Publisher: Enjoy Gaming Ltd.
Developer: 7 Raven Studios
Release Date: September 26, 2013
Along with scrolling shooters and their sub-genre bullet hell games, there exists – or rather existed, as it’s lost almost all its popularity now – one kind of shoot ’em up which didn’t scroll and had you rushing around avoiding enemies and shooting them head-on. Astro is that kind of game, a space shooter that brings with it some nostalgia but also features some impressive customization to prove that inducing nostalgia isn’t all developers can do with old-school genres.
While Survival mode – keep going until you die – is fine and dandy for those short of time who want a quick rush, Astro does have a story mode. The story is told through static images with a somewhat water colour art style. Humanity has advanced into the space age and all the planets are populated with humans now. In the year 3187, a group of pirates forms and tear through the ‘Federation’s’ defences, destroying their battleships and demanding that they surrender. As a desperate last resort, Hunter, a dangerous individual who’s in jail on Venus, is chosen to pilot one of the last battleships, a very powerful and unsafe one at that, in return for his freedom.
Before going in to shoot stuff, you customize your ship and add new weapons in exchange for coins. You can change the colour and body of your ship, choose its primary and seconday weapons, open slots for power-ups and add power-ups. The customization is very impressive considering this is a downloadable DSiWare title, and is one of the best features of the game. Coins which are spent buying power-ups can be collected as pickups from enemies you defeat.
The gameplay is fast, frentic and fun. The upper screen shows your HUD, lives and power-ups. You move your ship around on the touch screen with the + Control Pad (the Circle Pad works well too if you’re playing on a 3DS) and shoot with basically any other button and the touch screen. You can hold your stylus over any area of the screen to fire in that direction. If your stylus is touching the screen you can press L or R to change the weapon in your holds, otherwise they can be used to fire as well. Pickups and coins can be collected from defeated enemies. While coins home in on you, pickups disappear if you don’t collect them quickly enough. If you go over the edge of the screen, you reappear on the opposite side; this works well for avoiding enemies and the asteroids floating around on the screen that you can also shoot to split up and eventually destroy.
In the sound department the game is just passable, really. While the sound effects are OK for the most part and the music’s futuristic quality is appreciable, I found it too have too little variety. The graphics are impressive, apart from the static backgrounds which are 2D and could have looked better, especially since they don’t really blend well with the 3D objects. The 3D ship, enemies and objects are in themselves very impressive – what’s even better about the visuals is that despite there being a lot going around on the screen and everything apart from the pickups and background being well-animated 3D, slowdown (a common complaint in many shoot ’em ups) is pretty much non-existent in this game. The game plays very smoothly because of this, which makes it much more enjoyable.
People who aren’t dedicated fans of shoot ’em ups may get just enough playtime to warrant Astro’s low price, but for fans of the genre the game is a great deal and with its cool customization, is definitely worth checking out.
Overall Score: 8/10