Pong is one of those sacred games; a perfected arcade classic embodying pure gameplay. Anything you add on top of it has to really prove itself in order to be a worthy addition. Pong: The Next Level doesn’t even try. It’s a vapid PS1 remake that just piles on a load of gimmicks in a weak attempt to hide the fact that developer Supersonic Software failed to recreate the experience of a game that was turning 27 years old in the year it released.
Entering on little fanfare, Pong: The Next Level boots you to a stage select screen where you then begin working your way through a series of themed levels, each of which has multiple game-types to play that offer mild variation. The opening polar level, for example, has the same stage 3 times, but the effect of the power-up changes every time and the final stage has a snowstorm that blows the ball in random directions.
While initially innocent, the gimmicks of each stage quickly become annoyances that turn especially infuriating in light of the game’s other problems. By way of making a traditional 2D game 3D, the camera bounces all around the 3-dimensional playing fields to provide increasingly pointless angles of the action. It’s dizzying to constantly have to adjust for different tilted views and it only makes it harder to move precisely and judge where a ball might go.
Compounding that problem is the floatiness of your pong panel. It’s a little too fast and a little too slippery in its feeling, never quite giving you that feeling of control that can make games of Pong such intense, arcade battles. No such problem plagues the AI, however, which is ruthlessly precise in its movement and predictions. Stage gimmicks that can quickly guarantee the player’s loss are no hassle at all for the computer, which is what makes them feel so frustrating. Sure, having a fast-moving conveyor belt that switches between directions as the play arena can be fun, but it loses its charm when you lose 4 points while it is aimed at you, while the AI effortlessly juggles the ball dead center for the entire duration of its turn.
The football game starring as the second stage is a great showcase for the AI, as it acts instantaneously whenever it has the kick-off and you can clearly see it moving into position ahead of time to counter-act your own moves. It is often so perfect and spot-on that any point you do score feels like the AI deliberately made a mistake, rendering the victory rather hollow.
The physics aren’t where they should be either. The speed build-up is sluggish and it takes quite a few hits before the ball will curve any. Even when you hit the ball while moving at full speed, it will still sometimes just travel straight forward.
All of this combined just leads to a game unworthy of the Pong name. It’s an immensely frustrating game to play and it really doesn’t have anything going for it that makes it worth seeking out over any of the dozens of other Pong games out there. Don’t waste your time.