VIDEO GAME DIGESTAsteroids
1196 Borregas Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
by Bill Kunkel
The 7800 version of Asteroids is a revelation. Asteroids was the first mega-hit produced by Atari's own coin-op division, and it later proved very successful on many home video game and computer systems (2600, 5200, 400/800 computer). However, none of the previous incarnations even approached the impressive visual standards of this outstanding cartridge.
In Asteroids, the player moves an armed spaceship through a deadly field of meteoric debris. The action starts with the player's ship in the center of the screen. Space rocks hurtle across the screen in all directions. The player can either shoot or dodge these deadly missiles, but the rocket jockey must clear the whole screen before the game advances to the next rack.
A hit on an asteroid splits it into two smaller rocks. When the player shoots one of these fragments, it generates a pair of more diminutive shards, which then disappear when hit.
Each successive asteroid wave is deadlier than its predecessor. Additional challenging opponents are periodically introduced into play. These extra menaces include a pair of enemy spacecraft. The "dumb" ship is pretty much a sitting duck, but its "smart" cousin changes direction and relentlessly stalks the player's craft.
Asteroids introduced the "thrust and fire" play mechanic, which has subsequently become an arcade standard. In these contests, moving the joystick left or right rotates the player's ship. Moving the stick up engages the ship's thrusters and propels it in the direction toward which it's currently pointing. The action button fires the cannon. When trapped in an indefensible position, the player can send the ship into "hyperspace" by moving the joystick down. This risky strategy randomly transports it to a new position on the play field.
Like most other Atari cartridges for the 7800, Asteroids can be enjoyed by one or two players, each competing against the system. Four difficulty levels promote replayability.
The eye-popping visuals really make this version of Asteroids something special. The original arcade machine used "vector graphics" technology, which showed on-screen objects in vivid, monochrome lines, but couldn't "fill" large areas with color. Vector graphics gave everything a crystalline look, as if the ships and asteroids were made of glass.
This 7800 incarnation, however, employs state-of-the-art rasterscan technology to produce brightly colored, almost glittering graphics. The designers have used tones of the same color to shade the space rocks. This gives them a solidity the coin-up meteorites lacked, and it allows the player to actually see them spin as they zoom through space. The fabulous explosions glow against the stark, black background.
If you're one of the millions who always enjoyed Asteroids, or part of the new generation of fans who know it only as a legend, this 7800 program will knock you out.