Welcome to the latest issue of COIN UP! This is the review series where I go back in time and review those arcade games of the past that you probably remember or or have a memory vaguely playing at the local arcade- the game tucked away in a corner while you’re waiting for your turn at Dragon’s Lair. If you have a favorite game you would like to see in a review- let me know in the comments section below! This beauty will be a part of our Shmup series!
Wait- what’s a Shmup? Good question! It’s a shortened name for Shoot Em’ Up- a genre of game that involved a space fighter or jet moving in a direction (or all, as we’ll see later in this series!!!) Shooting enemies who move in a pattern (or random as well…) trying to shoot you down. My favorites tend to be space shmups (or space shooters!) And this one is at the top of my list!
is a space shooter that was designed (and their first game by the way) by Data East. The game was released in 1980 by Data East in Asia and Europe and by Gremlin Sega in the U.S.
With the success of games like Space Invaders and Galaxian, a fledgling Data East wanted in on the action. This would be the game that would break them into the U.S.- and the world.
Astro Fighter was always one of those visceral favorites of mine- meaning when you even look at the game, those familiar smells, and yes, tastes of that bygone era come flooding into my head again.
It was 1980. We had a little Mom and Pop Deli up the road from our house. I rode my bike there every chance I got. If my Mom needed ANYTHING from the store, I was on it! The reason- they had a 5 piece arcade in the back! They had this game- I could play for hours! We always needed bread at home- Mom would give me $2.00 for a loaf of bread that cost .60! So, I could get a Twix bar, (or a Whatchamacallit, before they put caramel in them, by the way!) a Nehi Grape, and enough for a game or two! So, every time I play this game, it just takes me back!
Remember- this game came out in 1980- at the height of Space Invaders and Galaxian’s popularity. So at it’s core, it plays the same. But- it has so much more going for it! Let’s go over the game’s instructions for a moment-
The first thing you will notice- you have a fuel gauge! Now- it’s not just about stopping them from reaching the bottom (which you have to do… but more on that in a moment…) you are quickly running out of fuel. The enemy groups are moving down towards the bottom of the screen. If they get there… they REAPPEAR at the top! IN FULL FORMATION! That’s right- you may have gotten a few of them. but if EVEN ONE gets to the bottom- the ENTIRE FORMATION is back. And- to make it a bit more difficult- you move up the screen a little. AND YOUR FUEL GAUGE IS STILL GOING DOWN! Reach The Master ship to refuel (and score a nice bonus) to start again!
Let’s look at the the opponents in this galactic war, shall we?
This is your ship- the Astro Fighter! She’s fast- but with a quickly dwindling fuel supply, and a single blaster to shoot down the enemies, do you have what it takes to survive?
This is your ships gauges- it will tell you everything you need to know at a glance. Ships remaining, sector you’re in, and your fuel is displayed.
The first wave of enemies the player faces are blue ships that stay in a small formation, moving from side to side, then occasionally dropping down a notch.
The second wave of ships are purple, which behave in pretty much the same manner, although their formation covers a much wider area, spanning across almost the entire width of the screen.
The green ships afterwards (which somewhat resemble T. I. E. Fighters from the Star Wars movies) fly at a diagonal, reverse direction, then fly at a diagonal again.
The final round of yellow ships only occupy a few vertical rows that move straight down. These are the easiest to hit- fire away!
Watch out for comets! They randomly fly down the screen. Shoot them for a bonus! There tons of them!
At the very end of each level is the GS MASTER ship, which is at the top of the screen and moves from side to side. It can shoot in ANY DIRECTION and it’s very fast- moving from left to right at the top of the screen! Hit the center to destroy it and get it’s fuel for a bonus, and to continue the fight!
Look at this- a new tag! It’s because Astro Fighter is our first game with sequels! That being said- things are about to get… interesting. that’s because there wasn’t one- but TWO SEQUELS to Astro Fighter! Remember how I said there were two companies involved with Astro Fighter? Now- this wasn’t a unusual arrangement- companies like Namco, Tekahn, and Konami did this all the time. It’s 1979- you are a big Japanese arcade company- kicking major butt in Japan with some great killer arcade games. The problem is- you have no american plants for manufacturing and distribution- losing out on a HUGE market. You read about U.S. companies like Atari, Midway, and Centuri who is rocking it with their own games- but HAVING THE SAME PROBLEM- no distribution in Japan. So, you reach out to the american manufacturer to come to an agreement- Distribute OUR games in western markets- we will distribute in the east. It always works out for us- the Arcader. If they hadn’t- we wouldn’t have had seen games like PAC-MAN, Swimmer, and Scramble.
Well, that’s what happened here. Data East had created the game. Sega became the distributor in the western markets. The game did well enough in the U.S. that Sega wanted a sequel. Not a problem! in early 1981- Data East had completed a sequel- Super Astro Fighter.
There were a couple of problems with this sequel.
