How do you update the humble bat and ball game for the 21st Century smartphone? Some of the earliest home computer games involved a paddle that could be moved up and down a screen, with a pixelated ball moving between two bats. Forty years or so later, and we have one answer in the Windows Phone game Retron.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
The landscape mode of your handset is perfectly suited to this game, with the letterbox profile creating a well proportioned playing field. While there's no spinner control on any Windows Phone handset, there is something just as useful - the touchscreen. By sliding your finger up and down the screen you can move your bat up and down - either as a direct relationship (with the drag mode) or the more sensitive slider mode. It's worth trying out both modes, because they have advantages and disadvantages.
You also have a 'super weapon' that you can activate with a double tap on the screen, sending a wall of blocks down the screen to your opponents bat, trapping the ball with less space, forcing your opponent to react with increasing speed as the wall approaches their bat - not surprisingly, the computer AI is far better equipped to handle this than a human opponent.
Graphics are mostly retro, remaining blocky enough to show the roots of the original, but the side walls of the game area constantly moving adds a visual flair and offers some interesting strategies if you aim for the walls. I also liked the build up of digital noise at certain parts of the game, creating a slightly psychadelic experience to go with the rising levels of adrenaline the designers are hoping for.
Thankfully the game isn't restricted to a 'first to 15' approximation of the original electronic tennis games, although this is the first of a number of game modes you can play. It's called 'Rally', and it's joined by eight other inventive modes which alter the environment, or ask you to score in different ways. Some of them seem to be little more than a way to boost the number of levels ('Earthquake' simply shakes the walls), while others, such as 'Paint', ask you to use the ball as an intermediate to change the colour of the side walls.
While Retron does have a multi-player mode, it's not played over wi-fi or the internet - two players ready to go head to head will do so on the same device. It works, although smaller screened devices will get very cramped with all those fingers on and around the screen. I'd love to see something that allows two handsets to play against each other, because this is a multiplayer game that is fast and furious to play.
And really the multiplayer game will be where the action is. The bat and ball game does not need a complicated AI to play against, and even the challenge in 1978 was a little bit too accurate - fast forward to the present day and even the medium AI level is never going to miss a ball.
That's a shame - part of the design of a good UI is making sure it's beatable. The single player game here is almost impossible to beat, but it's a fabulous training mode so you can be ready to take on the flesh and blood of the two player game.
That's about it really, it's an updated bat and ball game, it still works well as a head to head, and less so against the computer. that's not changed. But the updated graphics, the extra speed on show, the inventive game-play modes, and the crunching sound all add up to a great arcade experience. The AI lets it down slightly, but the retro fans out there on Windows Phone should lap this up.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at