Thursday, March 3, 2016

(OLD) Asteroid Bounty Hunter review

Like a lot of people who grew up in the 80s, Asteroids was one of my first videogames. Also, as if my avatar didn't make it readily apparent, I'm a huge fan of 2D shooters. Asteroid Bounty Hunter is a videogame that combines shmup elements with rock-shooting. How could I not recommend it? 

Let's start off the review by discussing the controls. The player's ship suffers from inertia. 2D shooters with inertia are very few and far-between, and for good reason. In games that involve dodging hundreds (or even thousands) of objects, all with differing sizes, shapes, and patterns, the littlest quirks become extremely noticeable. When I move in a direction, I expect to stop immediately, once I let go of the joystick, d-pad, or arrow key. Instead, the ship slides around as if space was actually just the biggest ice-level in existence. 

Another problem with the controls is that they're inconsistent. During the game I found myself "testing" movement. I'd tap the arrow keys, establish a steady rhythm, and try to determine exactly how much the ship moves with every tap. Every time I tried this, my results varied wildly. Sometimes I'd move a millimeter, a centimeter, 2 millimeters, or even 1 and a 1/2 centimeters. It might not sound like much, but not being able to get the distance I wanted from my key-presses, has resulted in a lot of damage. This is why I'm not a fan of inertia in shooters, it can lead to more issues.

If being able to accurately control the ship wasn't enough of a hassle, the hit-box is very poor. In 2D shooters, the hit-box is typically smaller than the actual ship. With this game however, it almost feels like I'm dealing with the reverse. I've seen asteroids and enemy bullets inflict damage on my ship, even though all they did was hit the space outside the tips of my wings. Even with the generous recharging shields, I can't overlook those moments where I'm taking hits just because my personal space is being violated. Another unfortunate aspect of Asteroid Bounty Hunter, is that it's just not much fun. I'll give it credit for its leveling system. Grinding out weapon-upgrades and improved abilities will forever be compelling to me. Your ship is outfitted with four weapons, three of which operate on cool-down timers. This lends a strategic element to the game, as you have to carefully manage your weapons. Failure to do so could lead to you being faced with a wall of asteroids, but without a weapon to cut through them. However, the process that is actually playing through the stages is sorely lacking. In each stage, you have to destroy a certain number of asteroids. Frequently, the rocks stop appearing, and then you're accosted by bounty hunters. Once they're destroyed, the asteroids resume. Aside from tougher rocks, the later stages boast new hunters with different weapons, and there are five bosses to contend with.

At this point, I'd like to mention that there is a glitch in this version of the game. Usually, the asteroids and hunters take their turn assaulting the player. It's very organized and also very dull. However, there are those rare times where the hunters attack alongside the asteroids. This not only makes the stages go by faster, but they also become more dynamic, challenging, and fun. Granted, sometimes the hunters spawn too quickly, and this creates impossible-to-survive situations. Still, I can't help but think: "This is interesting." "I like this." "Why won't this happen more often?" Instead, the game feels a little too rote, and the constant hunter appearances only serve to drag the stages out. 

The bosses mix things up with a variety of attack-patterns, but they can also be really cheap. While fighting the second and third bosses, you're bound to get sucked into a lot of insta-death black-holes and laser-walls. Most of the boss-attacks can also block your weapons, which wastes time. The finicky controls and lousy hit-box add to the frustration. 

Asteroid Bounty Hunter could be a pretty solid game, but it's lacking in all of the attributes that matter. The interesting concept, great soundtrack and compelling level/upgrade-systems are undone by poor controls, boring stages, and cheap boss-fights. In its current state, I simply can't recommend it.

Note: Since this review was published, the developer has issued a patch that addresses these complaints. Expect an updated review in the future.