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Asteroids

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Released: 1981

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Atari 2600

Publisher: Atari

Developer: Atari

Submitted by: Alex Reeves

Atari released Asteroids in the arcades in 1979 and it became their biggest selling game of all time

It was only natural that their #1 property was ported to their new home system, the 2600. Featuring solid raster graphics rather than crisp vectors, the game somehow retained the spirit of the original if not the look. This feeling was enhanced by the sound, which retained the menacing 2 notes which, Jaws-like, sped up as the pace of the game increased.

To add a bit of longevity (if this were needed, when all you had to have was a strong forearm and a love of button mashing) there were 66 variations of the game, including various combinations of warps and shields and enemy ships.

Difficult to find the words to describe such a seminal game on a ground breaking platform, so how about some facts I found on the internet so they must be true:

* Asteroids was the first 2600 game to use “bank switching” to double it's Rom space from 4k to 8k

* In 1999 a homebrew version was brought out with wire-frame “vector” graphics, basically the asteroids were the same but hollow

* Universal Studios have just announced (July 2009) that they are planning to release a film based on the Asteroids game

* Asteroids was released on every Atari home system and computer except the 5200, which only made it to prototype stage

Still playable today, a great gaming memory from my early teens, and the first game I bought when I got hold of an old 2600 on ebay last year.

Asteroids

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Released: 1979

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Arcade

Publisher: Atari

Developer: Atari

Submitted by: Damian Butt

Asteroids is one of Atari’s many early hits and another high flier in Retro Gamer's "Top 25 Arcade Games of All Time". 

As noted in RG54, it’s an update of Spacewar, one of the earliest video games.  The vector graphics, and simple thrust-powered spaceship have been retained, but gravity and the opposing player have been dropped. In their place, are a massive collection of rocks.  They’re hardly intelligent foes, yet one little scrape is deadly.

The player can move to avoid the rocks, but really, shooting them is the name of the game.  Yet shooting the asteroids will break each into several smaller pieces, increasing the risk of collisions.  Once rocks are broken tiny pieces, they disappear, and upon clearing the level, the player will advance. 

For players in a panic, a quick press of the “Hyperspace” button my help you escape danger, or simply move you into the path of danger elsewhere.  And if multiple asteroids with differing trajectories & velocities isn’t enough, you also have to deal with the occasional UFO.  The sound effects of the game are effective, especially the “heartbeat” noise which, like that in Space Invaders, cleverly increases the game’s perceived intensity.

Asteroids was massively successful. So much so that another title (Lunar Lander) had it’s production run cut short, and early versions of the rock-busting game actually came out in modified Lunar Lander cabinets.

Asteroids has appeared (in some form or another) on most consoles. It’s legacy can be seen most obviously in “arena shooters” like Geometry Wars, and the many independent shoot em ups that use  vector-style graphics.  One of Asteroids'  more creative descendants was the Pang series, which features bubbles instead of rocks, and (mostly) restricts the player’s movement to the horizontal plane.

Asteroids is a true classic.  A game that, despite a complex control method, can be quickly understood, yet presents a good long-term challenge.

A working Asteroids PCB will cost you around £100/US$180.  A cabinet is reasonable condition is £170-280/US$300-500.

Asteroids

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Released: 1987

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Atari 7800

Publisher: Atari

Developer: Atari

Submitted by: John Delaney

The first games machine I ever owned was an Atari 7800 (thanks Santa!) and it came with a copy of Rampage and this game. I played both to death, but I preferred this game by a mile.

Asteroids is so simple and famous it barely needs an explanation. You control a little triangular ship, and you shoot asteroids. Presumably, these asteroids are threatening something otherwise your spaceman is wasting his time, but since they constantly loop from one side of the screen to the other, whatever it is is probably pretty safe. Good thing too, because your little ship does more to threaten it than the rocks themselves; whenever an asteroid gets shot, it breaks up into smaller chunks that go flying off in all directions. The ship isn't even safe from itself. As well as being able to fire, it can teleport to a random point on the screen – usually right into an asteroid. This, naturally, is the end of your little triangular ship, for which the galaxy is probably extremely thankful.

That's pretty much it. Fly around shootin' stuff, the essence of eighties gaming. No frills whatsoever. The graphics on this version were a step up from the originals, though obviously a lot of people would prefer the classic vector look. It also supported two players rather than one, and it taught me the meaning of the word "intermediate." A lot of good stuff there. Even if the rest of the world was playing Super Mario Brothers, the 7800 made consoles from ten years before it look sooo lame. And Asteroids was one of the reasons why.