18 January 2010
Asteroids - Atari 2600
In Asteroids you pilot a small spaceship through waves of asteroid belts and attacks from UFOs. When you shoot an asteroid it breaks into small, fast-moving pieces that scatter in all directions. UFOs appear frequently to zip across the screen and shoot at your ship. If you get into trouble you can either hyperspace to a random part of the game screen - which could put you in the path of more danger – or use the shield function which allows asteroids and enemies to pass through you for a moment.
Hardcore players use hyperspace. I used the shield, beginning my longstanding habit of taking the easy way out in games whenever possible. When all the asteroids are destroyed it starts over again with a new screen. Like most games of the era the gameplay remains the same but the difficulty ratchets up in speed and enemy frequency.
The arcade version of “Asteroids,” with its vector graphics and cool cabinet, is the superior game. But the Atari 2600 version is the one that got me. It is simple and elegant and challenging. There is no “beating” the game, but getting the score to “flip” was a major accomplishment when I was a kid.
Asteroids is a classic game by any standard, but the real beauty is its ability to create tension and entertainment at the same time. This seemingly simple game uses primitive sound effects to elicit real emotions of fear and suspense. How will that asteroid break? Where will the next UFO come from? Where will the hyperspace drop you in the battle field?
The background soundtrack is reminiscent of the “Jaws” theme. Its throbbing menace speeds up as things get hairy, and the mood is pierced relentlessly by the sound of crashing asteroids and enemy gunfire.
Much praise has been heaped upon the early game programmers and their ability to make fun games with primitive technology. “Asteroids” is a prime example. Blocky graphics, a handful of simple sounds and flawlessly basic gameplay puts “Asteroids” in the canon of great games.
By Victor Paul Alvarez