App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
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True story time: When I was a young lad and the Atari 2600 was the apex of coolness, I incurred my first video game-related injury playing the original Asteroids.
With no school looming the next day, I stayed up late one weekend, blasting space rocks into dust into the wee hours of the night. I was on a tear, playing for a few hours straight without a “game over” screen, but by the time I finally finished, my eyes hurt and I was exhausted. The next day I awoke to find my left thumb nearly immobile and the whole side of that hand swollen and tender to the touch. Doctors confirmed it as sprained muscle caused by the extended, rapid pounding of the joystick’s fire button.
So yeah, I like to think I've paid my Asteroids dues in spades.
While I haven’t revisited the franchise much since my youth, beyond the occasional quarter dumped into an arcade cabinet or few minutes spent sampling retro compilations, I was interested to take a look at Atari’s freemium release, Asteroids Gunner, to see what my old friend/nemesis had been up to.
First off, the classic rotate/thrust controls and forward firing arc have both been replaced, turning the affair into a twin-stick shooter. However, the controls are fairly responsive and a lot of the original spirit and feel is still intact as I used the virtual sticks to weave in and out of a rapidly increasing field of space debris.
The biggest change over the original Asteroids is the inclusion of unlockable ships and power-ups to customize them. Crystals are acquired from asteroid remains and can be spent to upgrade ship systems, increase power-up durations and unlock deployable equipment. Sadly, the best of the upgrades are saved for micro-transactions.
Yes, along with two-thirds of the unlockable ships and stages, the best enhancements are only for those who drop real world cash on in-game space bucks. The OmegaTech upgrades can theoretically be purchased with crystals, but the prices are so ridiculously high as to be nigh-pointless. Strangely, the non-Omega cash-only upgrades don’t have that as an option. If developers are going to put some content effectively out of reach, at least be consistent about the implementation.
Still, the 50 playable waves available for free will still eat up a fair amount of time. The other two worlds (each presumably containing 50 more waves) can be picked up for less than two bucks, though the prices to unlock the other ships are oddly not listed anywhere. Yet more unfortunately inconsistent implementation.
However, the free end of Asteroids Gunner offers plenty of boulder-blasting enjoyment, especially if one likes the satisfaction of chasing the cost of that next upgrade or besting an old completion time. And all of this without the risk of swollen thumbs; isn't modern technology great?