One of the most impressive titles from M-Network
By Ethan C. NoblesJuly 26, 2005
Paddle or joystick?
Shoot the rocks!
Don't let the rocks hit the ground either.
Argh! I got blasted!
Astroblast is a fairly typical
M-Network game. What I mean is M-Network made a lot of high-quality
games for the Atari 2600, yet they have somehow failed to be recognized
as honest-to-goodness classics on par with some of the titles released
by other third-party developers such as Activision and Imagic. While
Astroblast may lack the “classic” label slapped on other games, it's
a heck of a good title and it's well worth adding to any 2600 library.
M-Network, a Mattel company, released a lot of 2600 games which were
often considered to be dumbed-down versions of Intellivision cartridges.
Astroblast is simply Astrosmash ported from the
Intellivision to the 2600, but an odd thing happened in the conversion
process -- Astroblast is a lot more fun than it's counterpart on
the Mattel console. I played Astrosmash on an Intellivision years
ago, and two things struck me instantly. First of all, the graphics are
(of course) better than what the 2600 could produce. Second, the control
was awful. That blasted little disc controller on the Intellivision was
always bad, and it was particularly dreadful on Astrosmash
because quick, responsive control is critical in the game.
Fortunately, control just isn't an issue on Astroblast. One can
choose to use either a joystick or paddles, but the game really shines
when paddles are used as they provide amazingly smooth and accurate
control. Astroblast starts out fast and the pace picks up in a
hurry, so you'll be glad you have those accurate paddle controllers once
your score cranks up past the 5,000 mark or so and the game becomes
Astroblast was obviously derived from Asteroids, but there
are a couple of elements which really distinguish the title. First of
all, the player isn't trapped in the middle of an asteroid field – he
controls a “laser base” which looks like a squashed bug, and it's
trapped on the horizontal plane at the bottom of the screen. Asteroids
streak toward the player, and he either has to blast them or get the
heck out of the way. Asteroids come in two sizes – small and large.
Large asteroids split into two smaller ones when hit, and the new pair
of rocks will move quickly and at an angle and really pose a danger to
the ship. The player can choose to simply avoid asteroids and not shoot
them, but points are subtracted for every rock not destroyed.
To make matters worse, “spinners” will appear from time to time, and the
player will lose a base if he fails to blast the spinner. Also,
“pulsars” -- guided missiles – will appear and streak toward the
player's base. Those things are wicked fast, and really become
bothersome in later levels of the game. In much later levels, UFO's will
appear and harass the player with bombs.
Out of all the 2600 games in my collection, Astroblast is one of
the most challenging. How challenging? You start the game with 10 bases,
but will undoubtedly wish you had more because you burn through them in
a hurry. New bases are awarded in increments of 1,000 points, but it's a
real chore to accumulate that many points as the score continuously
drops as rocks streak by and it's hard to get into a rhythm because
bases get destroyed frequently. Fortunately, the game is very addictive,
so you'll probably find yourself cursing it quite often and starting up
new games even more often. This thing is pure arcade bliss and the
action is intense enough that it's hard to get bored with this title.
If you want to get an idea of how difficult this game is, just check out
what the difficulty switches do. The right one sets the game level, but
you'll want to start at the easiest setting unless you've completely
lost your mind and you think getting wiped out in seconds at the higher
difficulty level will be fun. One of the selects auto fire, which will
save you from holding the paddle (or joystick) button down throughout
the entire game. You really should choose the auto fire function as
there's never any reason you'll want to stop firing. Luckily, the laser
bases pack a lot of firepower, and it's a simple matter to spray shots
all over the screen.
The graphics in this four-kilobyte cartridge aren't exactly
groundbreaking, but they are more than adequate. Everything is
well-drawn, and background colors change as the difficulty increases.
That's a nice touch as you'll want to know when the difficulty increases
because each level brings new challenges in the form of faster
asteroids, more spinners and the addition of those pesky UFOs. There's a
bit of screen flicker here, but it's not even noticeable after awhile.
All in all, the items on the screen are large and
instantly-recognizable. Even when the action gets frantic, it's still
easy to tell the difference between asteroids, spinners and other things
the game throws at you. Overall, the title looks very clean as far as
graphics are concerned.
The sound isn't outstanding, either, but it works well. You hear mostly
the sounds of your laser base firing and objects getting blown to bits,
but there are some very useful audio cues, too. For example, it's very
important to know when a spinner is on the screen, but you might miss it
if you're blasting asteroids and trying to avoid getting hit. A
high-pitched audio tone lets you know when a spinner appears – very
Like I said, this isn't a considered to be a classic 2600 title, and
that's too bad. This 1982 release is just the type of thing you want to
pull out and play on the Atari – it's a fast-paced, challenging arcade
shooter which can suck an hour or two out of your life before you know
it. And, it's fairly common, so picking up a copy of this from eBay or
some other source shouldn't be a problem.