Developer: Atari Interactive
Price: Free
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Playtime Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Atari is a brand name that is synonymous with gaming. As one of the early pioneers in the home video game space, the company established itself as groundbreaking for the era, and helped introduce a couple of franchises that are still relevant to this day. Foremost among these early successes was the virtual tennis game, Pong. Even forty years later the name still resonates with audiences, as evidenced by the franchise’s first official release on iOS, Pong World. Does this neo-retro reinvention breathe new life into the brand, or have its mechanics grown a little long in the tooth?

It bears noting before getting too deep into the review that Pong World is actually the winner of Atari’s PONG Indie Developer Challenge. With the help of a fresh set of eyes, the developers have decided to take a whole new approach to the Pong universe, with an eye towards structured challenges. Each stage initially takes the form of a head-to-head showdown versus the computer. Upon successful completion, two other modes are unlocked: competitive multiplayer and survival.

Despite the “World” portion of the game’s name implying a extended globetrotting campaign, there are only four stages available. Each level provides a slightly different environmental mechanic that can disrupt the flight of the ball, but for all intents and purposes, this proves to be more of a differentiation of AI difficulty than anything else.

Once a stage has been cleared, the freemium motives become more apparent. Despite the next stage being available, the player must purchase the right to play it using the earned in-game currency. Unfortunately, earning the necessary coinage needed to proceed will take extensive periods of grinding on the pre-existing unlocked stages. Of course, impatient players could always just shell out a few real world bucks for in-game denomination, all in the name of speeding the process along.

Players do have the option of selecting from different paddles, each of which has its own specific set of skills and powers. Much like the individual stages, none are unlocked through gameplay and must be purchased using Atari “funny money.” Paddles can also be upgraded, but the same concept of cash-for-play still applies. The best advice that could be offered is spend coins wisely, because the rate at which they are acquired becomes stifled the further a player proceeds.

If someone were to go into a playthrough of Pong World with the intention of spending no money, they could, in theory at least, play forever. Granted, it would be the same level and modes ad nauseam, but free is free. However, those looking for variety and diversity in their games should look elsewhere.  At its core, this is pretty much a reconfigured Atari 2600 experience, masquerading as something new.

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