Asteroids / Missile Command
Reviewed by Diane Cote
Have these games haunted you since they were first released in the early eighties?
From time to time, do you still see the original arcade consoles tucked away in
dark corners of dimly lit, smoke filled bars? Have you ever thought about plugging
in that ol' 2600 you've still got sitting underneath a pile of your eighth grade report
cards, a couple of scratched up Supertramp records and a deflated 'Larry Bird'
basketball. Well then, you're just like me, amigo. Asteroids and Missile Command
helped define the word "video game" and if you call yourself a gamer at all, you
owe it to your archaic trackball spinning ancestors to plow through the rabid
PSX line-ups at your neighborhood video game shop and pick up this little honey
of a cart. Now, I'm not saying you're going to forget about 32 bit life as you know
it but you will discover that these two games are still being talked about for a
very good reason - they're kinda fun.
Asteroids. Can you say the word without thinking of the game? Nope. Not any
more. Developed in the late 70's by a crack team of the very best developers at
Atari, the game earned instant worldwide adulation for its out and out intensity.
The never ending sense of encroaching doom was so strong that sweat would
bead on your forehead the second you plunked your quarter into the machine.
The 'inertia factor' of navigating your tiny ship in and amongst these gargantuan
rocks in space was not only incredibly nerve wracking but also a way to
separate the 'Players' from the Pretenders'. The Pretenders were those that
stayed in the middle and spun round and round, trying to stave off certain
death as asteroids made their way closer and closer in deadly concentric
patterns. The flick of the "Hyper Space" button would send these cowards to
a momentary patch of safe space. Repeated attempts at dodging death by
hyperspacing out of the way always meant teleporting inside of a rock.
Serves 'em right - the wimps.
Asteroids on the Game Boy is quite a bit different than on the arcade screens.
Firstly, because the original arcade machine was a Vector Graphics-based affair
and the Game boy is either LCD pixels or Raster based on the tube, so some
graphical disparities occur. The cool thing about Game boy 'Roids is that you can
choose to play the game in a rough visual replication of the original game or you
can play the updated version, with its rendered-looking rocks and decidedly cooler
looking space ship.
The next difference is in controlling your ship. In the arcade Asteroids you
maneuvered your little warbird by using a phalanx of buttons. Two buttons to spin
your ship left or right, one to give a little thrust, one to blast through stone and
enemy ships, and finally, that funky ol' Hyperspace. Game boy doesn't come equipped
with five separate buttons so the developers had to be a little inventive to port the
game down and still retain the feel of the original. Left and right on the control
pad will rotate you in those directions, pressing up will send some energy to your
thrusters and 'A' and 'B' operate as 'Hyperspace' and 'Fire' respectively. You do have
the choice of slightly customizing your controls, albeit only one other way.
(Vic tip: The thrust command seems to take a little bit of time to fire up the
rockets, so be well prepared when them infernal overgrown interstellar pebbles
come barreling towards you.)
The audio of Asteroids was never that thrilling. Essentially what you get is a heart
beat type sound that speeds up to a very fast steady rhythm. This sound is
supposed to get your adrenaline pumping when things become increasingly more
difficult as the asteroids start moving faster. The other sounds you hear are your
gunfire, the explosions of said gunfire making contact with objects, and the high
pitched pulsing sound of enemy ships approaching. Simple, effective stuff.
The developers have done a great job of maintaining the integrity of playing
Asteroids. The subtle differences in visuals and control response notwithstanding,
you'll still be transported to a simpler time in gaming and that was the whole
purpose of this project. Missile Command, although still decent on the Game boy,
doesn't fare quite as well as ol' Asteroids.
Missile Command has got to be one of the bleakest video games ever created.
Based on the premise that the world has entered into some kind of a nuclear war, it
is your job as the gamer to rid the skies of approaching enemy warheads and
protect various targeted cities around the globe. Whether or not it's two warring
nations or our Earth herself being attacked by invaders is never quite determined,
although the Game boy cart has you protecting Moscow, so that's something! You
control two missile silos, controlled by the 'A' and 'B' buttons, from which you fire
from your salvo of 15 missiles per. As the jet streams of enemy missiles stretch
longer and longer, your nerves of steel are the only thing that will save the helpless
citizens of each city from certain destruction.
The graphics in Missile Command are fine. You get the representations of individual
cities with identifying structures in the background (Paris has the Eifel
Tower, New York has the Statue of Liberty, that kind of thing). And the action in
the foreground is very true to the arcade. Simplified lines streaming from above
represent enemy missiles, while 2 dimensional planes and smart bombs try to
weave through your attempts at bringing them down. The sky will be quickly
littered with explosions and your eyes will be darting over the screen trying to not
only keep track of how many missiles you have left, but where the attacks are
coming from. Although this game never quite builds up the intensity of Asteroids
(on the Game boy - in the arcade, I'd be hard pressed to decide which was the
more nerve wracking of the two) it will cause your fingers to twitch uncontrollably
even after you put your Game Boy down.
The biggest disappointments with mini- Missile Command are the fact that the
game plays quite a bit slower than in the arcade (but this will allow you to get
farther into the contest) and that you have only two silos to control instead of
the regular three. 30 missiles instead of 45 in your arsenal really does do
something to the feel of the game. It is easy to run out of missiles. Watching
helplessly as your remaining buildings are blown to smithereens is almost
too much to take (just like in the arcade). As well, the developers decided to
take out the ominous "THE END" explosion that was such a frightening part of
the original. Still, as part of a two game package, this Missile Command still
has what it takes to keep you watching the skies.
As the inaugural cartridge of the Arcade Classic series, Asteroids/Missile
Command, is worthy of your immediate attention. If you find yourself still travelling
with that beat up Game boy of yours, you should definitely find your way to a game
store and check this package out. If these two conversions are a sign of things to
come, not just from Nintendo's series but from Nostalgic Gaming in general, we're
in for some great little timeless treats in the future. I'm glad that the Game boy is
receiving quite a few of these updates (Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, etc.). As a
constant reminder of gaming simplicity itself, the portable machine is the most
logical place to launch products that suggest we can appreciate the fact that good
game play always overcomes fancy technology. It's kind of ironic that Game boy is
stretching its lifespan on the strength of games that quite conceivably could have
been long ago forgotten.
Asteroids/ Missile Command 8 out of 10