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Asteroids (Atari 2600) artwork

Asteroids (Atari 2600) review

"Like most of the popular arcade hits that were ever made for the Atari 2600 console, Asteroids is a pure classic. In Asteroids, you get to take the controls of a triangular shaped ship that is stationed in outer space. Surrounding the ship on all sides are huge space rocks called asteroids. Most of the asteroids are on the right and left side of the spaceship, which is directly in the center of the screen. These galactic rocks consistently move either up or down the screen. As they move up or do..."

Like most of the popular arcade hits that were ever made for the Atari 2600 console, Asteroids is a pure classic. In Asteroids, you get to take the controls of a triangular shaped ship that is stationed in outer space. Surrounding the ship on all sides are huge space rocks called asteroids. Most of the asteroids are on the right and left side of the spaceship, which is directly in the center of the screen. These galactic rocks consistently move either up or down the screen. As they move up or down, they're simultaneously making their way to the left or right.

Of course, what you have to do is use your spaceship to shoot all of these rocks before any of them hit your ship and destroy it. It's fairly easy to do, even without moving to a different section of space. At any time during the game, you can move your joystick left or right and make the ship spin in that direction. Luckily, the ship can move in 360 fairly quickly.

If the asteroids get too close to your ship at any time, and you know without a doubt that you're headed for disaster if you stay at your current position, then you'll need to move your ship out of the way. You can fly your ship in any direction by facing it in the direction you want to move, and then pushing up on the joystick.

If you're playing one of the basic games of Asteroids, you can press down and your ship will completely disappear. After a few seconds, it will appear somewhere else on the screen. Unfortunately, there's not a way to determine or to decide when or where your ship will appear when you do this. Therefore, your chance of landing in the exact spot of the screen that you're wanting to be warped to, is about as good as your chance of winning a lottery in real life.

Shooting the various asteroids is pretty simple. When you first start the game, there will be a bunch of big asteroids moving around on each side of the screen. When you shoot one of the big (their starting size) asteroids, it will break up into two smaller, but just as solid, rocks. Shooting either one of these smaller halves will make it a bit smaller. Finally, when this even smaller fragment is shot, it will disappear into eternity. After completely disposing of all the interstellar rocks on the screen, a whole new batch of asteroids will instantly appear, daring you to shoot them.

It sounds easy, right? If it wasn't for what I'm about to mention, this game would probably rank as one of the ten easiest video games of all time. The asteroids do get a little faster as you get farther into the game, but not by much.

Fortunately, once you get to a certain point, some cool looking UFOs (unidentified flying objects in case you don't know) will start making their debuts onto the screen and then begin using your ship as their target. These UFOs can either be destroyed when they run into an asteroid (which happens more than often), or when you shoot them. A UFO can move straight left or right, or in an up and down pattern, and they're not easy to shoot. Not to mention that the UFOs can shoot at you and can also shoot and destroy the asteroids with ease.

That's all the basic mechanics of Asteroids. Now I'm going to describe what I think makes this game a classic. In my opinion, the best thing about Asteroids is all the different kinds of games that are included besides the basic one that I just finished talking about.

If you think the basic game of Asteroids is way too easy, or if you simply want to try something new, you can select from a few other types of games. There are two variations that I've always particularly liked. In one of them, when you pull back on the joystick, your ship won't disappear and reappear somewhere else on the screen (which I always hated anyway). Instead, when pulling back on the joystick, your ship will turn into a shield that looks just like a target with a bullseye. While you have that shield up, asteroids can go right through it and so can UFOs and their bullets, leaving your ship unscathed. But don't grow too fond of the shield because if you let it stay up too long, your ship will explode and you'll lose a life.

The other variation I like involves the movement of the asteroids themselves. Instead of the rocks just moving in the same direction after being shot, some of the smallest pieces will fly real fast (for this game) in a diagonal direction. That's about as good of a challenge as you're going to get out of Asteroids.

But wait, there's one other thing. If you're familiar with the Atari 2600 console, then you know it has a difficulty switch that gives you the ability to play some games in a much more difficult setting. If you flip this difficulty switch for Asteroids, the UFOs will be much smaller than normal, and more numerous, which can really spice up the challenge.

Well, I hope you like what you've heard so far. Asteroids is indeed a fun game and it can get a bit addicting if you play it enough. If you like the other ancient space shooters such as Space Invaders, Galaxian, Defender, or Demon Attack, you have a great chance of liking Asteroids. Give it a try!

GRAPHICS - The graphics in Asteroids lack the quality of some of the other space shooters such as Demon Attack, but they're still pretty good. The spaceship and the UFOs are simply drawn, but they look somewhat detailed for a 1981 game. The background just consists of a pitch black color, but it goes with this game's atmosphere. Finally, the asteroids aren't detailed at all; they look kind of like mushrooms when they're in their original form, and like simple circles with small ridges when in their smaller forms, but they do have good colors. For instance, some asteroids are blue, some yellow, some are red, and so on.

SOUND - Like Demon Attack, Asteroids has a constant background sound that you could almost call music, but not quite. This background sound sounds dark and haunting, which makes you want to destroy the asteroids and UFOs even more. The sound effects are science fiction like and simple, but they're clear and pleasing. I've always been especially impressed with the classic humming sound that the UFOs make.

CONTROL - The controls are very responsive without being sluggish at all. It's AEAP: As Easy As Possible to make the little spaceship spin and shoot (what you'll be dong 99% of the time) at all times. The only complaint I have whatsoever with the controls is that there isn't a way to make the ship slow down once you begin flying. Instead, you have to wait for it to slow down and come to a halt.

REPLAY VALUE - I've always been a huge fan of the classic space shooters, and I still am. I own Asteroids, Demon Attack, Defender, Space Invaders, Megamania, and Galaxian for the Atari 2600, and I've probably played Asteroids the second most of any of them; right behind Space Invaders.

Let me put it this way: I've been playing Asteroids pretty often ever since I was about 3 or 4. Now I'm in my 20's and I still enjoy playing it as much as ever. I don't know what it is, but there is something about going on an asteroid and UFO shooting expedition that is always fun.

OVERALL - Almost everything about Asteroids is great. I like its graphics, sounds, and controls; it's a lot of fun, and it has a high replay value. The only bad things about it is that it can be a little too easy at times and that flying could've been easier, but that doesn't take away hardly anything at all from this game. In my book, it's a true classic.

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Community review by retro (October 31, 2003)

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