As a launch title, Asteroids for the Atari 7800 could be viewed in two ways. One, for its overall quality as an arcade port and two, for its usefulness at drawing in prospective 7800 buyers.
As a high quality port of the 1979 arcade classic, the 1986 release of Asteroids for the 7800 is a nice step up from the 2600 version. Asteroids was always an Atari exclusive, ported to the aforementioned VCS/2600 as well as Atari’s 8-bit computers. It skipped a generation when the 5200 port was scrapped likely due to the console’s overall failure. Since Asteroids was a game you couldn’t play on any of the other competing 80s hardware such as the Colecovision, Intellivision, Odyssey 2 or Vectrex, fans of the title were likely excited to be able to play a closer (minus the vector graphics of course) version of the arcade smash than what was available for the serviceable and fun 2600 port. On the other hand, Asteroids was an aging game and newer, more exciting titles such as Super Mario Bros were finding their way into arcades and living rooms thanks to Nintendo. In 1986, was Asteroids still an appealing title to gamers that didn’t experience it in the arcades or on the 2600? I’m not certain, I can only speak to my experiences as a young gamer at the time. For me, it wasn’t at all.
Asteroids was not a game I gravitated towards in arcades when I used to see it in the mid 80s. By then, it was an aging game and it’s monochrome, vector graphics did nothing to draw me in when the colorful sprites found in Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, Galaga and Ms. Pac Man were right there waiting to be played as well. Asteroids was never going to be a game that sold me on getting a 7800 when it finally found its way into stores. That said, how is the Asteroids gameplay on a more advanced console?
The first thing that you notice is the brightness and clarity of the asteroids. The 2600 and 7800 both have brightly colored asteroids to shoot at but the difference is simply the sprites themselves are sharper and more “rock” like in appearance. The sounds on the 7800 is slightly improved but not significantly as Asteroids was not a POKEY chip game. Overall, the gameplay is pretty much the same. You spin your fighter around 360 degrees, shooting at space rocks floating at you while blasting the UFOs once they appear on screen before they have a chance to zap you. You can either use the thrust to move your fighter out of the way of danger or use hyperspace to zap yourself out of a pickle. Both of these options come with their own hazards as thrust sends your ship off in a direction that may be difficult to control once your momentum takes you away. Hyperspace can pull you instantly out of a jam but plop you right into a new one so it’s a coin toss which one is better for escaping pickles. My technique for success is to try and stay in one place as long as I possibly can. This works for a few rounds at least.
The biggest additional feature found in the 7800 version of Asteroids is the co-op 2 player play. This may not be a big deal for someone like me, who primarily plays games by himself, but in the 80s I’m sure it was a neat addition that wasn’t present in a console versions prior.
Asteroids for the Atari 7800 may not have been much of a system seller in 1986-87 but in 2017, it is certainly one of the reasons to own the console. It is the definitive home version of one of the most influential and important video games of the 1980s.
Currently in my collection: game, manual, box