Game 27: Astro Fighter (SEGA / Gremlin / Data East, 1980)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: Easy. Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life at 5,000 points.
Dip-switch: 1-7=ON; 8=ON/OFF [Stand up/Cocktail]

Current Record holders

1st: 26,670 - Fred Pastore - 2006
5th: 18,280 - Robby Jensen - 1983
11th: 2,210 - Justine Barker - 2005

Ah, here we go – a nice quirky early 80s shooter from good old trusty SEGA. “Astro Fighter”? Sounds like a cracking title as well, let’s get stuck in.

Hang on, what?

Man alive. Someone in SEGA obviously had the horn for astros, “Astro Blaster” and now “Astro Fighter” both within a few years of each other…….actually let me look something up.

Would you adam it?! It even carried on past the 80’s, bloody Astro Boy – bastard son of Astro Fighter and Astro Blaster no doubt. SEGA and astro, just get a room will you? While we’re on the subject, beginning the names of your games with “A” and hence being near the beginning of the virtual school register will get you nowhere either son (erm, apart from on this blog earlier…ahem), you took the piss with 005 which isn’t even a proper bloody name and now you’re overloading the A’s, shame on you SEGA, shame on you.

Anyway, I digress as usual – time to try and get beyond the name and actually give the game a chance, all’s fair in love and Astro war after all.

Astro Fighter is a curious beast, especially when compared to it’s namesake “Astro Blaster”; the games really are worlds apart. On one hand you have the 1980’s Astro Fighter which looks like it is running on a Spectrum (it even has the colour clash for goodness sakes) and on the other, just one year later, you have 1981’s Astro Blaster that looks like the FUTURE by comparison. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure technology improved in the year 1980 but with this it’s all a bit much. To compound matters a similar gulf can be found with regards to how the games play, but we’ll come onto that a bit later.

So, as you may remember (it was only last week after all) I quite liked the other Astro game – what chance does this relic stand when put in the spotlight? Well first let’s get the science bit out of the way.

First thing that demanded research was the whole “SEGA / Gremlin / Data East” thing, where do Data East come into it? Unusually the ever trusty comes up a little short with no explanation so it’s off to the less reliable wikipedia for our answer. This is actually Data East’s first game and apparently came about as a collaboration with the lovely chaps at SEGA. One for the trivia fans only that I suppose but at least it does clear up why the game a year later is so radically different sans Data East. On the same Wiki page it also cites the record score, correctly attributing it to young Fred Pastore but otherwise getting the score wrong (only by a few hundred admittedly) and also claiming that his score is the “maximum possible” score. This is by no means unusual, loads of games plateau out at a maximum score, but checking on twingalaxies tells me that it’s all a load of bollocks. Nearly a nice start there then, never a good sign when you find out early doors that the record can only be equalled (don’t you just love my positive attitude regarding the scores before I actually play the game?).

Seeing as we’re talking about the scores, you’ll notice a few interesting things about the ones for this game. Firstly the bottom end score looks nice and small so getting on the board *should* be achievable, which is nice. Also however, you will see that the top score is a recent one, 2006 in fact. This is rather rare for an obscure game and for comparison you’ll see that I have included the “original” top score from the 80s which just happens to be good enough for 5th. A game that’s still being played then eh? Now that is unusual.

Unusual, how we love unusual. Shame then as once again I regret to inform you all that this game is by no means unusual gameplay wise, in fact it’s pretty bloody standard fare by the looks of it. You control the ship at the bottom of the screen as ever and you’re job as Mr Astro Fighter is to fight the nasty villains that come down the screen towards you. You shoot them, they try and shoot at you, they get faster as their numbers are thinned out until they all die or you do, blah blah blah. Add the fact that it looks like it’s running on a scientific calculator and we don’t have a great time on our hands. SEGA, SEGA, SEGA, what were you thinking? These Data East monkeys are obviously dragging you down! Still, let’s temper our disappointment and give the game a chance, people are still playing it after all so it must be worth a go right? Like I have a choice anyway…..

