Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Closer Look at Asteroids on the GBC

A Closer Look at Asteroids for the Gameboy Color

I mean seriously, it’s Asteroids. Everything you need is right there in the Atari 2600 version. Hell, the arcade game was concurrent with the VCS. What could a game from twenty years later on a vastly superior system possible add to something that was clearly a classic in its own time? Nothing, Asteroids was perfect as it was. Read no further.


I really have no idea how Asteroids for the Gameboy Color ended up in my collection. My best guess is that I got it in a lot of games from a yard sale or the like. Maybe I got it cheap at a convention. Who knows, but that really isn’t the point. Due to an overwhelming sense of obligation to make sure that every game in my collection actually works, I was duty bound to pop this thing into my GBC just to be sure it wasn’t a clunker. Shouldn’t take too long, I mean, it’s Asteroids, nothing to see here…

Wait a minute…select a ship? You can’t pick your ship in Asteroids; you get the little triangle.

But here you can. What could possibly be the difference? Hmmm…

Needless to say, from there the differences began to multiply and become increasingly evident, and gasp, dare I say enjoyable? If you have already played this particular version of the arcade classic, you know that it isn’t your father’s (can you, the humble reader, be so young…sigh) Asteroids. Could it possibly be better? Let’s not get hasty.

Asteroids for the Gameboy Color is much like the Asteroids you may know and love, but with some very interesting updates. The gameplay is exactly what you remember from the original: you pilot a ship in space and asteroids come drifting near you. It is your job to blow them all into harmless space dust before they do likewise to you. However, this version of Asteroids takes that basic concept a few steps further. First of all, there is an attempt at a story. The opening cut scenes (yes cut scenes!) introduce you to the fact that there is a method to your asteroid smashing. You’ll even get a mission briefing before the first level! The story doesn’t really change anything about the basic game, but it does add some really nice flavor and back story. The only disappointment is that the story stops after the second zone. I was looking forward to mission briefings and story updates throughout, but for no apparent reason there is nothing beyond the second zone.

The second advancement is the aforementioned ability to select the ship you wish to do your asteroid smashing in. There are three varieties, each with different designs and secondary abilities, an interesting take on the old game variations which imbued your craft with various upgrades. While this doesn’t fundamentally change the gameplay it does allow you to tweak your experience a little bit and provide different kinds of challenges. To that extent you are also able to select the difficulty level you wish to play with. The main difference in difficulty level resides in the number of continues you are granted and what secondary weapons are made available (although I am sure there are deeper distinctions, I have yet to find a manual to explain such things to me).

Continues are another nice feature. Since the game is finite, unlike its predecessor, you’ll probably want to reach the end of the adventure. Doing so with three reserve ships is not going to be easy, so having a few extra chances doesn’t hurt. You can also obtain passwords for each level so that you can pick back up at the start of a level if you get obliterated or you just really want to replay that level again. Fortunately, the game has the kind of appeal that makes this feature more than just an endless continue.

The biggest impact on gameplay comes in the form of alien spaceships, weird hunks of space junk, some kind of metal space tube and various other intergalactic brik-a-brak that also clutter the cosmos in addition to the familiar asteroids of yore. In this game you’ll be shooting and dodging lots more than hunks of rock. You’ll also have to get out of that rut where you just sit in the middle of the screen and rotate 360 degrees firing indiscriminately--you know, classic Asteroids strategy! Level innovations include black holes, giant space worms and stars going supernova. These features create dynamic new gameplay situations and add depth to the overall Asteroids experience. This is the kind of game for people who think Asteroids is a good idea, but wish there was a little more to it. Honestly, for all my histrionics at the start of this article, that’s me.

The game is rather short, only five levels, but there is sufficient challenge and enough varieties of gaming experience that you’ll probably spend a lot more time with it than you might expect from an Asteroids game. As an added bonus, you can unlock a version of “Classic Asteroids” which you can select and play from the main menu screen. This game has tremendous pick-up-and-play appeal and doesn’t require much personal investment, a sometimes refreshing break from much larger more immersive games of this era.

The Final Look

Asteroids for the Gameboy Color is a successful adaptation and evolution of a true classic! All of the elements that make Asteroids a great game are here, and they are supplemented by features that take that basic concept to the next level. Furthermore, the game is ideal for a handheld system like the GBC, because this is the kind of game that can salvage a long road trip, a visit to Aunt Helen’s house (you know there is nothing to do there, why do YOU have to go?), or just kill 15-20 while waiting for that Overture at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey to end. I strongly recommend anyone who likes Asteroids to give this game a look. I never would have if it hadn’t fallen to my collection by accident, but I am glad it did.

Asteroid-Smashin’ Stan

Join me next time when I’ll get my board game on and take a Closer Look at Sonic Shuffle for the Dreamcast.

Tips follow after the jump!


