Atari 2600

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 5

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 7

This is a game that truly needs no introduction. One of the biggest arcade hits of all time, and a staple of nearly every arcade in the early '80s. Along with fellow giants Space Invaders, Defender and Pac-Man, for the longest time it ruled the video game world. Today it's regarded as one of the great classics, one of the brightest gems that Atari ever produced. Yes, it's none other than Asteroids. The VCS version of Asteroids stacked up remarkably well to the arcade in a lot of respects, yet fell short in a lot of others. Most importantly, though, the basic gameplay remained unchanged, and that, I believe, was its biggest selling point.

Surely you all know the basics of Asteroids by now. You control a lone spaceship in the middle of an asteroid field. You must destroy all of the asteroids to advance to the next wave, while at the same time avoiding not only the asteroids, but also the two UFOs, "Wally" and "Beaver" (as they were nicknamed at Atari when the arcade game was being created). In the VCS version of Asteroids, your mission is the same. However, there have been some changes.

The first, and most noticeable change, are the graphics. The arcade Asteroids used vector graphics, and as such, the asteroids, the ship and the UFOs were all clear white outlines. The VCS game can't replicate the vector graphics, so now the ship looks slightly different (it resembles the spacecraft from Atari's VCS game Space War now, rather than a white triangle), the asteroids are no longer crisp white outlines, but rather fuzzy multicolored blobs that look like scoops of sherbet (one review I read of the VCS Asteroids long ago suggested that the game should have been called Sherbet Shoot, but Atari figured it would have sold better if they stuck with the title Asteroids), and the UFO looks different as well.

Yes, I did just say UFO, not UFOs. There is now only one UFO to contend with. Unfortunately, Atari chose to stick with the tougher of the two arcade UFOs, "Beaver" (the small saucer). However, should you play the game with the difficulty switch in the "B" position, you won't have to worry about the UFO, as he'll won't show up - until you reach 15,000 points, that is. Bet you thought you were getting off easy there for a second. Atari has also included Satellites, which basically do the same things as the UFOs. There's also a difference in the way the asteroids react when shot. In the arcade game, when you shoot a full size asteroid, it splits in two. When you shoot one of those it splits in two. When you shoot one of those, it's gone. Not so this time. This time, the second asteroid does not split in two, it just shrinks. This makes the game a little easier. On top of that, the game features a "wraparound" playfield. For instance, fly to the top of the screen, and you will appear on the bottom. So will the asteroids. This adds an great deal of strategy to the game, because even though an asteroid or UFO bullet may be heading away from you, in just a few seconds it may be sneaking up behind you.

Brad Stewart, the programmer of the VCS Asteroids, did a good job of condensing the arcade control setup for use with the single button joystick. Pushing left or right on the stick rotate your ship. Pressing up is the equivalent of pressing the arcade "thrust" button. Pushing down sends your ship into hyperspace (use with caution! More often than not, you'll rematerialize right in the path of or on top of an asteroid). Pressing the button fires the cannon. Simple, eh?

The VCS Asteroids has 66 - that's right, 66 - game variations for 1 or 2 players. Some of these variations include features that were not in the original arcade game, namely Shields and Flip. These options replace hyperspace. In a game with Shields, when you push down your ship will be surrounded by a shield, which can be very handy. As long as you have it on, nothing can harm you. In a game with Flip, pressing down will cause the ship to do a 180 degree flip - quite handy when you need to turn around quickly. Also, according to the instruction manual: "Games 33 through 66 are easy versions for young children. These games feature slow asteroids, hyperspace, and an extra ship each 5000 points."

All in all, the VCS Asteroids is a more than adequate version of the arcade game. If you're expecting the graphics of the arcade game, you will be disappointed, but if you're looking for the gameplay that the arcade offered, Asteroids delivers in spades - and then some.


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Last updated: Saturday, September 25, 2004 09:09 AM