can be collected, giving the collector a temporary advantage like a shield that protects against projectiles, or a “Bullet-Time” effect that slows the ball down as it approaches their side. In addition to a quick play mode, a story mode puts your character in mini-tournament as you compete against more and more challenging foes. It is still just a variation of PONG, though, and that limits how interesting the actual gameplay is perceived.

Pong Kombat (2014) Forest Zone Gameplay

Battle Zones in the new Pong Kombat are stunning thanks to high-res textures, compressed and cached for casual play.

Graphics

The game uses high resolution textures to bring the original ideas up to date and in line with other independently-developed games. Lots of thought has been put into the graphical details, such as animated textures and particle effects (blood!), giving characters more identifiable characteristics, like the flames on Yellow Paddle, the cold mist of Blue Paddle, and the rigid exterior of Monolith.

As with the original PONG KOMBAT, matches are played in various Battle Zones. Both new and old zones look great in high definition, while also providing interesting gameplay mechanics. The Portal Zone returns with slow moving black-hole in the background, complete with a gravitational effect on the ball as it passes by; the Forest Zone features foreground trees that partially obstruct the playing field; and, the Highway Zone has lots of vehicles whizzing by in the background that can easily distract and confuse players while the volley takes place.

All in all, the graphics are on par with what you’d expect of an HD remake. It’s actually quite surprising what can be accomplished in a mere 50MB, most of which is dedicated to…

 

The background of the Highway Zone features an assortment of moving vehicles to distract players during the volley.

The background of the Highway Zone features an assortment of moving vehicles to distract players during the volley.

Sound

Sound design and music creation is not my strong suit and, unfortunately, it shows here. The announcer’s voice sounds as expected: a guy recording himself in a quiet room and tweaking the pitch and reverberation to try and make it interesting. But, it does add some personality and it brings back a lot of fond memories of Stefan Gagne’s original PONG KOMBAT when you win and it announces, “Blue Paddle Wins!”

The rest of the sound effects, however, sound like a bunch of random, royalty-free, stock sounds that may or may not provide value to the experience of playing the game. I guess that’s probably because that is exactly what is going on. Instead of beeps and boops, though, this game tries to make it more “realistic” by using punching and hitting sounds.

However, the background music is a welcomed addition, and it gives the game a feel that the original was missing. It really is just a couple of somewhat short loops, but it is enough to make it feel like a complete adventure.

 

The MS Paint-inspired background from the original Pong Kombat makes a beautiful return.

The Microsoft Paint inspired background from the original Pong Kombat makes a beautiful return.

Summary

I don’t really know that I had an objective or target accomplishment, but Pong Kombat’s revival excels in the same area as the original: in creating a retail-quality title, providing endless opportunities to learn and share knowledge, and in having a casual game that can be played while taking a break from work, since a lot of us are spending that time on computers or connected to the Internet.

The homage to the past and humorous parodies make any investment of time worthwhile, and there is enough ancillary content to make subsequent visits unique and interesting. No, it’s not an 80-hour game, but with a multiplayer mode on the horizon, it will be fun to see how you stack up against the “real” competition. ♦

Pong Kombat (2014) by Quantastical.com
Graphics Sound Control FunFactor Challenge
gamepro-rating-4 gamepro-rating-2 gamepro-rating-3+ gamepro-rating-5 gamepro-rating-adjustable
4.0 2.0 3.5 5.0 Adjustable
Free!
December 2014
Action/Arcade
Single Player
Multiplayer (Coming Soon)
Open Source

Jeff is a web developer and creator of the Pong Kombat (2014) game. He enjoys writing about these topics and others on this blog. Follow him on Twitter or your favorite social network.