Asteroids (Atari 2600)

asteroids_atari2600-large-070209Asteroids is a classic arcade game by Atari from 1979.  In 1981, a port of the arcade classic was released by Atari on their Atari 2600 console.  Like so many other 2600 ports, Asteroids‘  differences in both gameplay and graphics were very noticeable.   Asteroids had a completely different look and feel to it at home than it did in the arcades.  Using the Atari joystick instead of simply using buttons.   Also noticable is the required use of coloured pixels instead of a vector display.

That’s it.  I can’t take this seriously anymore.  I really wanted to, but I can’t.  No matter how much I want this game to hold up even today…  I can’t do it.  I could try and tell you about how (somehow) this game used a lot of memory for a home console cartridge, and that it was the first to use some kind of dual side switching memory technique.  I could tell you about how much fun I had with this game as a kid.  I absolutely love this game, still.  But even I can’t convince myself that it holds up today.  I started out wanting to compare apples to apples, and keep my state of mind geared solely towards 80s Atari games.  It’s not going to happen.  I firmly remember this game being a solid 9 or 10 when I was a kid.  That’s just not the case anymore.

In preparation for this review, I fired the game back up on an actual Atari 2600.  I dug it out of a box, and hooked it up to an old 13” CRT TV, and away I went.  The Atari flickered a few times, and wouldn’t start right away.  The irony in this, you see, is that the game is so simple by today’s standards, that it really wasn’t necessary to go to through all that work.  You can find tonnes of flash-game knockoffs of Asteroids as free apps for your phone or tablet, free flash games on your browser… and those are just the legal routes available to you.  Hell, I’m pretty sure if you turn the lights in your home on and off really fast you could replicate the gameplay to a reasonably accurate level.

Don't forget to make the PewPewPew sound effects.

Don’t forget to make the PewPewPew sound effects.

It was nostalgia I was after, though, and it was nostalgia I got.  Eventually I got everything hooked up, and under control.  Next thing I knew I was a little pink triangle shooting giant pixelated blobs into smaller pixelated blobs.  My score was rising, and I was earning free lives faster than I was losing them.  By the time I rolled the score counter over the first time I figured out why it was so much easier than I remembered.  I had forgotten that there’s an actual difficulty switch on the goddamn console, and I had it set to easy.  Almost instantly, a flying saucer came out from the side of the screen and shot my little pink triangle into little pink dots.  A few more levels later, and the saucer was thinner, faster and more accurate.  This was more in line with what I remembered.

I was still able to roll the score over one more time before dying completely.  It got pretty tense at times.  There was more than once I was on my last life, earning just enough points to tick off the next 5000 needed to earn another one.  I even had to use the Hyperspace and Thrust features, actually moving my pink triangle from the relative safety of centre-screen.  Hyperspace would warp your triangle to a random spot on the screen, whereas Thrust allows you to move your triangle forward.  The game has other settings for what your bonus move should be, including shields and a 180° flip.  I always preferred Hyperspace, because, honestly… who in the 80s didn’t love Warping related stuff in video games?

Warp 5, Mr. Data.  Engage.

Warp speed, Mr. Sulu.

The trouble with this game is, even if I had a blast playing it again, I can’t disillusion myself enough to think that anyone who didn’t play this when they were 5 years old,  (or whatever age they were when it released) would give two shits about it now.  It’s a goddamn triangle.  There are “so many” blobs on screen that in order for the Atari 2600 to process them all, they have to flash them on screen.  It’s totally epileptastic.  Also, it’s exceptionally easy (even with the slider set to high) by any standard once you know what’s going on.  Your wrists will cramp up from mashing the button long before you’ve lost all your lives.  Maybe that’s where the true difficulty lies, I guess?

If you compare playing this game to playing any other Atari arcade classic, you’ll come up with a favourable opinion, I’m sure.  If you compare this game to almost anything you’ve played on the NES or newer, though…  it just doesn’t hold up.  Not even against other Shoot’em Ups.  I would much sooner play the free-on-XBLA Aegis Wing with a couple of friends then play another round of Asteroids any time soon.

