Review: Astro Chase (Atari 5200)

In this review, we put on our space helmet for the Atari 5200 game, Astro Chase. We find out how well this shooter plays.

This game was released in 1984. It is a port from an arcade game.

The game revolves around an astronaut. You pilot a flying saucer. As you patrol space around earth, you find that Earth is being besieged by an alien invasion. It is up to you to protect earth.

Each round is called a “chase”. In each chase, there are a number of mega mines. If a mine hits earth, then earth gets destroyed and it’s game over. If you manage to destroy all of the mega mines inching towards earth, then you win the chase.

You’ll encounter a number of enemy ships as well. Most will try and fly into you, but a few of them will actually also fire at you in the process. This merely complicates your mission more than anything else.

Around the border of the playing field are two different kinds of objects. The solid brown object grants you temporary invulnerability. The other brown object is a ring. These rings re-fuel your ship. The one thing to keep in mind is the fact that you can’t re-fuel your ship with invulnerability activated.

Littering the play space are planets, stars, and, of course, Earth. Running into these interstellar bodies will cause you to not only bounce away, but also cause you to lose energy. If you run out of energy, you lose a life. In addition to this is an invisible border that represents boundaries. Running into these produces the same effect as running into planets.

While you can’t shoot past the planets, it is possible to shoot past the border. This can be critical in taking out some of the mines early on in the chase.

For every 4 chases you complete, you’ll be greeted with an increasingly warm welcome. A victory on chase four will earn you a rather cold reception as no one will show up. Meanwhile, chase 8 will earn you a crowd. For each progressive chase, you’ll get an increasingly pompous welcoming ceremony for defending Earth.

You’ll start off with a handful of saucers (lives). For every 1,000 points you get, you’ll earn an additional saucer. With the difficulty of this game the way it is, earning free lives isn’t all that problematic most of the time. The problem is that it is sometimes very easy to suddenly go through a bunch of saucers in a single chase. Increasingly aggressive alien ships will make certain that this happens.

This game features an interesting firing system. You use your joystick to fly around whatever direction you want. However, once you hold down the firing button, the direction is locked. This way, you can fire in any direction you push the joystick to. In this respect, it can be seen as an interesting compromise to the firing system found in Robotron 2049. While not perfect, it is far simpler than the two joystick system.

The only thing to keep in mind is the fact that you can only fire two shots at a time. This is a very important thing to note because it can mean the difference between life and death. It’s more than possible to miss an enemy ship twice. By the time you can fire a third and fourth shot, the enemy ship can easily have flown right up to you and ram you into oblivion. So, strategic movement is advised when under attack.

One thing that is going for this game is the difficulty level. A lot of games that are on the market at this time often have a steep difficulty curve. This game doesn’t really have that. It actually gives players a chance to get used to things before the difficulty starts ramping up. In fact, the difficulty doesn’t ramp up a whole lot for a number of chases. So, players have plenty of time to get used to the controls.

A problem with this game is that it seemingly uses the same map over and over again. The result is that the novelty of this game can wear out pretty quickly. By the time you get through about a dozen or so chases, the replay value begins to drop. Depending on how far you get, two playthroughs may actually be more than enough for a lot of players.

Another problem I have is the fact that the borders can’t be seen at all. A dotted line might have been preferred. The reason is that in early play, you have to visualize where the line is at when attacking far away mines. When moving around tight spaces, this can be pretty tricky at times.

One final criticism I do have with this game is the fact that cutscenes are unskippable. It would be great to skip cutscenes you have no intention of really watching.

Generally speaking, this game is very approachable. The difficulty allows players to spend time getting used to how things operate without the fear of almost instantly getting killed off within minutes. This is a nice change of pace compared to some of the earlier Atari games. The downsides are that this game can be repetitive, the borders are invisible, and cutscenes are unskippable.

Graphically speaking, this game is OK. It’s not particularly amazing. It’s not particularly terrible either. The cut scenes are well animated, but the novelty can wear off after a while. The helpful objects don’t exactly shed light on what they do. You just have to fly over them to find out what they do. So, it was OK, but nothing huge.

The sound was also OK. There is a jingle or two. There is even a track that plays throughout gameplay. Unfortunately, this seems to be about the only track you hear. For a game that you can spend up to an hour to play, this can get annoying after a while. The sound effects were decent enough thought.

Overall, this game is pretty good. It is very approachable. It has an interesting firing system that allows for non-complicated multi-directional firing. The game is fairly easy to learn and the difficulty curve accommodates this. The problems revolve around repetitive play, lower replay value, and unskippable cut-scenes. So, the game is pretty good, but doesn’t have the worlds greatest lasting power.

Furthest point in game: Died on chase 17. High Score: 34,289

General gameplay: 19/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

2 thoughts on “Review: Astro Chase (Atari 5200)”

  1. Considering how much shovelware was pumped out for the Atari, a 70% is actually pretty good, lol. That infinitely looping song definitely gets annoying though!

    1. Indeed. It wound up being a bit difficult at times to find some great games on these systems. They can be found, but it certainly requires some digging to get there.

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