Asteroids. One of most classic and influential arcade games of all time. It’s an incredibly simple concept, as necessary for the technology of the time. You rotate your ship, thrust forward and shoot. It’s timeless. It’s a mechanic that’s been copied time and time again and here we are with Astro Duel. Originally released on the PC last year the Nintendo Switch version comes with the Deluxe name as a complete, definitive package.
So what have original developer Wild Rooster and Switch porter Panic Button done in order to make the gameplay feel fresh? Well they made it into a competitive party game, of course. The clue lies in the Duel part of the title. You and up to 5 more players swap the asteroid targets in favour of other players in order to battle it out and be the winner. I’m just going to say it straight out. It’s stupidly simple, but so, so great.
In the normal 4 player game mode you can either choose to have a free for all or fight in teams. When it’s every man for themselves the way to win is to earn kills. While each round you only have one life, it doesn’t matter if you survive or not as survival isn’t the name of the game. You keep playing rounds until one of the players racks up the set amount of kills. Be warned though, accidentally killing yourself takes a point away from you.
In team play, it’s not the kills that count, but the rounds won. So technically you can still win even if you never kill anyone yourself. As with the previous mode, you can set the amount required yourself by choosing to either have a short, medium length or longer game.
An interesting divide of these two modes is the choice between ship kill and pilot kill. In ship kill you just shoot the enemy ship once and, as long as it doesn’t have a shield power up, you get the kill and the player is eliminated. Pilot kill on the other hand is only slightly different, but completely changes the feel of the game. This is where you can take a hit and your ship is destroyed, but your pilot is free to run for his life. He is completely helpless. He can’t shoot and he also can be squashed by other crafts but if you survive long enough then a new ship will respawn and you can rejoin the fray. I actually can’t decided if I prefer one mode to the other, as I think they both offer something good to the table. It’s fun switching between these modes once in a while. Another thing you can do is play in Chaos mode which, as you would expect, is a tad more frenetic than normal mode. Here up to six players can join in. Any way you play it, every game is tense. I love it.
By default power ups are available to be picked up. They can range from shields, to missiles, even proximity mines. Personally, I preferred to have them turned off. I preferred the purer experience of just you and your ship. This is an example of the decent amount of customisation available in Astro Duel, you can tweak the gameplay and extras such as the amount of asteroids, limiting your boosting ability, replays and so on.
As much customisation as there is, there’s one thing that I feel is oddly missing. In the free for all mode, winning is based on kills, which is fair enough, but there should have been an option to have wins based on round wins too. Sure, this is easy to exploit by just holding back and letting everyone take each other out, but it could have been a more tactical experience. While it may not have been the premier way to play, the option would have been nice and should have been there.
One rather intriguing mode in the Deluxe version is the “Party” mode. Here controllers are not needed, instead, you use the corners of the touch screen. One section is for shooting, the other is for turning. The oddness shines here as having one button for turning gives you very little nuance for control – you can only turn right. Your ship is propelled automatically as you and your mates pirouette around a stupid waltz until one of you gets a lucky shot or you all end up killing yourselves. It’s fun no doubt but an odd solution to a lack of controllers.
One thing I really liked about Astro Duel Deluxe is the amount of stages to choose from and their variety. Yes, you have the standard, plain layout but there are more extravagant ones to play such as the ones with black holes, gravity fields and laser beams. Having it on random and playing a few rounds with friends, it doesn’t get old.
With Astro Duel Deluxe being a party game through and through it will be no surprise to learn that single player content is nonexistent. Aside from playing the normal modes with CPU opponents there’s nothing special for the lonelier of gamers. No story mode, no missions, no arcade score attack mode, nothing. Again, it’s primarily a party game but I think they could have included at least something. Personally, I thought just fighting the CPU was enough fun in itself, I could play it over and over again with them but I’m not sure everyone else would be the same as me. Buy Astro Duel as a party game first and foremost.
Graphically it’s not much of a looker but I think the retro art style is the right choice in this regard. Visual effects are simple but top notch, as you see your pilot’s remains spinning around the arena and the power up weapons look good too. As for the soundtrack, that’s also pretty good although there is quite an odd amount of crackling which I don’t know if it’s intentional or not. Either way it’s quite distracting. Interestingly, more people worked on the soundtrack than the actual programming.
Overall, for me personally Astro Duel Deluxe is a fantastic party game for your Nintendo Switch. While it’s simplicity may be enough for many people to scoff at it, I thoroughly enjoyed it, playing with friends and even on my own with the CPU. There’s enough variety in power ups, stages and customisation to keep it going and a great game to bust out when friends are over. The touch screen play may not be the ideal solution to a lack expensive controllers, but it’s interesting and somewhat fun to play if not for the pure absurdity of it. Lack of single player content may harm it’s chances with many gamers, but for a party game it’s an excellent choice. Something I will keep downloaded on my Switch for a long time to come.
Game provided by Panic Button