Asteroids 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.
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?
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