Review by Xodyak

Reviewed: 10/17/13

Does what it needs to, but nothing more

In an age where space shooters were king, consoles in the early to mid-80s seemed to absolutely need one. Of course, by 1986, the fever pitch for space shooters were starting to die down, but for fans of the genre, vertical scrolling shooters were taking off, much in a large part due to Xevious. So, if you’re Sega and have an underdog console and no one to make one for you, what do you do? Make one yourself of course! Enter Astro Warrior, a seemingly cut and paste generic shooter from the early days of the Master System, yet still able to provide hours of fun and challenge.

This game really shows itself as an early shooter. At the time, developers were still figuring out the best way to provide power up systems for shooters, and this game clearly shows that at times this wasn’t always a great thing. Your ship starts as a slow moving, pea shooting vessel, vulnerable to getting hit by fast moving objects and cause very little havoc. Once you destroy tiles throughout the stage is when the game gives you the obligatory power ups that increase your speed, fire power, and give you options (the type that trail you and fire as well).

I soon found myself destroying everything on screen with relative ease, lasers cruising through barriers, my options extending my range without fear of destruction. The game became a breeze, and I was beginning to think this was a major problem. Sure, I was having an amazing time and having a lot of fun, but I wanted a challenge! I made it to the first boss, and then I died. No problem right? Just have to memorize the pattern the boss has and take it down.

Well, when you die in this game, you lose all of your power ups, leaving you slow and vulnerable again. No problem, the game will start me back to a point where I can grab more tiles and get some sort of fighting shape before I get back to the end boss, right?

Wrong.

If you make the mistake of dying, this game makes sure to punish you, especially at end bosses. This is accomplished by putting you in situations with little or no boosts in sight. The speed boost is the real kicker, as when I say you start out slow, you really are very, very slow. Navigating around simple obstacles like asteroids in other shooters becomes utterly hectic in this game if you happen to perish at the wrong time.

So is the power up system flawed because of this? You bet. Does it break the game? Sort of. Once you start memorizing stage layouts and boss patterns, this game gets easy, quick. Therein lies this game’s fun; memorizing the levels and absolutely crushing what is thrown at you without dying. Once you “beat” the game, you get to play it again at a harder difficulty, where the enemies that didn’t fire bullets at you before may fire at you the next time, but their patterns don’t change.

And no, you can’t really beat the game (unless you are playing the multi-cart with Hang-On). Like many games of its ilk back in 1986, it takes a cue from the arcades and continuously plays until you lose all of your lives. That being said, the game lacks variety, as it only offers a total of three unique stages that one can learn quickly if you try hard enough. Stages are also pretty long, so while short in variety, it does make up in length, especially considering the era it was released in.

As I say many times, if you’re expecting a visual tour-de-force in a game from almost thirty years ago, then you’re mad. Astro Warrior doesn’t have bad visuals, they’re just generic not inspiring in the least. Even the huge bosses the game has don’t offer any wow factor at all. The least the game could’ve done hear was maybe add some animations to the sprites or something, as it think it had an opportunity to show off the power of the Master System compared to the NES here and Sega wasted it.

Music isn’t bad at all, as to be expected for most space shooters, but just like the graphics, it’s nothing special. It had me humming a few notes here and there right after playing, but not too much longer after that.

As we move on to the controls, you may expect me to say the same thing. Generic. Well, yes, but you will want to pick up a Genesis controller with mega-fire (or “turbo”). Playing with the Master System controller is a chore as the pad is mushy and hard to be precise with. This is coupled by the fact that, as many of the era’s shooters had, you can only fire one shot per button press. I spent most of my time playing this with the Arcade Stick and find it much, much better. Of course, as previously stated, a standard Genesis controller would make this game control great as well, just get that turbo and it’ll be perfect.

So, where does Astro Warrior sit in the annals of video game history? Somewhere in the “noteworthy for a failed console” category. The game’s fun, provides a decent challenge, and doesn’t have a lot in the same genre for the system. But despite being above average in almost every category, it also succeeds in being incredibly by the letters and generic as well.

If you have a Master System, I can’t help but recommend it, as it is affordable, and can come with Hang-On as well (often cheaper than the stand alone cartridge). Just be prepared for simple, 1980s vertical shooting that does what it’s supposed to with an unforgiving learning curve but won’t dazzle you in any one way.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Astro Warrior (US, 12/31/86)

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