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Asteroids / Missile Command

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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

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