In the end, I’m still going to try to score it based on the time period it comes from.  Nostalgia has weighted these numbers as well.  The different bonus powers, and innovative for the time method of moving around the screen make for higher scores in Design and Gameplay.  Graphics are a push, because it was impressive at the time to have so many objects on screen at the time, it isn’t anymore.  Also, everything flashes too goddamn much.  If you’re not heavily attached to this game, don’t try and pick it up now, it just can’t compete.

  • Graphics:  5/10
  • Design:  7/10
  • Gameplay:  6/10
  • Story:  N/A
  • Sound:  5/10

Overall:  6/10

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13 comments on “Asteroids (Atari 2600)

  1. Notable for being one of the few Atari 2600 games to arguably look better than its arcade version.

    I don’t know how well Asteroids would hold up for today’s kids… I know I still enjoy the occasionally little burst of it, but that’s me. I’ve never had the opportunity to see what my nephew would think of it (though I did turn him into a Frogger addict the last time he was over.)

    • I didn’t have an Atari to see if Tom would ever enjoy the games on it. I can’t imagine so, because he doesn’t much care for NES stuff, even.

      There was a time when I entertained the idea of trying to “raise” Charlotte up through the generations without her seeing the new stuff… but I don’t think I’ve got the patience for that. She’s already “played” some Minecraft, in that she held the controller, and spun around and around… and loved it.

      I wonder how she’d fair with Asteroids… spinning ’round and ’round is pretty much all you do…

      • It’s probably just down to the individual kid… I know with my nephew Tyler, he mostly plays Xbox and Wii games, and I didn’t really expect him to take to any “old school” games. I threw Frogger at him just to see how he’d react… at first he was a bit confused, then he started to really get a kick out of how simple and difficult it is at the same time… and how it doesn’t really “play fair” by modern standards.

  2. If you like these kind of asteroid blasting games, Super Stardust HD on PS3 and Super Stardust Delta on PlayStation Vita are really great, and have the same idea. You’ll probably think they’re easy, but I found them to be very fun and addicting. 🙂

    • I don’t have any Sony products newer than a PS2. No particular reason other than the price point still being too rich for my blood, since I already have a Blu-Ray, and the exclusives weren’t *that* big a draw for me.

      That being said, I’m not a big fan of newer Shoot’em Ups. They’re a very hard thing to get the difficulty just right on. They’re always fun for a little bit, but either they’re too hard, or too easy, to have any longevity.

  3. I actually tried playing this recently in the xbox arcade and i had almost forgotten how slow this game was. I played the crap out of this when we first got an Atari back in what I think was Christmas of 79?

    My boy was digging on playing teenage mutant ninja turtles the other day, nice break from his skylanders all the time lol

    • It’s been amazing to me, going through different retro titles in the last year, how much we were able to over look in those days. I still think the Super Nintendo era is the perfect generation of gaming that melds as good as they could get at the time graphics with the best all around gameplay for any console.

      Love the TMNT arcade titles on XBLA. I’d love to have a SNES copy of Turtles in Time, but (judging from their prices on eBay) so would everyone else.

      • well I played the hell of that nintendo as well. But I would say that my 360 is pretty awesome, its pretty much a complete entertainment center as well as game system. Similarly the ability to play online from my couch with friends living all over the globe is pretty sweet.

      • Definitely. I’ve gotten a lot more mileage out of my 360 than I would have ever thought 5 years ago when I got it. The features have vastly improved from the old days, and when I find just the right games, they’re absolutely better than older ones.

      • Haven’t tried it, no. I haven’t been too fond of the motion control stuff I’ve played on the Wii, so it wasn’t something I was interested in trying.

        Gunstringer and Star Wars came close to sucking me in for a minute, though. And I would like to get one for when Charlotte’s a bit older (2 3/4 currently), but I’m assuming there’ll be a 720 that comes along before then.

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