Review by Donald Love 87
Asterix and Obelix travel over Europe, bringing nothing but frustration
With Asterix and Obelix Infogrames seems to have used just the same standard platforming formula they use for most of their games from this era. The only problem is that while some others made really good use out of it (Lucky Luke I'm looking at you) this one has really not much of that - it's either a sloppy job or Infogrames were still in a learning phase when they developed this.
Unlike the rest of the game, the graphics still have some nice technical touches to them which makes this stand out a bit from other games. Most of the levels are bright and colorful, just like the source comics, and there's also been a lot of effects used to enhance the looks of the game - fog effects for some levels and one level where you travel by boat has several layers of waves which in no way look realistic but really fit the theme of the game. The only problem with the backgrounds is that they get pretty repetitive - while most levels look pretty different from each other the whole levels usually look very similar with very few landmarks. Some levels also has a huge deja vu feeling since while they look different and are a bit different in layout they are still so closely similar in theme and feeling to others that it's close to just palette swapping. So while the technical bit of the backgrounds looks really nice and the same goes for the actual quality of the images it still has a share of problems keeping them from being great.
The characters are looking pretty good when standing still, but the animations has a certain stiffness. It's hard to tell if it's done on purpose to make it look like the comics which in all honesty don't really have any frames per second to talk about, but in a game like this it's just looking a bit lazily done. The menus also feel like not much work has been put into them; making the font swerve left and right as a "current selection" indication is just annoying, and even if it's just nitpicking now the health meter looks more like something you'd find in a beta release of a game than in a finished product. The collectibles look nice even though I don't get how all of them fit in with the comics, and the blocks you need to destroy to get some of them are also nothing I feel fit in with the Asterix theme. Overall, the graphics are probably looking better when still than when moving, and sad to say that's the best point of the game.
Sound effects and music
While the graphics at least have something that makes you remember them, the sounds are totally forgettable. A week after you play the game, I'd be surprised if you remember a single tune from it. Still, while playing the game and listening to the music you'll find that the tunes are actually pretty decent and makes good use of the SNES synthesizer. One thing that might explain the forgettability of the tunes is that they won't feel very connected to the levels, it's all pretty dramatic but never really matches the feeling of the levels.
The sound effects aren't that special either, and while some (like punches) are exaggerated pretty much to give it a good feeling of staying true to the source material, others are way too weak and uninteresting. So the sounds are not that very good, but at least you could've lived with it in a game where everything else is, but here it's just another small bad bit to add to the others.
The story is very basic, but presented nicely between the levels. After starting up the game you're treated to a screen where a scrolling text tells you the classic story - Gaul is occupied by Romans, except for a small village which is rebelling against the Roman Empire. To limit the freedom of the people living in this village, Caesar has had a palisade put up around it. So just to show Caesar that they won't be held prisoners, Asterix and Obelix decide to go all over the Roman Empire to collect souvenirs.
It might sound like a stupid story, and it is, but it works well for a game like this. Between the levels you're also treated to a small "cutscene" with a map over Europe with your next location flashing, and under it a helpful friend who tells you where you're going next and what will happen there - like before Grecia they tell you that you'll compete in the Olympics and warn you that others are already practicing, a way of telling you to watch out for runners and spearthrowers, which act as enemies for that stage.
Another thing which makes it nice is that there's actually some sense to the order of the levels and where you're going. Not only thematically like the mountains in Helvetia, but also for the travels - when going to Britannia one of the levels is a sea journey. Then you take the highway route on to Helvetia. It's just tied up nicely, and you don't just get dropped off in the middle of something but actually has to experience the journey too. Good move, but something like that won't really give you a reason to play the game...
The controls are somewhat too unprecise and is one of the biggest problems the game has. All in all it's rather basic - you steer your character with the D-pad, keep Y held in and you'll run and jump with B, and press A to punch. Some levels will change those controls to fit the theme better, like the previously mentioned Olympics where it turns the game into a Track & Field button masher instead.
But while it's easy to execute the moves and the characters move swiftly (except in the air, but it's pretty much only Mario who has great airborne controls) it doesn't work very well into the environments of the game, and especially interacting with enemies is really troublesome. The punch is your main method of attacking, but it's got really short range. Add to that that many enemies take 2-3 punches to go down (or up, in true Asterix fashion) and you have some finetuning of your placement to do. If you're running you can do a punch while sliding to a halt, but then you often go into the enemy before being able to land the second punch. If you're standing still waiting for the enemies they have greater range than you so you'll be hit. The only way to do it is to walk slowly and punch, then go a bit forward again to counter the knockback and then to punch again. It's just too touchy to be fun, you should only need to take hits in a game when messing up - not as a main part to get forward.
