ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED (VCS)
Published 2021 (Atari)
Developer: Adamvision Studios, Sneakybox
ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED is a modern take on Ed Logg's seminal 1979 arcade space shooter. Like all games in Atari's recent "Recharged" series, it includes a neon vector-like graphic aesthetic and more modern gaming elements like power-ups, leader boards, challenges, achievements and more.
ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED is available on multiple platforms, including: VCS, Switch, XBOX Series X/S, XBOX One, PS4, PS5, Steam and Epic.
Let’s take a quick look at the VCS version!
Following the formula established by Centipede and Black Widow, ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED features two game-modes: ARCADE & CHALLENGES. Both modes can be played in either single-player or couch co-op. Arcade mode is the main game and is a pure high score chasing affair. Of the games so far released in the series, ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED perhaps feels the most true to its original arcade inspiration. While there are graphical updates, power-ups and enhancements like exploding asteroids, the objective remains the same: destroy the asteroids and any flying saucers that you encounter. The simplicity is a mixed blessing. Its sure to entice fans of the arcade classic but may be too simple for modern gamers to embrace.
ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED features multiple asteroids from extra large to small. Some asteroids fragment while others explode, taking out adjacent asteroids. As in the original game, you'll get further if you choose your targets strategically to limit the opportunities for collision. There are three saucer types: a non-firing bubble-like saucer, a small and deadly accurate saucer, and a larger lumbering saucer that is slightly less accurate. Players be wary when the small saucer appears. They will almost always hit a stationary player ship on the first shot. This means that it pays to move about in ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED. No lurking exploit here! The game also includes a small saucer embedded in an asteroid. While embedded, the saucer is relatively harmless. But once freed, it functions as a normal small saucer. The bubble-like saucer is the source of power-ups in the game.
Speaking of power-ups, ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED features some of the most inventive power-ups seen yet in the series. Those familiar with the Recharged series will recognize slow down, rotating bullets, spread shot and others. ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED adds a bullet bouncing deflector shield, screen clearing mega laser, and explosive shots that open mini black holes that sucks in all nearby asteroids and ships. The black hole effect is by far my favorite in the game. Due to wrap around nature of the play field, other power-ups like side shot can be employed to quickly clear out asteroids.
In terms of control, the VCS offers multiple controller options. Where the original Asteroids arcade game employed an unusual 5-button control scheme to control ship rotation, thrust and hyperspace, the VCS version effectively maps these to both the Modern Controller of Classic Joystick. Using the Modern Controller, rotation is controlled with the thumbstick, thrust is the right trigger, fire is "A" and hyperspace is the "Y". The Classic Joystick provides some true retro flare by using built-in paddle function to rotate your craft. Here the main button is fire, the bumper is thrust and the return button is used for hyperspace. The rotary function is effective and accurate but the placement of hyperspace on the Classic Joystick makes it hard to hit in a pinch. I wish Atari had used up for thrust and left the bumper for hyperspace. Still, the Classic Controller is my preferred way to play the game. The sense of thrust and inertia feels true to the original. Unlike the original, hyperspace is much less likely to result in instant death and instead gives you a fighting chance. Never once have I used it only to immediately explode. I call this an improvement over the original.
Challenges mode expands the game, providing a wide variety of task-based challenge levels. These serve to unlock achievements but also teach you how to use certain power-ups or improve your piloting skills. As with Centipede and Black Widow, its worth noting that 10 of the challenge levels are exclusive to the VCS. Other versions of the game have just 30 challenges. The VCS challenges tend to be the most difficult and rewarding across the series.
Most challenges revolve around destroying a certain number of asteroids or surviving for a certain length of time. Despite the similarities in tasks, developers Adamvision and Sneaky Box did a great job creating some very unique challenge levels using the limited enemy types available to them. My favorite is the final (VCS exclusive) challenge "LA Traffic." In this challenge, players must destroy a certain number of medium asteroids amidst multiple "lanes" of asteroids and cross traffic. As someone who regularly rides a motorcycle on the 405, I can say that this challenge is aptly named! While the Challenges mode adds some depth, on the whole they were much easier in ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED than in previous series entries. More difficult challenges would be welcome.
Couch co-op returns to ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED and greatly enhances the game in either Arcade or Challenges mode. Where the main game is single life, co-op mode provides the opportunity to revive your fallen partner and extend game play. With two capable players, this can mean radically higher scores and lengthier games than would be possible in the single player mode.
One criticism of the RECHARGED series has been the single life nature of the games. Atari appears to be listening to the feedback and there are reportedly patches on the way to add 3 lives. However, as it stands all current RECHARGED titles are single life. Keep this in mind if that's not your thing. I personally like the challenge.
Like all games in Atari's recent "Recharged" series, ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED includes a neon vector-like graphic aesthetic. The simple rectangular ship, asteroids and enemy saucers are rendered in simple, yet effective art style that recalls the original arcade game's vector graphics. However, this time screen has a star field background with nebula like gas that creates the feel of space. Simple asteroids trail specs of space dust as they float along the screen. There is a subtle grid pattern which overlays the background. This warps and bends throughout the game. The color palette is limited and cycles to designate "waves." Power-ups and explosive rocks and asteroids provide some modern pyrotechnics that look very cool. The future-retro aesthetic is carried through to the menus, which are all very clean and easy to navigate. Menus are fully animated.
SOUND & MUSIC
As with Centipede and Black Widow, music is one of the strongest points of ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED. For this game and all upcoming Recharged titles, Atari has wisely partnered with composer Megan McDuffee who is known for her work on the River City Girls series, among others. I cannot overstate how awesome the music is. Whether in-menu or in-game, it perfectly compliments the tone of ASTEROIDS. It may even be the best yet!
In game, the shots, booms and explosions generally suit the theme of ASTEROIDS. My favorite is the slight hum and muffle when your ship is enveloped in the spherical deflector. Its a pretty cool effect!
ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED includes proper unlockable achievements which have become a staple of modern gaming. Some are progressive. Other achievements are awarded for completion of a single task. If you've played the other RECHARGED titles, these will be familiar to you. The inclusion of achievements is a welcome addition to the game, particularly on the VCS. However, as the VCS does not support trophies, the achievements are only viewable in-game. Compare this to the PS4 version, which utilizes Sony’s trophy system and is linked to a user's profile. It would be nice to have a way to share your achievements.
The game also includes a leaderboard feature. The leaderboard on the VCS version is currently local only. High scores are displayed in game for both Arcade and Challenge modes. Other versions of the game feature global and friend leaderboards. Apparently Atari is working on a friend and leaderboard feature for the VCS. In ASTEROIDS, there are placeholders for this feature. Hopefully this is implemented soon as competing against others is one of the more fun aspects of classic arcade gaming.
ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED is an excellent update to Atari's venerable classic. With the 10 exclusive challenges and multiple control options, the VCS version is an easy recommendation for fans of the original game. The overall design of the game - both aesthetically and in terms of gameplay - honors its arcade inspiration. Simply put, if you like Asteroids, you should enjoy ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED.
Have you played ASTEROIDS: RECHARGED on the VCS or on another platform? What do you think of the game?