One was Data East decided to release Super Astro Fighter on their DECO cassette system- the games were put on a micro cassette- that transferred the game data to the game PCB. It was a great concept that unfortunately had two problems- as the cassette got older, the data would corrupt- making it impossible to load- the other was the load times at power up were LONG. Up to three minutes. To a U.S. distributor- this was no good. Bally had distributed Burgertime from Data East. the first few thousand had the DECO system. Distributors HATED it! Bally quickly took the games data, and but it on a rom, and used one of their own PCBs for the game- so if you have an ORIGINAL DECO cassette Burgertime cabinet- consider yourself lucky. Most were converted to the PCB version. Super Astro Fighter a sequel- meh. It’s more of the same game wise. Some enemy ships appearances change a bit, Some enemies are completely different, moves have been updated- Some dive like in Galaxian, there’s some new backgrounds, but that’s it. the sounds are AWFUL- scratching fingernails against a chalkboard awful- especially for 1981. Just watch the video- I DARE YOU! (skip to 4:00 to see the game- I’m not kidding.)
The second problem was Astro Blaster was such a success in the U.S., Data East decided to open their own offices in here. While it would be a a few years before they would build their own cabinets here (or use JAMMA ready cabs- like the ones made by DYNAMO) Sega wasn’t needed exclusively at this point. Also, because of Astro fighter’s success, other companies were jumping up to snap up their titles- Taito released Lock n Chase in 1981. Sega wasn’t going to take it sitting down- so they went on to make their own sequel. and in my opinion- a better game. Astro Blaster!
We’ll talk about this amazing game in a future Coin Up!
Home versions- yup- we had some!
The two I found were on two different computers. One looks official- the other… not so much. Surprisingly, Data East’s first game wasn’t on their own compilation for the Wii- being it’s the game that started it all.
(get this compilation- it’s good.)
The first one’s from the TI- 99. I looks good. kind of a port of both Astro Fighter and Super Astro Fighter-
The other one I found was for the EACA EG2000 Colour Genie- a computer out of Germany. It’s called Cosmic Attack.
Then, out of the blue… there is this AMAZING HOMEBREW!
From programmer Robert DeCrescenzo- This is an AMAZING PORT for the Atari 7800! The Atari 7800 was a great system that didn’t get much love in it’s time- it’s so great to see homebrewers are making great games for it! so, if you have an Atari 7800, and your looking for a really good Shmup- you can’t go wrong with this one! head over to Atariage to get your copy!
As I find more ports- I’ll post them!
Appearance and Sound-
Given this is game not only was programmed in 1979, but was Data East’s FIRST GAME…
It looks good. The gauges on top tell you everything you need, from fuel remaining, to what sector your in. That being said, the enemy ships are… a bit sparse. I mean, we had Space Invaders two years before, and at least they were- animated. The ships in Astro fighter are static. May be they should have animated the windows. make them look like moving eyes. They look like that already. I would have given them a bit of depth and look more threatening. Also- there’s only the four types of enemies. A few more would have made it that much better. But, the final round with the master ship looks great! When you warp into his sector- you know it’s on!
Given that, the sounds are spot on. The warping sound is very reminiscent of the thumping noise in Space Invaders. It keeps the sense of urgency high throughout the game. The laser fire and explosions do their job. But, the fuel critical sound mixed in with the master’s warbling noise will get the heart racing! Knowing your’e just a couple of seconds from defeating the master ship and collecting the precious fuel (and some sweet bonus points in the process) or certain doom is palpable. and the master ship’s explosion is spot on!
Why am I giving this a four? It could fire… a bit faster. I’m not asking for a rapid fire chip. But knowing you only have a minute or so to get out of a sector, and your ship is firing like it’s in a game of GORF… no bueno. It gets the job done, but it could be better.
Astro Blaster will give you a challenge. The enemy ships movement and speed takes a sector to get used to. Except sector four- they come straight down- so fire away! The master ship is tough- just keep firing at its center- you’ll get it!
With it’s simple but challenging game play, you will be coming back to play Astro Blaster again and again to see what else it has to offer!
So, whats the final score?-
You know this was going to be a five out of five! It’s such a piece of my history. out of most games I played as a kid- this one sticks out. And as the sophomore game from Data East- it’s good. and it’s one of those shmups you can just pick up and play- no explanation required. Astro Blaster is hard to find today- complete boards fetch a hefty price. But- fret not Arcaders- this classic can be played on the 412 Game Elf board- or better yet- there’s always Retropie to get your Astro Fighter fix! And don’t forget the amazing Atari 7800 port!
Hey gang- Thank you for joining me on this journey through another rare classic arcade game here on Coin Up! And to celebrate the return of my favorite passion project, I give you- OUR NEW VIRTUAL COIN UP CARDS! Collect ‘em! Trade ‘em! look at them! they make great holiday gifts! Please give me a shout! Have you played Astro Blaster? Do you like it? Hate it? What’s your high score? Let me know!
Thanks for reading and keep playin’ like it’s 1981!
Now I knew a little bit of the Shmups, but it was the usual ones – Space Invaders, Galaga, Galaxian, and even some of the ones from the 90s like Aero Fighters, and thanks to my time at Disney Quest I learned about Phoenix, 1942, and Gorf – but this is definitely one gem I knew nothing about.
Definitely should have gotten that compilation when I had the chance though.
But nevertheless, great article Ray!
PS: For me I’d like the next article to be about Gorf, or Phoenix.