I realize that it’s just Asteroids, but you’re going to have to beef up your skill set if you are to make it through all five levels successfully. The basic Asteroids strategies are still good here so don’t throw those completely out the window. However, the new gameplay elements are going to demand a few adjustments and the acquisition of some new moves. Let’s take a look, zone by zone, at what you are up against. We’ll keep in mind that the ship you choose will only require minor tweaks here and there based on your secondary ability.

Warning: I went a little nuts here and broke these levels down pretty thoroughly (I get excited sometimes…), so if you are a big fan of discovery, please use this section only for specific help.

Zone 1

This is pretty basic Asteroids. The main difference will be the types of targets you will be up against. The first few levels are nothing new, so the old “sit and spin” strategy is still available for use. (You know, sit in the middle of the screen, spin and shoot). The “wrap-around” strategy is also going to be key, not only here, but throughout the game, so don’t forget about it when the action gets heated. (“wrap-around” of course meaning that you sit at the edge of the screen and shoot so that your shots wrap around to the other side destroying targets safely; most of the time that is…)

Level 4: the small UFO will start showing up. It presents no real danger and you should be familiar with taking it out (if you are an old schooler like me!).

Level 5: Features a crystal asteroid and the tow ship. When shot the crystal asteroid splits into two pieces. If you don’t blast the pieces quickly they will regrow into two fully sized crystal asteroids. Ultimately this means the thing can multiply until the screen is full, so avoid that. Your best bet is to take out the majority of the regular asteroids first, then deal with the crystal one. Also, late in the level, the tow ship will appear and snag a chunk of asteroid. The asteroid will remain in the ship’s tow field until you destroy the ship itself. You cannot clear the level until this has been done.

Level 6: the tougher UFO shows up. It will take some damage and will hunt you down if you give it enough time. When you hear it coming, give it your full attention.

Level 9: Just three crystal asteroids and you are clear. I recommend taking them out one at a time to avoid multiple target syndrome.

Level 10: An annoying menace: a small green spider-web-looking hexagonal enemy who, if shot, splits into three smaller triangles and zeroes in on you for the kill. If you do not shoot it, it does nothing, but will continue to meander about the screen. Therefore leaving it alone is the best strategy. If you do shoot it, run like hell until you can dispose of the triangles.

Level 11: the first appearance of the Armageddon asteroid. Much like the secondary weapon Armageddon, when destroyed this asteroid will emit a wide radial beam that will crush you if you are in its reach. The wrap-around strategy works best to destroy this monster from a safe vantage point.

The remaining levels are combinations of the above and should be pretty simple to complete once you get the hang of it.

Zone 2

The big gimmick here is the black hole situated at the center of the screen. Obviously, you are going to have to abandon the sit and spin strategy. The singularity will continually pull you toward the center of the screen. If you remain in the hole for too long, its intense gravity will crush your ship. However, this threat is without a lot of teeth since you can sit there for a couple of seconds before you are destroyed. There is plenty of time to escape; this isn’t an instant kill.

For the most part, play as usual, just be sure you don’t sit center stage for too long. The truly unfair thing about this zone is that the black hole has absolutely NO effect on anything but you. What did you do to make it so mad?

Level 2: the first appearance of some of the space junk you are going to encounter in this zone.
The space junk takes a lot of hits, but it will go down if you just focus on it.

Level 3: you will be plagued by an enemy ship that both shoots at you and plants mines in space. He presents only a minor threat and is more dangerous if you try to destroy him because he goes all self-destruct-y and unleashes an Armageddon blast.

Level 4: introduces the space tube: more junk, but this junk you can “push” around as you blast it. Like the other space junk, it takes a beating before going away.

Level 7: If you linger too long, a homing ship will appear near the edge of the screen, hone in on your position and then launch at you in a suicide maneuver. This ship isn’t a big threat, if you spot it when it appears, you can simply move over and it will zip harmlessly by. Just watch for it!

Level 8: From this level on you will encounter that weird oblong block from 2001: A Space Odyssey, endlessly tilting through space (sometimes two of them!). It cannot be destroyed or otherwise affected by you, but it will crush you if it hits you, so get out of its way!

Levels 10-15: These levels are really tough and combine all of the elements you have been introduced to thus far. You’ll need to be on your toes if you are to survive! No particular strategy will help you here, but there are generally less targets to destroy and more to avoid the deeper you get, so just keep your eye on the things you have to destroy to advance and knock them out as soon as possible!

Zone 3

Zone 3 is one of the toughest parts of the game, but with a little practice and solid strategy, it won’t be an exercise in frustration. In this zone, you are plagued by stars that are constantly going nova. These bloated gas bodies present a significant danger. Contact with them or any of their emissions is instantly fatal, so keep your distance. The stars appear in various places on the screen, but they are rarely at the edge. Sometimes they will appear directly under you, so be ready to move at a moment’s notice. At first, the stars merely appear, burn up, and are gone. About midway through the zone, the stars will begin emitting starbursts when they go nova. These bursts will come at you. You can blast them or dodge them, but do not touch them.

