Extreme Pong Tour beta hands-on: Microtransactions bounce like a nasty white square

By Jimmy Woods

Atari’s new Pong game for smartphones, Extreme Pong Tour, is lobbing toward a free-to-play launch on iOS and Android later this year. But today’s kickoff of a closed-beta test (only on Android, only for randomly invited users) makes me wonder whether Atari should fault in a huge way.

From a sheer gameplay standpoint, Extreme Pong Touris actually a pretty solid facsimile of the classic series, albeit with a couple of puzzling design decisions. But the game’s path to monetization is the most brazen yet applied to an Atari smartphone app.

EPT also has loot boxes. The game’s white cubes, known as serves, are required to access the game’s loot.

Spend five serves (no idea how much that will cost in real-world money) to get a single, random unlock of a new colored paddle, a new colored ball, or a “fatality” accessory. Unlike past Pong games, differing paddles and balls don’t appear to come with standard control trade-offs like strength, acceleration, top speed, and so on.

The new game endlessly needles players about its assault on the structure of classic Pong games—as in, pick which side you are playing on, hit the ball toward an opponent, and unlock new stuff by way of standard gameplay mechanics. With that paradigm blown up by an obnoxious white square of in-app economies, and no apparent way to access multiplayer with either friends or strangers, I’m pretty disappointed by EPT’s current state.

The best I can say is that it presents the very core idea of Pong pretty clearly, and its simple touch controls are just good enough to show total novices why the series might be a blast to play on traditional consoles. But as a possible time-killing option for anyone who takes Pong the slightest bit seriously, I’m at a loss. Players might be willing to forgive sloppy, imprecise controls or shrug off the smartphone world’s need to monetize free-to-play games. But having both issues in the same product is too much.

As Atari put final touches on this app, I suggest the developers pick a side: attach an annoying economy to a deeper control scheme and more legitimate online options, or make it cheaper and less obnoxious to watch Pong serve itself.

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