Asteroids is a classic arcade game released by Atari in 1979. To this date, it remains Atari’s top selling arcade game with over 70,000 arcade cabinets sold. In fact, some operators had to install larger coin boxes to ‘catch’ all of the quarters that gamers were putting in these cabinets.
Asteroids is a mono color vector graphics game. Your ship is in an asteroid belt and you must destroy the asteroids before they destroy you. If that isn’t enough, your ship is also being attacked by UFO’s. You can control your ship to spin left or right, thrust forward, or enter hyperspace and reappear in another location. In 1981, Atari released Asteroids Deluxe which added a killer satellite and replaced the hyperspace feature with shields. The killer satellite breaks apart when hit and the parts ‘home in’ on your ship.
If you want to play Asteroids on your 2600 or 7800 you are in luck! In 1981, Atari released Asteroids for the 2600. The vector graphics were replaced by multi-colored asteroids, but it played great. There were 66 variations, including options for speed, bonus lives, hyperspace, shields, flip, and 2 players. Of special note, Asteroids for the 2600 was the first bank switch cart release by Atari. A 7800 version was prepared for the system launch in 1984 and is often referred to as 3D Asteroids. The Asteroids are multi-colored and appear to have a 3D effect. Again, the game plays great and offers options for difficulty and 2 players. In Europe, Asteroids was built into the ROM on the system board and would boot if no cart was inserted into the system.
5200 owners were not so lucky. Asteroids was developed for the 5200 and planned as the launch game for the system. In fact, it was planned to be a 4 player version, taking advantage of the 4 joystick ports on the original 5200’s. Sadly Asteroids for the 5200 was not released by Atari and there is a simple explanation as to why…the 5200’s non self centering analog joystick. Control is almost impossible and you will find your space ship either spinning out of control or rocketing across the universe until it crashes into an asteroid. Supposedly, Atari was looking at developing a special controller for Asteroids, but it, like the game, never made it into production. In addition to the control problems, the game does not take advantage of the capabilities of the 5200. Graphically, it is not any better than the 2600 version. If you have a 5200 multi-cart or emulator, you can give the 5200 version of Asteroids a try. Also, a few carts of Asteroids for the 5200 have been made and you might be able to get your hands on one of these. Otherwise, don’t sweat it and just play one of the great 2600 or 7800 versions.
For 7800 fans, there is also the possibility to play Asteroids Deluxe. In 2007, Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo heavily modified the original 7800 Asteroids code to produce Asteroids Deluxe for the 7800. Bob’s version simulates the mono-color vector graphics of the arcade version and takes advantage of the second 7800 controller fire button to activate the shields, but also works well with a standard, single button Atari joystick. Bob’s version also features the ‘killer satellites’ that break apart and ‘home in’ on your ship…just like the arcade! An added bonus is also included…hold down the pause button while powering up your 7800 (with the Asteroids Deluxe cart inserted) and the system will boot to a simulated vector edition of standard Asteroids! Bob’s Asteroids Deluxe is about as close to the arcade experience as you are going to get on a home system!!! Click to learn more about Asteroids Deluxe for the 7800.
Until recently, 2600 fans had to be happy with the original 1981 version. There was one hack that made the asteroids look more like the vector graphics of the arcade, but no additional features were added. Enter Darrell Spice and his new game ‘Space Rocks’. Space Rocks will take advantage of the capabilities of the Melody board developed as part of the Harmony Cart project. The game will be a 32K game and take advantage of the ARM processor on the Melody board. Space Rocks is best described as Asteroids Deluxe for the 2600. It features great sound effects, courtesy of PacManPlus, and options for ‘vector’ or solid asteroids, shields, hyperspace, difficulties, and Magna Mines (Killer Satellites). The options are selectable on a main menu page which is a big improvement over having to remember which version is which. Space Rocks is ‘coming soon’ to the AtariAge store, but I have had the opportunity to play the latest release candidate and this game rocks! Of particular note is how your ship ‘warps in’ and the thrust can be seen when you maneuver. It is hard to believe that it is a 2600 game and, if you are a 2600 fan, you need to be one of the first to order this game when it becomes available!!! Click to learn more about Space Rocks.