Inside Pulse 12

Review: Astro (Nintendo 3DS)

Astro
Developer: 7 Raven Studios
Publisher: Enjoy Gaming Ltd
Genre: Space Shooter
Release Date: 09/26/2013

The first time I booted up Astro on my 3DS, my mind immediately drifted back to playing Asteroids in the back of an old Godfather’s Pizza, and playing Space War on my Atari 2600; not because of how well it recaptures the essence of those titles, but because I’d rather play either of them than touch this game ever again for as long as breath remains in my lungs.

Astro is a space shooter that attempts to emulate the style of Asteroids, including ship rotation, using boosters to propel the ship in one direction rather than direct control, and the wrapping screen mechanic, where if you fly to the right side of the screen, you reappear on the left; you fly to the top of the screen, you reappear at the bottom. And that’s where the similarities end, as where the developers try to improve on the classic formula, they do so in such a bottom of the barrel, early 90’s PC shareware level of quality that you find yourself in awe of the fact that it even runs.

The game has a basic “save the galaxy from invasion” storyline that’s told in horribly drawn static cut scenes that are barely above MS Paint art in quality. The story is so barebones, and so poorly drawn/scripted, that one wonders why they even bothered wasting time on it. This is time that would have been better spent making the gameplay at least marginally bearable.

The music and sound effects are equally vapid. Generic explosions, pings, and dings, and music that sounds like it came straight out of the Sega Genesis era. After my first playthrough I turned the music off and kept it that way. There’s only so much torture I’m willing to subject myself to for the purposes of a review, and the music in this game was the line I was not willing to cross.

When you start the game, you’re presented with a menu screen where you can select your ship (though which one you choose has far less influence on the gameplay than in, say, Resogun). The ships are done in PS1 quality polygons that looks so old and outdated that it reminded me of playing X-Wing on an old 486 SX/25. It takes up a huge portion of the menu screen, so the rest is crammed into little boxes around it with no indication of what anything is, what it does, and so on.

When you get to the actual game, you’re presented with a flat, poor quality background, with asteroids and enemies flitting about. The problem being is that due to the size of the screen, (the gameplay takes place on the smaller bottom screen, while the bigger top screen is cropped to be the same size and is wasted on displaying your top score, how many ships you have left, and whatever power ups you have available) there’s a lot less maneuverability. Some of the larger enemies take up big chunks of the play field. This is made worse by the asteroids themselves, because like the game Astro wishes it was, when you shoot one it breaks apart into smaller pieces. Some of these pieces become so small that they’re barely visible, especially when in front of the blacker portions of the aforementioned static background.

The gameplay does indeed ape Asteroids, with a couple of good ideas that are counteracted by the bad design. A monetary system has been added so in addition to your score, you also earn money to buy better weapons and power ups, like better shields. Your ship can take a few hits on its own before blowing up, but if you bought an additional shield, hitting the left shoulder button will activate it (one time use) and keep you in the game a bit longer. However, as mentioned above, the menu screen has no descriptions of what the different weapons/power ups do, so the only way to find out is to spend your money on them and hope for the best. And if you die, you lose whatever money you earned and restart at the beginning of the level, so if what you bought doesn’t help, you’re basically stuck with it until you tough it out and make it to the next level with more money to spend. It’s a tremendous pain in the asteroids (sorry, i couldn’t help myself.)

The actual ship control is hampered by the looseness of the 3DS analog nub. The game feels like it has a tremendous dead zone, so you have to find a balance between subtle movements and accidentally shooting yourself across the screen, which of course makes you appear on the opposite side, where you will likely crash right into a rock or enemy ship. You aim your weapons with the face buttons in an up, down, left and right fashion. In addition to your guns, you also have rockets that fire whenever you fire your weapon, but they fire in the opposite direction you’re flying, so you’ll find yourself lining up your ship then flying away from enemies so the rockets find a target, assuming you don’t get taken out by a microscopic chunk of asteroid that you can’t see, of course.

Short Attention Span Summary
Overall, this feels like something I might have downloaded for free off a BBS circa 1992. You can tell that 7 Ravens had their hearts in the right place, there was clearly love for Asteroids that went into the design, but for whatever reason the best they could manage was a game that feels like a respectable first effort college project that somehow managed to get published into the shareware scene and snuck its way onto the eShop. The graphics are outdated, the music is poor and repetitive, the controls are sluggish, and the menus cluttered and poorly designed. Unless you have spare change built up with nothing to spend it on, you can skip Astro. You won’t be missing much.