Stardust is like Asteroids, obviously. I don't know about you lot, but it gladdens my heart to see good old- fashioned, challenging, blasting games back in vogue. For a while it seemed like we were doomed forever to tedious platform games and beat-'em- ups that you could finish in an afternoon, but the likes of Overkill, Uridium 2 and this have brought back the almost-forgotten thrill of not knowing whether you're going to get to the end of the next level or not, rather than the empty curiosity of wondering how many continues it would take before you either saw the end sequence or completely lost interest and fell asleep trying. Do you remember that feeling?
Remember why you got into video games in the first place? I do, and it wasn't to go through the same old motions in Sonic 56 every other month, or even worse, some half-arsed, half-hearted, half-baked imitation. Let's make no mistake about it - this game is hard, and all the better for it. It's not just hard because it overwhelms you with weight of numbers, either - each new level seems to throw some weird kind of different new enemy at you, and every one's got a new and frightening of trying to kill you. The last thing you expect from an Asteroids game is variety, but Stardust's got it in spades, and not just in the Asteroids sections.
The tunnel sequences are a work of art in themselves, and you also get a couple of voluntary special missions where you can pick up (or lose) several extra lives. These play a bit like Thrust (which is extra-nasty given the lack of keyboard controls), there's no shooting in them, and the slow, careful pacing does make for a welcome break from the intensity of the main game, if not exactly a relaxing one.
The most pleasing aspect of the game overall, though, is probably the presentation of it. No 'Disk Accessing... Please Wait' messages here - loading is masked to some extent by plot explanation (and a great plot it is too, all about a mad evil professor and his agents disguised as meteors), and the atmosphere is never broken. The weapon system is particularly brilliant, too. You get five types of weapon, power- up able to various levels, which you can switch between via a menu screen. The great thing, though, is that you can redirect power-up tokens to weapons other than the one you're actually using. This means that you can pick up a good but weakly- powered weapon, keep blasting away with a less-impressive but powered-up one, and pick up power-up tokens which then beef up the better weapon in waiting, until you can suddenly switch to it and surprise the living daylights out of all the baddies with major-league firepower.
Complaints? Only one, really. Asteroids was always supposed to be played with the keyboard. You shouldn't have to stop thrusting to put your shield on (as you do here, since thrust is forward on the joystick and shield is back), and grabbing a floating power-up shouldn't be a task as hard as shooting an end-of-level boss. The control system in Stardust works perfectly well once you get used to it, but it never gets as intuitively natural as it would do with keys.
I was always a fan of Asteroids. In terms of popularity it was the Street Fighter of its day. The Amiga has had its own version for some time but there has been little in the way of innovation since that version - until now. Finnish coders, Bloodhouse, have come along with Stardust. This super slick game takes the Asteroids concept, bolts on a few designer accessories and warps it into the '90s.
Set over 36 levels of rock blasting mayhem there is much more to Stardust than first meets the eye. For a start, the enemy is not just millions of tons of meteorite hurtling aimlessly through space. There are spaceships that drop mines, huge rotating spiky ball things, a mercurial blob that morphs into a huge head (à la Terminator 2) and a DNA snake that grows with each passing second. What is worse they do not just float about a bit, they come after you! Fortunately, your intergalactic space destroyer is equipped with a limited shield and the ability to bolt on extra weapons and stuff that get left behind by the odd exploding enemy. These add a touch of thought to the mindless blasting as certain weapons work better against specific opponents.
In addition, your warp between levels via a tunnel sequence that must be one of the fastest, smoothest sub-games this side of infinity. This section is so realistic I found myself ducking as the asteroids came flying out of the screen.
Utilizing fully ray-traced 3D graphics and pushing the Amiga's palette to its limit, Stardust is a dream to look at. The 3D sprites are incredibly vivid and have a texture mapped feel to them.
Perhaps the only real criticism is that it could have done with a few difficulty levels to keep you going for a while. That aside, it is amazing that a game as playable as this could have appeared with so little advance publicity. Download a copy now.
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