Loading the spectrum MAME emulator up greets me with a slowly populating menu style score table – let’s see what sort of score this record really is. Ah, so it’s one of them is it? Score ranges from 20 points all the way to a massive 60 points per enemy hit – ballbags. What’s this though? There seems to be a big guardian fella that’s worth 300 – now we’re talking, how rather exciting! Next up is a title screen filled with what appear to be several large Japanese characters. After quickly checking that I am using the correct english rom (I am) I set about keenly trying to see if I can translate any of them (I’m currently learning Japanese see). This is hindered in two ways – firstly it would appear to be written in an alphabet I haven’t been taught yet (arse) and secondly this little ship appears at the bottom of the screen and starts shooting the letters one by one. Oy, you little shit, I’m trying to read that! By the time he’s shot them all I’ve managed to recognise the number “10” in there and that’s it. Looks like it will remain a mystery then – I don’t know, you *try* and broaden your horizons a little bit, get in a bit of culture and what happens? A space ship comes along and fucks it all up. How often have we all heard that classic story eh? If I had a pound for every time etc…

Perhaps because of this, when I start the game I feel little connection to my ship, as it’s the same vandalous slag as on the title screen. I console myself that perhaps it was a rogue pilot that caused such destruction and get on with the job at hand, which predictably is shooting the advancing horde of very threatening looking light blue things. What am I talking about, of course they don’t look threatening, they look like little thin weedy ships – surely the runt of the enemy fleet being sent out first. And despite the odd sod shooting diagonally at me they don’t pose much of a problem, although they really do speed up like buggers as you get them down to the last few I have to say. The next wave are even more laughable, they look like the fat lads who couldn’t fit into their costumes properly trailing behind the very end of the annual gay pride march (I used to live in Brighton, I know what that looks like so trust me on that one. Believe me the sight of dozens of overweight men trying to wear a costume when the theme is “gold cowboys” is one you don’t forget in a hurry – All I’ll say is this: “cheekless gold leather chaps”).

Anyway, I digress.

Several things of note jump out at me while I am playing this – firstly the sound. The sound effects when you fire are wonderfully sci-fi while the explosion sound is very loud and bold indeed, surprisingly so in fact. Now, I don’t know how the actual machine sounds but I did discover that MAME doesn’t actually emulate the sound effects, it uses the “shortcut” of samples so maybe it’s just that they were sampled quite beefily or something? Whatever it was it sounds great. The graphics though, as I have already alluded to, are awful – proper Spectrum awful. Colour clash is EVERYWHERE, including some crazy colour squares appearing when an enemy happens to overlap with one of the background stars; the bloody background! I may be being a bit picky here, but surely on seeing the clashing going on all over the place the development team would at least tone it down a bit or something? But no, they clearly love a bit of clash these guys, love it….the gimps.

And it gets even worse. By the time you get to the third wave the clash is laughable, the green space ship fellas all mould into one ridiculous mess of overlaps and it really is quite distracting. So distracting in fact that I died a final death.

Score: 2060

Oooh so close to nicking last place there, which tells you something about the value of that bottom score as it was my first pretty poor attempt. That means top 10 is a possibility so straight back in I say! As I start my second go I make a point of paying attention to the busy panel at the top of the screen. As well as your usual lives and all that gubbins, there is a nice little “menu” showing you which wave is next (from right to left) which tells me that I died on the green buggers who were pretty much halfway towards to guardian lad presumably at the end. Fair enough, nowt groundbreaking about that – but hang on, what’s this? a bloody FUEL gauge that’s what. Now, the other astro game also had a fuel bar and that proved to be a particularly bastardy one if you remember, robbing you of any lives you may have left with an immediate game over if it ran out – although It wasn’t all bad as you could shoot the asteroids to refuel slightly along the way. Happily this game has asteroids as well, loads of the buggers in fact throughout every level – but hold them giddy horses, these ones DON’T seem to refuel at all when you shoot them. Oh no, these little shits just get in the way and give you a pathetic 60 points when shot, no fuel, nothing. wankers.

I’m halfway through my second go when the game falls apart and it becomes clear that this game is a pox upon all gamers. It’s not only a pox but it revels in it’s poxiness, poxxing you at every opportunity until you can be poxxed no more. “Please game, I beg you, no more pox, I truly cannot stand a further pox!” you cry, yet it carries on regardless like a man possessed. Ok, you get the picture. So what causes such horror? Well, as we have discovered you have a finite and actually rather stingy fuel gauge forever counting down. That in itself would be ok but for what happens on the third wave during my second go. The green buggers certainly love a diagonal you see, and they are forever probing forward at you while you try and shoot them and it was while I was chasing the last remaining ship, which was really rather speedy at this stage, that he reached the bottom of the screen and disappeared from view. “No matter” thought I, “I’ll catch him as he appears again at the top”. Well he *did* appear again at the top (after a pretty bloody long pause considering the fuel is still ticking down) but he also managed to bring all of his fucking mates back to life in the process, the complete shit! And this my friend is where it breaks as it is now next to impossible to reach the guardian as you simply don’t have enough time/fuel. As right enough I get a few waves on to the little yellow beggars and my fuel runs out. 2 lives left? fuck you – game over. Cunts.

