Coin Up Review Of Astro Fighter!

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Hello Arcaders!

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!

 

AF-logois 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-

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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?

rocketThis 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?

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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!

SEQUELS-AND-SPINOFFS

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.

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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!

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We’ll talk about this amazing game in a future Coin Up!

 

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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.

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(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!

 

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Appearance and Sound-

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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!

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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!

Control-

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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.

 

Difficulty-

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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!

Play ability-

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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?- 

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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!

Raygunn

Coin Up! Review Of Pulsar!

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Hello Arcaders!

Welcome to another Coin Up Review! This is something I wanted to do from the beginning- online reviews of games that we couldn’t devote an entire podcast to, but a written review would do nicely. So keep an eye out- I might review that game you have always liked, but couldn’t put your finger on the name- or you just secretly liked while playing your friends at Karate Champ.

pulsar cab

 Is a unique maze  game released by Sega/Gremlin in 1981. The player controls a tank that’s in a very strange maze. The player must collect the colored keys to unlock the airlock and escape to the next, more challenging maze.But, you are not alone… hear that heartbeat? that’s the Pulsar, looking for you! Large and seemingly harmless, it is filled with aggressors, just waiting to break out and destroy you! Get all your keys to the airlock and and try to escape… THE PULSAR!

 I first saw this astonishing game in May of 1981 at a little Mom and Pop convenience store that was right next door to my Junior High School. They had a little back room area that they would put 5 or 6 games in,  and that was great for them, as the kids would come over after school ( or sometimes, when school was in session- don’t tell my Mom!) They always got some great games in (Battlezone, Turbo, Astro Fighter) and between the candy, soda, and arcade games, the place was always hopping! And after the first play on this game, I was HOOKED!

arcade-guy-STORY

The key to this game is speed. You get bouku bonus points completing a level with the most fuel. So, the first thing to do is assess the maze- more important, where are the keys? On top? On the sides? Remember, the maze is ALWAYS MOVING! Also, don’t be afraid to get close to an aggressor to shoot it. Running into them won’t kill you- and it’s a great way to get some fuel! And remember- you don’t have to get the keys in numerical order… you just have to get them to the keyholes!

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This is your tank. It is capable of 360 degrees of movement quickly. The tank has a laser cannon powerful enough to shoot a beam across the maze at a target. It can move fast through the corridors of the maze, but at the cost of your fuel- shoot the aggressors to replenish.

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This is the Pulsar. It seems to be a living organism in the maze, as the Pulsar’s heartbeat can be heard throughout it’s confines. It is following the tank, sensing wherever you are in the maze. It has no defense, and you can run into it, but what would happen if you shot at it?

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This is a Yellow Aggressor. It rolls on the walls of the maze,and is harmless to the touch. shoot it for more fuel.

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This is the Green Aggressor. It bounces around the maze randomly, shooting at you. It too is harmless to the touch, and if shot, helps replenish your fuel reserve.

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This is the Red Aggressor. it makes a fast beeline towards you shooting quick. Again, it is harmless to the touch, and when shot will go towards  your fuel.

keys

Keys are what you are after on all the sides of the screen. They will unlock the keyholes to the airlock at the bottom right hand side of the screen. when you grab a key, your tank’s color changes to the keys color. You have to collect different color keys for each keyhole.

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The keyholes unlock the airlock, allowing you to enter the next maze. Each lock matches a corresponding colored key. You can do them in any order, but you must unlock all keyholes to successfully enter the next maze- before running out of fuel!

And now for the most dangerous enemy in the game…

THE MAZE ITSELF!!!!

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I feel the biggest enemy in this game is the maze. It shifts and changes with every beat of the Pulsar’s heart. It does two things- walls open and close, and it creates deadly force fields which can kill on contact! Just when you think you have the key, or your near the exit, the walls move blocking your path!

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This one’s a no- brainer… There were NO ports of Pulsar for home play that I know of (a shame) But one that was about as close as you could get at the time ( I guess ) was Tanks But No Tanks  for the Atari 2600.

I guess its cross between the tank level in Tron and the game Tank Battalion , but the movement is fast, and you shots go across the maze. The object here is to protect the base at the bottom from the screen from the oncoming tanks who want to destroy it. Not a bad game , but not very exciting.  But a good hacker COULD make this Pulsar. Also, you can play this game on the M.A.M.E. emulator http://www.mame32.com.

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Appearance and Sound-

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1981 was a transitional year for video game technology.  You had games like Donkey Kong and Defender pushing the limits of what a game could do at the time.  Then, you have games like Pulsar. Graphics like this were still the norm at this point, so they work just fine. The character animations are great,  and the moving maze parts add to the excitement. The sounds all work for a sci-fi game ( I especially like the sound of the pulsar exploding!) , but what really gets you going is the haunting heartbeat that you hear throughout game play. So, I think the simplicity of this game is what works.

Control-

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Controls are quick, concise, and simple for a game of this era. If I had any complaint its a minor one- there’s only one fire button- on the right side- great if you are a rightie. Sega should have put the stick in the middle and fire buttons on each side. this was very typical in early 80’s arcade machines. Probably  a cost issue during it’s manufacturing cycle.

Difficulty-

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I think with the simple objective, the game gives you a few rounds to get used to the movement of the maze itself. After round 5 though, with five keys to collect, the maze changing fast, and even more aggressors, you got your work cut out for you!!!

Play ability-

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With it’s simple but changeling game play, you will be coming back to play Pulsar again and again to see what else it has to offer!

So, Pulsar’s overall score is- 

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I think Pulsar holds up today because it truly is a golden age arcade game- great graphics and sound for a game of this type and age, cabinet art is simple, colorful and enticing to the eye. It just keeps pulling you in for just one more try!!!

Hey gang- as a special treat, I will making collectible trading cards of all the reviews I do on the site! The front has general stats (name ,year, manufacturer) the back has game play tips! Collect ‘em! Trade ‘em! they make great holiday gifts! Please give me a shout and let me know how I did!

Thanks for reading and keep playin’ like it’s 1981!

Raygunn

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the gang