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An Arcade Classic, In Your Home

Atari released the arcade version of Asteroids in 1979, in response to the massive success of Taito's Space Invaders. The arcade version of the game, programmed by Ed Logg, utilized vector graphics display. When Asteroids appeared on the Atari 2600 in 1981, things were much different. The port of the arcade game was programmed by Brad Stewart for publication by Atari, and although, by necessity, the vector graphics had been left in the arcade, the 2600 version of Asteroids has become a classic in its own right.

It is true that in the manual there is a paragraph of text that tells a short and simple story of the cosmic space patrol valiantly fighting off "killer" space debris in an attempt to save their lives and their ship. Not exactly the most compelling story ever created for a video game. Actually, it doesn't qualify as a story at all, just a little something to hang your hat on so that the game doesn't feel quite as pointless, from a story vantage point. It shouldn't matter though. This is not the kind of game you should be playing if you love a good story driven game, this is from a different period in gaming. I've been playing this game off an on for the past twenty-three years, and until I was looking at the manual for a little information to do this review, I didn't know they had any kind of story for Asteroids at all.

Asteroids offers sixty-six, one and two player, variations to choose from, as well as two difficulty settings. The variations mainly consist of changes in defense mechanism (hyperspace, shield, flip, nothing at all), asteroid speed, and amount of points to earn extra ships (if extra ships are awarded at all!). There are variations targeted for beginners and some target toward the veteran player, a little something for everyone. When you get down to it though, there are only two modes though, one player and two player, the other things are really just variations on the standard game. The two player game is exactly like the one player game with the exception of two players taking turns playing.

This game is a straight-forward, old-school shooter. The controls are very straightforward: rotate right, rotate left, thrust, defensive maneuver (the afore mentioned hyperspace, shield, flip) and press the button to fire. Asteroids is simple and straight to the point. The goal is to last as long as possible against a never-ending asteroid field, while scoring as much as possible. As you shoot the larger asteroids, they break into smaller ones and so forth, until they are finally destroyed. On the difficult setting, there are UFOs and satellites they attack your ship, as well as the normal asteroids. Either running into an asteroid, UFO, or satellite, or being shot by a UFO or satellite can destroy your ship. You start off with three ships and at intervals, depending upon variation setting, can be awarded more ships, but when your ship supply is done, so are you. High score is your goal in Asteroids.

The only problems with this classic game is are its repetitive nature and limited appeal. There really is no way around the fact that the game is repetitive. It is hardly unusual for game of this vintage, and certainly doesn't detract from the enjoyment of playing this classic, it does, perhaps, limit its audience, however. This is a game that speaks to a very narrow part of the gaming public now days. Simply put, most people that seek out Asteroids for the purpose of playing it are either retro-gamers or those in search of a bit of nostalgia from their childhoods. This is not to say that there isn't fun here to be had for all types of gamers, on the contrary, there is, but I don't think many "modern" gamers will regard it as much more than a historical "curiosity" played by their parents in the "old days".

Considering the vintage nature of Asteroids, the game's graphics are above average. The 2600 certainly saw better, and I assure you there were much worse, but Asteroids was well done, with a minimum of flicker to be found. Although not vector graphics, the sprites that replaced the vectors are large and colorful and very well representative of asteroids and ships. In the end, considering the limitations of the hardware, everything is done very well, graphically speaking.

The sound is what you would expect from a 2600 game. While not fantastic, and certainly not comparable to modern systems, it is very well done for the 2600. All the bleeps and blips and explosions are done in a way that enhances the game play and serves to help you really get into the game. What else can you ask for from a vintage 2600 title?

After all is said and done, Asteroids is a classic, both in its arcade and home console incarnations. Although limited in its appeal, it is still a must play for the nostalgic and retro gamers looking for a quality 2600 title to play. Asteroids can be a little repetitive, and it doesn't meet with today's graphical standards, but its timeless game play will always have a place in the heart of the true gamer.

5 out of 5

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Copyright 2004-2005 Ronnie Richardson. All rights reserved.