Toward the end of the zone, the stars will unleash swirling coronas that will encircle the star after it goes nova. This nearly doubles the size of the star and makes it harder to avoid.

Level 2: Introduces a new enemy: the repulsor ship. This guy will chase you around the screen trying to push you away with a repulsor beam from the front of his ship. He can take a beating, but concentrate your fire on him and he’ll be toast. However, a replacement is soon dispatched. Sometimes it is easier to ignore him and finish destroying your primary targets. Beyond the pushing, he represents no real threat.

Level 4: Home to the flaming asteroid, a new kind of asteroid swirling with fire. When you shoot it, it goes dormant, but also releases its fire in a small burst shot at you. It is only then, in the dormant phase that you have a chance to destroy the asteroid. If you wait, the fire will regenerate and you’ll have to start over. These flaming asteroids usually appear in groups of two or three and generally comprise the majority or entirety of your primary targets in the levels in which they appear. The best strategy for taking them out is to use the wrap around strategy. Shoot the flaming form, and then race to the edge of the screen. Wait for the shot, then wrap to safety and blast the dormant asteroid.

Level 5: Watch for the cargo ship. No real threat, but you can be destroyed colliding with it and you’ll get points for blasting it.

Level 6: the stars begin emitting nova bursts and things get pretty intense. Be on your toes and get ready to blast or dodge when the starburst is launched.

Level 11: the stars go supernova and unleash the swirling coronas. From this point on, there isn’t anything new to see, but the action gets intense and the screen gets crowded fast. Focus on one target and once it is destroyed move to the next. Use wrap around strategies for the Armageddon and flaming asteroids and hope like hell you can make it to the end of the zone.

Zone 4

Inexplicably, this zone finds you in the center of some kind of tangled mess (here is where the story would have really helped!) inhabited by deadly space worms that like to come out, float around and then slink back into the mess. These worms will be your new obstacle for this zone. Contact with them is deadly, but they follow prescribed patterns and generally have no interest in your ship. Pretty much stay out of their way and you will be fine. They rarely breach the edges of the screen, so that is your safest haven. The tangled mess is entirely background; do not fear it. Plus, there is a tell-tale shudder in the background when the worms are about to emerge giving you fair warning. All in all, this level is considerably easy than Zone 3. Stick to the sides of the screen and blast worm related stuff first. The Wall item is particularly helpful. (Hint: Build two walls and sit between them)

Level 2: Look out for worm eggs. These green blobs will burst and release smaller worms when you shoot them. The worms will immediately target you, so take them out quickly!

Level 3: Introducing the larvae! These small red monsters will appear from time to time and shoot green slime at you. They take a beating, but will go down after several hits. Take them out immediately or they will pursue.

Level 7: Look out for the space kite: a small eye-looking guy with slender blades that “grow” from its hub. This guy isn’t very threatening, as he merely wanders about, but to destroy him you’ll have to blast off his blades first, then take out the tiny eye. Perfect shooting or luck is your best friend here.

The rest of the levels are, again, combinations of elements you have already encountered so all suggested strategies continue to apply.

Zone 5

This final level is a loving tribute to Missile Command, and perhaps the easiest level of the game. You are running ground defense against the incoming asteroids (apparently your space efforts were insufficient!). Much as in Missile Command, the asteroids come rocketing down toward the surface and you must protect yourself and four cities (bases?) from their imminent collision. This Zone is more about fun than strategy. You have free movement, but the implication is that you should remain in the center bottom of the screen (ala Missile Command) most of the time. Free movement affords you greater defensive abilities and you can even fly over the bases. To make things even easier, screen wrap still applies and as the asteroids hit the atmosphere they slow down and start to burn from the friction. A very cool effect, but a real step back in difficulty; you’ll have plenty of time to shoot them before they cause trouble. Plus, scoring on this zone is incredibly high, so you’ll be earning free ships just about every other level. The last time I played the game through for this guide, I completed this Zone with 10 ships in reserve.

Level 3: Satellites orbiting the planet start to make life difficult. You cannot shoot them, so they must be avoided or the collision will destroy you.

Level 4: Some kind of blue comet that shoots at you appears in the sky. If you are hit, you will become encased in some kind of field that prevents you from doing anything for several seconds. Not a big threat, but since he can freeze you up should he land a shot, he should be higher priority.

Level 6: An alien bomber streaks across the top of the screen dropping a bomb that falls like a leaf from a tree toward your cities. His targeting computer must be shoddy as he poses minimal threat.

The rest of the Zone is just plain fun. Enjoy! Once completed you get a brief victory screen and an opportunity to print out a certificate of achievement to hang on your refrigerator. You also get a code to play with the top secret Excalibur ship (see codes below).


While I don’t think a password list for this game is necessary, I often forget them so writing them down is not a bad idea:





Excalibur: PROJECTX

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