Score: 2550

I blink a few times in disbelief, what sort of behaviour is that for goodness sakes? Feverishly I try and work out a way of negating this issue yet nothing comes. As result I whip into my third go in a bit of a daze, literally petrified of letting one of the baddies get to bottom of the screen and running out of fuel as a result. Because of this one of the first wave manages to creep by and again they all appear again at the top. Ruined on the first bloody screen! F3, 5, 1 go the keys as I reset the twat and start again, that was a practice I say out loud for no particular reason. To no avail – again a ship gets past me, this time on the third wave again as a green ship literally screams diagonally from the top half of the screen all the way past me and off the screen. There are still three or four fucking ships flying about, yet I *know* whatever I do I’ll face the buggers again. DAMN THEIR EYES!

And then an idea hits me. Seeing as lives aren’t really a problem, what if I purposely kill myself when the fuel gets low? New ship, new fuel – job done. How stupid of me. Of course the particular space station that the player’s ships come from are run by a bunch of wankers as your nice new ship arrives with exactly the same amount of fuel as the one that just blew up. Now, I’m by no means a mechanic but this can only mean that the engineers purposely drain the fuel from the fresh new ships before giving them to you, why would they do that for fucks sake, that’s just unnecessary! That’s ballsed that one up then, but hang on it does sort of help. What if I were to use kamikaze tactics to stop ships getting past me? Worth a bash and immediately it pays dividends. Again one of the green slags makes a bid for it and I’m still shooting with the accuracy of Ray Charles so I whip over and smash straight into him, boom! Not only does that halt their advances, but when my fresh new ship arrives (sans extra fuel the gits) the enemy are all sat at the top of the screen again and they haven’t regrouped. Wahoo!

That proves to be the key as you really can’t afford to let one of the waves repeat as you simply don’t have enough fuel to get through to the end. Finally though, after about half a dozen attempts I do get to the guardian and while I was expecting the worst he turns out to be a complete poof, ha! Once he’s dead, you finally get fully refuelled (curiously by a white line that extends down from where the boss used to be) and it’s time for a second loop worth or enemies, just this time ever so slightly faster and more shooty. I manage to get a good way through before a green bastard manages to squeeze past me, probably knowing that I only have the single life left and thus rendering my collision tactic worthless. That’s enough to make sure I don’t get far enough to see that weedy guardian again.

Score: 6760

Still, that’s more like it! It’s not a massive score but it’s good enough for 8th place which isn’t bad at all. In truth the second loop wasn’t that much harder than the first so with a bit of concentration I reckon the bigger scores are within reach for sure.

A funny one this game, I mean it looks awful and there are some *really* harsh gameplay mechanics that render progress almost impossible from just a single mistake. Yet, it’s somehow endearing. While in the arcades the short gameplay time would have meant that the money kept flowing, now in it’s emulated state it makes for quite a decent challenge without requiring a massive time investment and somehow I want to keep playing. Maybe it’s just the masochist in me speaking but I think that’s just what I’ll do and will stick this on the list of games to have a decent stab at come funspot this year. It really isn’t for everyone though so I would suggest you steer clear unless you really fancy being kicked in the balls repeatedly and are happy to run the risk of having nightmares about that accursed fuel gauge. One thing is for sure though, in the battle of the astros this game comes in at second place behind the pseudo sequel a year later – although to be fair it wasn’t anywhere near as clearcut as I expected.

4 thoughts on “Game 27: Astro Fighter (SEGA / Gremlin / Data East, 1980)

  1. My Dad used to deliver cars in the ’60s and they often came from the factory without oil in the engines.

    Just saying.

  2. I had to comment as this machine was in my local mini cab office. I cut my teeth on this game and loved it for all its basic crapness. Why no appearance in TS or PD any more? I had to Google to find you, you old tart.


  3. Good to hear about the schedule ^_^, … even if, apparently, you’re already a bit late with it.

    Keep up with the good work!

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