The point of the game is that of a basic platformer, to get from the left side of the level to the right side. It's very basic overall and while the game has a sort of "layer" mechanic built in it's never confusing enough to get lost - can't keep on going right? Try up or down and THEN right! The layers work to simulate that you can walk on different paths on different depths in the level, like in the one where you're hiking from Britannia to Helvetia where you can choose to walk on the road or on the sidewalk. When on a layer, enemies on different layers cannot hurt you, and you just jump to reach a layer above you and to drop down you press down and B. It's pretty easy to work with, but sometimes you get unfairly hit because the layer change from a jump up isn't triggered until you land. All in all, it's a nice idea but could've used some more work.
Getting through the levels is a "simple" matter of avoiding/defeating enemies and getting past obstacles. There's also a time limit for you to race against but it's set so high that it's extremely rare to lose a life because you took to long. The game has three different difficulties, but like many other Infogrames games they really don't match their names - easy is still rather hard (or at least medium). Not so much for the amount of enemies thrown at you, which is pretty bearable, but for the placement of them still being in rather hard places and the previously mentioned control problem. No environmental hazards like holes will be changed either so many of the most difficult parts of the game still remains on easy, and you should not be ashamed if you lower the difficulty - I had to do it to bear with this game! When defeating enemies, picking up items and by adding the remaining time at the end of the level you gain points, which really are just a leftover from the classic arcade days and here it feels like just clinging onto the old-school for no good reason.
Each country you travel to in the game has 4-5 levels, where the last level in a country is some special event like the Olympics or a rugby match. After all levels in a country are completed you'll get a password. This password consist of four pictures of various Asterix characters you need to put in the same order at the password screen; this can make it a bit hard to write down, especially if you haven't read enough Asterix to know all the names. But it's good that you get four passwords so you can get directly to each of the five countries in the game; while there could've been some mid-country passwords it's surely better than many other games. A strange and slow thing worthy of mentioning is that after you enter the password you still need to back out from the options menu and go to the main menu and start a game to get to the correct level, instead of the game just starting from the password menu.
One of the biggest (pardon the pun) things in the game is probably Obelix. His name takes up double as much space on the title screen as Asterix, possibly to make it easier to separate this game from the earlier released Asterix, but also to mark that he's now a playable character. The only problem with that is that... he's really annoying to play as! He's controlled just in the same way as Asterix, has pretty much the same punch reach but is in the same time a much bigger target. Sadly they really missed a chance to have him stronger than Asterix, but he takes just as long to punch out a roman soldier. It's a shame because multiple characters are always fun but for Obelix there's only disadvantages so alone you'll never want to play as him.
Being able to play as both Asterix and Obelix opens up for a multiplayer mode too, which seems to be pretty fun if you can find a friend to play it with. The biggest difference from the one player game is that it's much quicker - if the other person is still alive when you die, you'll get to continue immediately on the same place in the level. It's much better than having to start the level all over again, but it might come at the price of having to synch jumps and such to not be screen-locked; the screen stops scrolling if the characters are at separate edges.
In what feels a pretty blatant Mario ripoff, you have to collect coins that are usually hidden in blocks you need to break. Those coins will be counted up when finishing the level and for every 50 you have you get an extra life. Another thing you also can collect are the stars, which are the way to unlock bonus levels - if you manage to find all 10 stars in a level you'll be taken to a bonus level upon completion. What's fun with the bonus levels is that they're all unique to the level you collected the stars from, meaning that each will be a new experience. Other collectibles in the game is food which will restore your health and the potion which grants you a short while of invincibility. The blocks and coins can be a bit annoying too, though, since sometimes they trick you. In good platform games for the SNES like Super Mario World or the Donkey Kong Country series the collectibles act as a way of telling where you can go - a hidden barrel in DKC might very well get it's cover blown by a single banana. Here it's mixed - sometimes that arc of coins means you'll have to jump over an obstacle here, but sometimes jumping up to grab those coins sends you into hitting an enemy instead. It's very frustrating to feel that the game wants to trick you.
Overall, this game has potential to be good and pretty fun, but seems to destroy it at every chance it gets. The graphics are really detailed and good, the music is decent even if it could've used some more work on making it sound fitting for the level. The controls are good as long as the player is left alone but as soon as you need to interact with enemies they become horrible, and sometimes the game throw enemies at you which you have no chance to avoid if you're not prepared and it's not consistent with if blocks/coins should be used as guidance or just a trap.
There are some fun ideas in the game, like every bonus level being based off the normal levels, but it still isn't enough to feel it's worth all the frustration needed to get to those moments. All in all, this game can't be worth more than a 4 out of 10. My usual recommendation of the Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country games still apply if you're looking for a SNES platformer, but if you've already beat them there's still many better than this - Lucky Luke is a good one if you're looking for an Infogrames one.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: Asterix & Obelix (EU, 09/28/95)
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