Asteroids, Part 4 By Darryl BrundageJanuary 28, 2008
Here's a beauty of a title screen for you.
The rocks finally look real!
Here's a tougher level with blue rocks that don't move.
Now you can select what sector to annihilate!
Even though video games are still considered a fairly “new” industry (not even 40 years old yet, at the time of this writing), it’s amazing the severe ups and downs have occurred in so short a time.
I don’t know how well the arcade industry was doing in general during it’s first few years once Pong came out, jump-starting it then, but I DO know it became a big force to be reckoned with once Space Invaders was released, instantly dominating the world. Also riding this new entertainment wave was Atari, of course, becoming one of the biggest gaming companies of them all, as the Atari brand once was stated as to being almost as recognizable as Coca-Cola.
Unfortunately once the video game crash of 1983 - 1984 hit a few years later, things were totally different, as the very robust arcade industry was cut way down. Atari was also very different as well, being diminished from being more recognizable than Coke to being...well, about as welcomed as New Coke. Giant changes were happening, which would lead from Atari’s mission statement to change from them not being a video game company to making home computers, then back to games, along with parent company Warner gladly selling off the money-losing operation, among many other things (and not in that order).
Not all was totally different, though, which a very familiar theme would be very clear with their Blasteroids game in 1987, taking the gameplay of blasting space objects from Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe and Space Duel, but adding many new features to it. Sure, shooting rocks and spaceships made up the basics, but like I said, that’s only just the VERY basics of this [yet another!] update to the classic formula (even though Blasteroids was in raster graphics this time around, rather than in vector like the other three games that preceded it).
So, yes, you’ve got the above as the basic gameplay. If you destroy a spaceship, chances are you’ll probably get a power-up, being the usual stuff of shields, booster for speed, double shot firepower, etc. However, there’s an energy meter at the top of the screen, which you’re constantly losing energy the longer you’re in a level; get bonked by something, and you lose even more. Brown asteroids will have crystals in them (mmmm, brown! Don’t know if that’s much of a step up from the pink asteroids on the 2600 port!), which will increase your energy level, but sometimes they’re hard to snatch up, due to their speed. Clear a screen of blasteroids and a portal will appear to send you to another sector, and you’ll get a little bit of energy back.
There’s also a galactic map showing what is in the sectors closest to you, so careful planning is a must as far as which sectors to clear out in a certain order (i. e. preferably you should go for a sector that doesn’t contain energy crystals when your energy supply is high). Clear out an entire galaxy and you will fight a green, ugly space boss who rules the galaxy (Mukor), which he spews out miniature spaceships and unoriginal lines, telling you to “die”, “puny Earthling”. Hmmm, green, angry, ugly, says “puny”, I thought the Incredible Hulk came from Earth! (Yes, on this day that I’m writing up this review, I have too much time on my hands to come up with that one, so...)
Defeat that issue-riddled extra-terrestrial bonehead and the next galaxy will provide you with a full tank of energy (frequent destroyer miles?) and even worse hazards, like ships that steal your energy crystals and power-ups. Additional kinds of power-ups also appear as well though, along with new blasteroids that will careen across the screen really quickly, then stop short once you shoot them again (“blue popcorn” asteroids; since when is popcorn BLUE?). Defeat Mukor this time around and you win the game, although you only have one life during the entire game, so chances are you will have to insert coin to continue a lot to be provided with a full tank of energy in the sector that you perished in last.
Also, instead of hyperspace on the original Asteroids, and shields on the sequel, your special weapon this time around allows your ship to change into other forms, like a fast ship, a slow ship that has the most armor, but your default ship has the most firepower.
Ok, so there’s all that (more or less) for your basic game. However, start off at a higher level (using the ol’ Atari “pick your level” deal that graced a lot of their games over the years) and things get more difficult: sure, there’s a few more power-ups that aren’t in the easy mode, but Mukor has more growths on his body that you have to destroy before you can send him away, and other obstacles appear (actually it could be on this setting when those ships that swipe your power-ups appear that I mentioned earlier, come to think of it), and there’s even more different kinds of blasteroids again. And God knows what happens during the highest levels, I’m not sure I want to try those out! Edit: I since tried the second highest starting level; ugh! Space cocoons (or whatever they are) will split into quick-moving creatures that latch onto your ship and suck out it’s energy, more saucers appearing during a wave, you have to clear out three or even FOUR freakin’ galaxies before getting to the end of the game (and you’ll see the exact same ending as on the first two skill levels; big deal!), and more horrendous stuff awaits you! Not for me!
Unlike with the two Asteroids games, the sounds in this one are more subtle, not having jarring explosions or anything, along with a far less ear-splitting audio announcement of the saucer arriving. They’re still cool though, along with a few music tunes as well. Graphics are a bit mixed though, as some still look pretty good today, but others look dated (the ship that steals your crystals looks like a freakin’ TURTLE! E. T. phone agent for a better effects budget!). Controls couldn’t be beaten, though, with several buttons and the spinning dial to turn your ship.
This game is very addicting, and it’s amazing how much thought was put into it for the higher level settings and all; who knows how many people involved with making the game threw in ideas for the additional dangers and all. I think the difficulty level is a bit high, though, as constantly running out of energy sucks; I even found the not so well loved Sub-Terrania game for the Sega Genesis years later to be easier to handle, even though you’re constantly running out of fuel on that game, rather than getting swarmed by things and losing energy that way (I’m just using it as an example, though, since the gameplay’s totally different and unrelated). Heck, I couldn’t even think of many sarcastic things to say here, due to all the new things I had to mention in this update, and I somewhat skimmed over them too.
It’s just amazing to me that four games of the same genre were released, three of those being updates from the original, yet none of them ruined the same basic concept (in my opinion).