Review: Asteroids: Recharged

20 Dec 2021

Early gaming has always fascinated me to some extent. Given that video gaming itself can largely be tracked to scientists goofing off on an oscilloscope to eventually grow into a lucrative and profitable economic mainstay is ridiculous feat in such a short amount of time.

While they are merely a shadow of their former selves largely regulated to family fun centers and chain locations, arcades in general were extremely widespread for players stretching from the late 1970s through the 1990s. When I say it was pervasive, I’m not really kidding. Oftentimes arcades, especially in the 1980s, were referred to as “dens of iniquity” simply because they were gathering spots that many younger folks used as a way to escape from the pressures and stresses of society.

One such arcade cabinet that usually had such a presence in many of these places was Atari’s Asteroids. It should go without saying how iconic this franchise is in relation to gaming history, and the fact that Atari is still around to remind us of their arcade and home console heydey at all is still kind of impressive. Their name still holds a bit of reverence in gaming history, and they continue to remind us in many ways. Main console compilations, plug-and-play consoles in the mid 2000s, their recent release of the Atari VCS, and the Recharged series of games have the company throwing their whole selves into tickling the nostalgia bones of those who lived through those days.

The Recharged series seems to take the aim of “take classic Atari-era games and flesh them out past their original vision to be appealing to a new audience.” This can be seen with the prior Recharged remakes of Missile Command, Centipede, and Black Widow as well, and Asteroids Recharged is no different here. While the appetite of modern gamers today can and has skewed to more complex and involved affairs, the appeal of something simple and quick to play still holds some weight for those just trying to kill some time in between appointments or train rides.

Developed by AdamVision Studios/SneakyBox and published by Atari, Asteroids Recharged released on December 14 2021 and is available for Switch, PC (Steam/Epic Store), PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Series X|S, and the Atari VCS. The Switch version was played for this review.

Have You Shot Some Space Rocks Today?

Those who have warm memories of feeding quarters into their local arcade’s Asteroids cabinet will often bring up the good ‘ol adage of “simple to learn, hard to master.” Given that this is a remake of the original, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that those words still ring true here. You’re still a triangular spaceship in the midst of a large asteroid field trying to blast your way through as a means of survival. The base mechanics of shooting said space rocks, thrusting around the single screen game field, and “going into hyperspace” (really, just using screen wrap) is something that classic fans are well aware of and used to by this point.

From a baseline level, it’s about as solid as it gets for classic gameplay. The original game in and of itself was and remains a simplistic affair. What’s more important here is that the mechanics and gameplay still hold up and retain that arcade feel that people remember. Given that games of this era do reflect the landscape of the time they were released in, Asteroids in general isn’t any different in that regard. Graphical technology at the time, while considered revolutionary when released, were extremely simplistic in presentation. These technological restrictions extended to the gameplay, and in that regard it’s impressive that the gameplay was compelling on technology that’s as limited as it was.

So what does Recharged do to spice things up with the baseline set up by the original? It does keep one foot in the past, sure. But it was nice to see the addition of some powerups that help you take down the onslaught of giant rocks being shot into smaller rocks. It’s nothing earth shattering, mind you. But the addition here actually feels natural enough that it doesn’t drastically change the gameplay. Obtained by shooting down a UFO, it could be something as simple as an upgrade shot or as drastic as shooting a mini black hole sucking in everything in the immediate vicinity. It’s not always super frequent, but it’s enough to make things a little more bearable to those expecting at least a little bit of complexity to a simple game like this.

Though one thing that I think could rub players the wrong way here would be how they adjusted the way the main game goes. It’s essentially a survival mode, which is a bit of a departure in comparison. With modes like this, it’s often a “you die and you’re done” affair. With more modern games, you’ll often have mechanics and concessions to help you recover and keep you from ending your run earlier than you’d like. Aside from the powerups, there’s not much of a cushion to keep you in the game. Make any mistake and that’s the end of your run. While I find it a little weird given that the arcade original used a life system, it’s not exactly something that breaks the game. Though in comparison to the impossibly difficult bullet hell shooters that succeeded it on home consoles and arcades, it feels like an attempt at appealing to those fans.

