Capsule Review: Asteroids

A space shooter game that puts the player in control of a small ship in an asteroid field. The player can turn the ship clockwise or counterclockwise, fire engines to accelerate forward, or shoot a projectile weapon. The ship broadly follows Newtonian physics - it has inertia and will keep moving in a direction after the player cuts the engines unless they rotate and accelerate in the opposite direction. Additionally, the ship’s own velocity is added to that of the shots it fires.

At first, there are a few large and slow-moving asteroids drifting around. Shooting these will cause them to break into smaller and faster-moving asteroids which will themselves break into yet smaller and faster ones. The smallest and fastest asteroids are completely destroyed when shot. Periodically, a flying saucer will cross the screen and take potshots at the player’s ship. Getting hit by either an asteroid, a saucer, or a saucer’s shots will destroy the ship, costing a life - more lives can be earned through hitting score targets. Clearing the screen of asteroids will advance to the next level.

It’s a simple formula, but it offers dynamic gameplay with a high skill ceiling. To avoid collisions the player must master the unusual but physically-logical motion of the ship, which allows for impressive and satisfying maneuvers in the hands of a skilled pilot. There’s also plenty of risk to manage - it may be tempting to shoot the slow-moving large asteroids first as they are easy targets, but doing this without first mopping up the smaller and harder to hit asteroids will flood the field with deadly obstacles.

The game was a smash hit and has been ported onto nearly every possible platform. It’s had a huge influence, with many games borrowing elements or cloning it outright. While there is a satisfying purity to the original and I have huge respect for its design, it’s admittedly hard to play it for long now after experiencing its highly-evolved descendents.

I Stopped Playing When: I have had the pleasure of playing it in an actual arcade, but outside of special occasions I haven’t really played it since I was a kid.

Docprof's Rating:

Five Stars: Favorite. This is one of my all-time favorite games that made a significant impact on me or that I've returned to time and again.

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