The story of how I got my first Amiga was a rocky one. For Christmas, my parents and grandparents had agreed on a workshare: the former would get some games, the latter the computer. Not sure that the financial split was all that simple, but that's how they agreed to buy the gifts. Then, my grandparents got ill and they cancelled their visit. So under the Christmas tree, my brothers and I found… three games, but no computer. Phobia, Spidertronic and …drumroll… Blasteroids. So we spent two or three days just marvelling at the box covers, before my father took pity (or maybe was totally annoyed by our constant whining) and drove 500km to pick up the Amiga.
Blasteroids quickly turned into our favourite of the three. Of course, back then, we were totally oblivious to the fact that this is even an official Asteroids sequel. We considered our games just intrinsically and intuitively. Although my taste later changed with respect to the relative quality of the three, it is still quite clear what the immediate appeal of this game was. It's intuitively understandable, accessible and instant fun.
It better be, as it is obviously an arcade conversion. Depending on the selected difficulty, nine or sixteen levels wait to be cleared by one or two heroic players. Enemies are quite varied. Of course, the classic asteroids splitting into smaller pieces are a mainstay. Various types of ufos add some spice with their different behaviour patterns. The cliché round, blue ones approach and shoot before running again. The red rockets try to ram the players. Umbrella-shaped satellites (?) take a stationary position before firing. Unlike the two previous Asteroids games, Blasteroids is sprite-based and this makes for an attractive look.
The players themselves can adapt to the threats on the fly with their shapeshifting ship. Three shapes are available, with the Warrior essentially being a flying tank, heavily armoured, but rotating and firing slowly, the Speeder being exactly what its name implies and the Fighter (which most players seem to default to) being the middle ground with respect to armour and speed, but offering the best firepower. As a special gimmick, in two player mode, the allied ships can be merged with one player then taking control of the flying while the other controls an autonomously rotatable gun turret. This makes for some exciting action with a lot of shouting and screaming in front of the screen (“Nooo, go left!”).
Flying is subject to a well-done inertia model, necessitating careful controls. Overall, gameplay speed isn't too high. With few exceptions, enemies don't zip across the single-screen levels, either. Overall, this seems finely balanced. Power-ups, dropped by destroyed enemies, are generally desirable, but offer only a fairly standard selection (additional shield energy, one-time super-firepower…).
And then, of course, after clearing all the levels, the highlight awaits… Mukor! This big green ugly with its suction cups simply has to be one of the classiest genre bosses ever encountered. Its behaviour in gameplay terms is honestly speaking not stellar; it simply attempts to use its size to squeeze the players to death. Nevertheless, its appearance alone makes the encounter exciting and memorable.
Coming back to the initial story of those three Christmas gifted games, once I actually realized the richness of the level design in Phobia and developed strategies to play it successfully, Blasteroids' play time significantly decreased. On long-term value, it cannot compete. Though this should not take away from its own qualities and achievements. As a classic arcade game, it is excellent. For sure, it was not a big achievement with respect to pushing genre boundaries, but one could call it the culmination of a perfection process. For sure, it's still good for a quick round of blasting, even without a strong historical interest.
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