This survival mode mentality extends itself to the included mission mode, which was not something I was expecting to see in a remake like this. It doesn’t necessarily come across as an afterthought, but it does tend to fall in line with mission modes that came before it. You know the type. Complete a specific goal in a limited amount of time, shoot down targets with a specific power up, work within a unique parameter to victory. Stuff like that is nothing new in today’s landscape, but it’s surprising to see here anyway. It’s a welcome addition to what ultimately amounts to a quick play budget title.

It’s also nice to see that the developers felt the need to add some couch multiplayer here in the form of a co-op mode. Ultimately, it’s just an extension of the single-player survival mode, though I can’t say it’s not a welcome addition anyway. Teaming up with someone and letting the powerups fly can and should be fun and chaotic, and doing multiple rounds with a friend can be good for a quick pick up and play session.

Really, I think that was the ultimate aim for a game like this. It’s not obsessed with trying to be something more than it is, and the aim of making gameplay improvements where they made sense was a great thing to do here. While I do wish that they would have had a mode more in line with the classic arcade experience, functionally speaking it plays just fine as it is. The extra modes here do help add value in an already budget priced title, so bringing that to the table is rather appreciated.

Catch a Vibe

So with the gameplay remaining simplistic yet improved, it would make sense that the presentation would stay retain a similar philosophy. Visually speaking, the original game can often be considered a history lesson in the evolution of visuals in gaming. Would that original be something that gamers find visually interesting now? No, not really. But when you were popping quarters in arcade cabinets in the 80s, you were happy to just see anything that caught your eye at all.

That said, it just wouldn’t make sense to not jazz up the graphical presentation. Though the best way to describe things visually here is to unfortunately compare it to the Geometry Wars franchise. I find myself thinking of Retro Evolved specifically, but the graphical vibe presented between that game and this one seem to carry a similar vibe in general. Though Recharged isn’t as graphically flashy as Retro Evolved. Both games use simplistic presentation with a bright color spectrum to keep things exciting and add to the fun. With Recharged, the restraint shown with making things just flashy enough seems to have worked out here. Though there are times in gameplay where it can get busy enough to lose track of your ship and run into something, which can be a touch irritating. It doesn’t always happen, but the presentation is largely coherent enough that it doesn’t become a major issue.

I can’t say that the audio presentation was anything to write home about, though. Disingenuous as that may sound to the audio restrictions of the original game, I don’t think that was the point to begin with anyway. Some may not be a fan of the sound effects here, as they aren’t quite in line with the original. That’s not something I mind, because we do live in an era that we can get away with mixing things up with a classic game like this. I don’t hate the direction here, but purists might. Your mileage may vary.

Music is pretty low key, and that’s fine in my book. Given the era it was popularized in, it’s not surprising to keep more of an 80s vibe. It doesn’t exactly go full retrowave or anything, but it’s a soundtrack that prefers to be something that stays in the background and keeps things relatively chill. There are plenty of examples of this vibe done in a way that’s way more compelling, but it’s nice to see that what’s here isn’t a terrible affair. Really, just fitting in with everything else can and should be the goal. I’m happy enough to have something here at all.

Overall, the presentation is fine. While it’s definitely a visual and audio upgrade in comparison to what it’s remaking, it generally likes to keep things visually interesting and not too distracting from the gameplay. There are times where it does get a little weird, but the fact that there’s something here that’s decent enough to succeed what came before it is something worth noting.

Restless Dreams of Youth

Asteroids: Recharged largely concerns itself with being a jazzed up definitive version of a venerable arcade classic. Not only does it find itself being a great version of such a classic game, the quick pick up and play nature of everything involved proves to be a nice distraction in short beats. Given that the barrier to entry is a paltry sum, it’s always nice to see value adds in classic remakes like this.

Equal parts classic gaming action and modern aesthetics, Asteroids: Recharged is worth the pickup for just the convenience of having access to it alone. Given that it’s on every platform available, (and especially in quick hits on Switch) having modern versions of classic games like this is a welcome thing to have within reach.

If you’re looking to scratch that classic gaming itch, playing this version of a classic is a welcome addition to the Recharged line of games and is a worthy version worth considering. It’s not perfect, but it’s playable and still as fun now as it was when it dazzled arcade goers in its heyday.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Atari for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Atari.