Review by discoinferno84

"Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong..."

Once upon a time, Asteroids ruled the arcades with an iron fist. Gamers could spend hours standing in front of the machines, staring slack-jawed at the vector lines as they frantically blasted through an endless swarm of flying deathtraps. For just a quarter, you could be given the chance at the glory of getting your name etched into the screen for the rest of eternity…Or at least until someone even better came along and ousted you. This experience was further improved with Asteroids Deluxe, which took everything from the original and made it better. More enemies, tighter controls, fast speeds, and new abilities breathed new life into the classic arcade game. With such astounding quality, any version of Asteroids should be just as great, right?

Right?

No. Not even close. You'll understand as soon as you get a glimpse of the screen. You'd expect some black void spreading out into infinity, speckled with spinning space rocks. The little triangle set in the center, woefully underpowered for the fight of its life. Instead, you'll get what looks like some poorly rendered light show. The ghostly, glowing vectored lines are gone; the screen is crammed with large, blandly-colored blobs (as a child, I always thought of them as cauliflower or broccoli or something equally disgusting) sluggishly crawling through the cosmos. There are no outlines, no animations. Not even shapes. Just a bunch of spattered colors wandering vertically into oblivion. If you shoot them, they'll split into smaller, faster-moving pieces of equally crappy coloring. Your treasured spaceship has been dented into a mockery; its normally sharp tip has been crushed into something that resembles a crumpled dunce hat. It shouldn't be surprising; the Atari 2600 was never capable of much, let alone the sleekly polished action of the arcade titles.

To its credit, the game tries to incorporate all of the ideas from the previous versions. The goal is still to wipe out as many asteroids as possible, all while dodging oncoming rocks and the occasional UFO. All you had to do was mash the fire button, and you could send space debris flying everywhere. Even if the ship looks terrible, it's still got everything that counts. The teleportation device still works (or didn't, depending on your perspective) allowing you to warp out of an otherwise inescapable situation. Or you could activate the shield, which was works in a completely new way. Rather than summoning a force field and letting things bounce off of it (and likely sending you careening across the screen into another group of rocks), it lets enemies float through your ship without causing any damage. That's all well and good, except that it was practically useless. The thing only works for about two seconds (including a slight delay that plagues all of the special moves) before forcing your ship to self-destruct. Not very helpful, especially when you've got enemies that move too slowly for you to get through.

Instead, you'll probably spend more time mastering the flipping trick. By tugging back on the control stick in a certain direction, you can cause your ship to instantly turn around. It perfect for when you're trying to get that one last speck of an asteroid and can't get the angle in time. It doesn't translate quite so well into the general movement mechanics, though. You've got to push forward on the joystick to get the ship moving; the further you push, the fast it'll go. The problem is that the controllers aren't exactly precise or as responsive as they should have been. Sometimes you'll press too far or too little, leaving your ship adrift in the path of certain doom. Or you think you'll have made the right move, only to discover the game didn't read the command correctly and hurled you into death. You'll frequently find yourself unintentionally zooming off into another direction, forcing you to make a frantic and often feeble effort to regain control.

That's probably Atari's way of balancing out the difficulty. Or rather, the lack of it. Even at its hardest settings, Asteroids has only a fraction of the onscreen enemies that you'd find in the arcade versions. Not only are they too few, but slow and predictable as well. Even the smallest chunks of blobby space rock (you know, the ones that usually require an inkling of skill to pick off) crawl along slowly enough for you to leisurely snipe them. The original Asteroids made a point of having the enemies moving quickly in every direction possible; it made things more chaotic and challenging. The majority of the targets travel only vertically, not horizontally or diagonally. Since there's so little moving directly at you, there's little incentive to fire up the thrusters and make things interesting. Dodging a constant barrage of death was what made the arcade versions so challenging and compelling. Without it, the game is nothing more than just another space shooter.

That's a shame, considering what this console Asteroids could have achieved. It had the makings of something great. It took everything that Atari learned from the last two games and tried to recreate the experience in gamers' living rooms. Unfortunately, a few things got lost in the translation. The fundamental concept is still there, but the execution was half-assed. All of the old tricks (and a new one) are all marred by unresponsive controls and poor design. Everything has been slowed down to a crawl, mellowing out what used to be an intense playthrough. There are hardly any enemies on the screen, and those precious few move in sluggish, easily avoidable trajectories. The awesome movement animations have been replaced with stagnant, blandly-colored blobs of code. At least you don't have to pay a quarter to play. It's a good thing; compared to its predecessors, this version is worthless.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 05/10/10

Game Release: Asteroids (US, 12/31/81)


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