Exclusive: Asteroids: Gunner Hands-On Preview

Asteroids is one of those rare games that spans generations. But compared to today’s games, Asteroids is also in major need of an upgrade. Eager to bring back classic status for the original space shooter, Atari will launch Asteroids: Gunner on the App Store this Thursday as a free download.

Asteroids: Gunner will offer 50 wave-like levels for free, and more can be unlocked using in-app purchase. You can also pay real money to remove ads from the title screen, unlock extra ships, improve the rate of fire of your ship’s guns, and carry more power-ups into the asteroid field.

The rest of the game’s power-ups can be purchased using the game’s “soft” currency, crystals, which you can earn by playing through the levels. Each wave, you’ll have to blast larger asteroids into smaller chunks, with the occasional UFO flying by for extra points. Smaller asteroids will often release gold-colored crystals for you to pick up, so part of the fun is flying through a cluttered screen, steering towards the gold rocks and away from the gray ones.

Asteroids introduces a two-stick control scheme for flying and shooting– you no longer have to face the direction you want to shoot, like in the original game. The solid ship controls reminded us of other successful iOS space shooters, like Meteor Blitz and Space Miner.

But the most fun we had with Asteroids: Gunner came from the power-ups. You can buy power-ups ahead of time and take them into a level, or you can just pick them up as they’re dropped by broken asteroids. Our favorite power-up is the protective shield that turns your gunner into a battering ram, but we also liked the screen-clearing “supa” spread shot.

With 50 levels, Asteroids: Gunner will offer at least a few hours of quality space shooting for free. For an extra buck or two, you can unlock new levels, but we’re not sure yet if they’ll introduce new enemies or challenges. Even if you don’t want to pay for extra content, the upgraded graphics, gameplay, and freemium pricing make Asteroids: Gunner feel like it belongs in this new era.