"Buy one, get one free"? Maybe that was the principle behind Atari's SUPER ASTEROIDS/MISSILE COMMAND for the Lynx, a card that contains "super" versions of two early arcade classics. Super Asteroids pits the player against an endless stream of rocks and hostile UFOs, which he must destroy while snatching power-ups. Super Missile Command has the player defend various alien cities from incoming missiles, MIRVs, bombers, and satellites, while periodic intermissions allow him to buy better missiles and special defense systems.
Upgrading a classic game is, like writing a sequel, a delicate art: the programmer has to find what made the original game appealing, then enhance that draw without losing the original magic in the first place. Sequels and enhancements run the gamut from the destroy-the-charm-of-the-original of SUPER MARIO BROS. 2 to the pump-the-thrills-to-the-Nth-degree of TEMPEST 2000. Because the component games in SUPER ASTEROIDS/MISSILE COMMAND are fairly different, each title will be covered separately.
Super Asteroids, to put it politely, stinks. The original ASTEROIDS was a suspenseful, delicate shooter, where deft maneuvering and good planning was just as important as a fast trigger finger. Super Asteroids take away all of that: the player's ship is equipped with an automatic shield, and shot range is generously far. This combination means the player can clear out most stages by staying in the middle of the screen and shooting whatever passes by. The opposition is laughable; early stages start with only one(!) asteroid, while UFOs are big, inept, and far between. A ship is lost if the shield takes too many hits, but only the truly inept will let that happen. Most players will quit this game before it starts being difficult.
Super Missile Command, thankfully, is better. The difficulty is higher and builds at a reasonable pace, which keeps the player busy. Early levels offer a fair amount of challenge, and later levels add a plethora of missiles, bombers, and near-invulnerable UFOs to increase the chaos. On the player's side is a wide range of defensive weapons systems to be bought between waves, which lets players customize the game to fit their own style. Arcade veterans will be thrown at first by subtle changes to the game's rules, but after a trip to the weapons shop, they'll be able to wreak arcade-level havoc in style. The inability to choose difficulty settings is a drawback, but Super Missile Command is clearly the draw on this card.
While there is some sharing of the graphics SUPER ASTEROIDS/MISSILE COMMAND, the overall effects parallel the individual games. Super Asteroids' visuals are largely done in shades of grey and white, with only minor touches of color in a few places. Sprites are detailed but animation is all but nonexistent, making for a lukewarm effect. Super Missile Command fares better, with a mmore captivating display: rocket contrails, blossoming fireballs, and mushroom clouds contribute to the game's edge.
Sounds, on the other hand, are uniformly simple on both titles. Simple explosions and weapons fire are the prominent effects, with a few minimal chimes on occassion. Super Missile Command offers a few more effects, but both titles could have benefitted from extra touches like sirens or more sophisticated sounds. A pair of themes on each game's title page provide the only music on the card.
SUPER ASTEROIDS/MISSILE COMMAND is, in the end, a mixed bag. Super Asteroids is dull and pointless, but Super Missile Command is an enjoyable game in its own right. Neither game is a replacement for the arcade originals, but for starving Lynx owners, this card -- specifically, Super Missile Command -- should provide some momentary relief.
Super Asteroids: Super Missile Command: GAMEPLAY: 3 GAMEPLAY: 8 GRAPHICS: 6 GRAPHICS: 7.5 SOUND: 5 SOUND: 5.5 OVERALL: 4 OVERALL: 7.5 Together: GAMEPLAY: 5.5 GRAPHICS: 7 SOUND: 5 OVERALL: 5.5