Updated: Asteroids Gunner Review

Asteroids: Gunner has received an update that lets players use Game Center to challenge friends to beat their score, and makes the game more generous with its gold. These are interesting additions, but do they provide incentive to keep you coming back?

Not exactly. The friend challenge mode is a welcome addition, but it probably won’t pique your interest in the game if you’ve already had your fill. In this mode, you challenge one of your Game Center friends to a match, and then play through a single wave of asteroids. Your challenge is sent to your buddy, who plays a wave and tries to outscore you. It’s still the same Asteroids gameplay, but with a whiff of competition.

The increased gold output is a pretty minor tweak to the game. You’ll be able to buy more upgrades slightly more quickly, but the fact remains that none of the upgrades last more than a few seconds, and when they’re gone they’re gone.

What we’d really like to see Atari do with Asteroids Gunner is to put RPG elements into it, so that your ship becomes stronger and better in various ways as you progress through the levels. Or better yet, they could make an entirely new, modernized game out of Asteroids, like how Taito did with Space Invaders Infinity Gene. Of course, no app update is likely to make something like that out of Asteroids Gunner, but we think the world is ready for it. We certainly are.

When the original Asteroids arcade game was released 30 years ago, it was a much more original concept than Asteroids Gunner is today. This latest installment is a freemium twin-stick shooter like the many we’ve seen on the App Store in recent years, but it clings to its roots with a mighty grip. In other words, Atari has taken their enduring classic, slapped on a new coat of paint, added some features, and released it once again into the world.

So this isn’t a total re-imagining of Asteroids, and it’s sure to have a much smaller impact on the videogame landscape. The biggest changes they’ve made to the “fly around and shoot space rocks” gameplay is that they’ve tossed in a half-hearted level structure and thrown a bunch of temporary power-ups into the game. These upgrades can be picked up as loot drops from some of the asteroids you destroy, or purchased using the gold you earn in the levels.

Flying and gunning in space.

The power-ups are helpful, but unfortunately none of them last long. You’ll get a few seconds out of invincibility shields, rapid-fire upgrades, spread shots, and ice lasers, but they’re gone in short order. Even if you use your purchased power-ups and pick up a few in a level, you’ll still spend most of your play time shooting with your normal cannon. The game could have been a lot more interesting and addictive if they’d made gradual, permanent upgrades so you could see your ship grow and become more powerful as you played. But instead, your ships don’t change in any permanent way no matter how much time you spend with the game.

The game’s level structure is similarly disappointing. Although the game is segmented into three worlds made up of 50 levels each, the levels are practically indistinguishable from one another. As you progress, the main difference is that more asteroids are sent your way. Occasionally you’ll see another space ship that gives you points when you destroy it, but by and large the game is just a bunch of space rocks flying around the screen, breaking apart as you shoot them.

Where are we? Rather, WHEN are we?

And of course the best power-ups in the game, like nukes, gameplay perks, and additional worlds, can’t be bought with the gold you pick up in the levels. These require a separate currency that can only be attained by spending actual money via in-app purchase. You can buy these credits in bundles that cost between $1.99 and $99.00, so parents should make sure to log out of the App Store before handing their iOS device over to their kids.

We realize we’ve done a lot of complaining in this review. But underneath all that, Asteroids Gunner really is a moderately fun game with great controls that you can play for a very long time without spending a dime. In other words, it’s the kind of freemium game that doesn’t feel like a mugging. As a twin-stick shooter it’s not as good as Meteor Blitz, but it’ll do in a pinch, and it won’t necessarily cost you a cent.

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