The object of the game is simple. Blast the asteroids and enemy saucers! Shooting an asteroid will not destroy it, but break it into smaller pieces. A large asteroid breaks into two medium sized asteroids, which each break into two small asteroids. This can make gameplay tough, because the as you shoot the large asteroids, the smaller asteroids begin to fill the screen and are much tougher to hit. When all the asteroids are destroyed, the next screen begins with one more asteroid. Beginning with 3 large asteroids in the first round, by the fifth round the amount of large asteroids tops out at 8.Don't be misled by only 8 asteroids to begin with in higher levels-- after only a few shots, you will find yourself surrounded by dozens of smaller asteroids.
Enemy spacecraft will come from either the left or right side of the screen and travel in a vertical line across it. These saucers can prove to be your friend as well as foe. While being struck by a saucer or it's fire will end your life, the saucer's shots also destroy asteroids in its path, thus helping you clear the screen. Occasionally a saucer will come out and nail you with it's fire right away, but most times they are not an immediate concern unless they are headed directly for your ship.
For those familiar with 2600 Asteroids, the 7800 version shares some of the same characteristics, while losing several others. Gone are the Shields and Flip features. Also gone are the endless game variations. However, two new options, "Competition Asteroids" and "Team Asteroids" provide different angles on the game. In "Team Asteroids," both players are on screen simultaneously and both draw from a single reserve of ships. Photon shots pass through the other player's ship, and individual and total scores are displayed." Competition Asteroids" game play, however, can be ruthless. In "Combat" style game play, the ultimate goal is to destroy the other player. A winner is declared and the game is over when a player runs out of lives, regardless of how many ships the victor has left in reserve. Notably, the manual incorrectly states "both players are supplied with ships as long as either player has ships in reserve".
Graphics and animation on Asteroids are top-notch. Although some have criticized the asteroids for looking as threatening as ice cream scoops, one must appreciate the animation and detail put into them. Not only do the asteroids have craters, but they also rotate as they move across the screen, giving them a true 3D effect. When an asteroid is shot, it explodes into two. Enemy saucers are nicely drawn and animated. The only disappointment seems to be in your own ship - merely a plain white triangle. On the plus side, the amount of moving objects on screen is unbelievable. Similar to games such as Food Fight, Robotron, and Desert Falcon, the 7800's ability to toss around dozens of animated sprites is unparalleled in Asteroids. I doubt this game would even be possible to program on an NES without non-stop blinking.
Sound is excellent for a 7800 game. Small and large saucers have different pitched engine sounds, the size of the asteroid being shot determines the sound of the explosion, and there is a "jaws-like" background sound in addition to many other sound effects. It won't wow you, but unlike many 7800 titles, the sound won't disappoint either.
Controllability of the game is splendid. The system is quick to respond to your movements. But be forewarned: the game is especially tough to play with a 7800 joypad. Too often you will find yourself trying to rotate your ship and ending up also pressing forward and thrusting. Maybe I just have fat fingers, but to me the game is unplayable with the joypad, and requires either a ProLine joystick or 2600 joystick to play. Also, for those raised on the 2600 version, it can be difficult to adjust to the 7800 controls for hyperspace. With a 7800 controller, the left button fires photons, while the right button warps the ship into hyperspace. However, a 2600 controller retains the original controls of the 2600 version: pulling back activates hyperspace. Interestingly, pulling back with a 7800 controller connected to the system does nothing. Apparently the 7800 has an ability to read whether a 2600 or 7800 controller is hooked into it. This is the only 7800 game to my knowledge where controls are actually both different and determined by the controller in use. Other 7800 titles when used with a 2600 controller, such as Xevious or Pole Position II, either combine left and right fire into one, or simply abandon the right fire button's function altogether. Asteroids, on the other hand, changes the entire function of the controller based on whether it is a 7800 or 2600 joystick in use.
On a small but intriguing note, this game is one of the few 7800 titles that doesn't recycle box art work from the 2600 version. Games such as Dig Dug and Mario Bros., to name a few, have the same artwork on both 2600 and 7800 versions. Asteroids, on the other hand, has a totally new cover picture.
Like all the original games slated for 1984 release with the 7800, Asteroids is a must add to your
library. It can be found from online retailers such as
O'Shea's, and is an easy find on e-bay. And of course, for those lucky Atarians using a PAL 7800, the game is already built into the system.