Astro Avenger is not just any top-down shooter. Developed by Sahmon Studio, this game not only features classic gameplay but amazing graphics, which aren't just eye-candy, and an interesting strategy element.
You play the role of a pilot whose mission is to battle through the rogue Emperor's pirate armada which has forcibly seized power. You must inform the imperial troops about the rebellion, but they are quite a distance away and your path is blocked by the enemy. Luckily, your ship is designed for long-term travel, which translates into a huge capacity for firepower.
The game plays much like a classic shooter. Enemies come at you from the top of the screen, and you can shoot at them, but the gameplay isn't as simple as it sounds. Initial encounters will involve weak enemies, but your weapons are also fairly weak. At the end of every stage you will be able to upgrade and repair your ship at the independent Vendor stations, and these Vendors are a huge part of the strategy of the game. As you get further along in the game, you realize that upgrade decisions you've made will have a huge impact on your ability to fight and survive in later stages. You could do massive upgrades on your laser weapon, but if you don't upgrade your battery, your time will be spent waiting for it to recharge while enemies swarm around you. Similarly, you can buy lots of missiles of various types to cut through the enemy forces, but if you don't upgrade your armor periodically you'll get destroyed by relatively few shots from stronger ships.
The enemies aren't just going to sit around while you shoot them of course. The pirates will react to your attacks in a number of ways. Some will come straight for you with gun blazing, while others will defensively move to the side hoping to get a shot in while you're distracted by other enemies. While you can't aim sideways, you can draw them out with your movements, and homing missiles can always take care of those hard-to-reach enemies. Some enemies are powerful, slow, and lumbering. They hurt, but you can force them to face up and then quickly move in behind them to attack them without worry. Other enemies are incredibly quick, but have low armor, so they can be destroyed relatively easily, but they become a serious threat when in groups of more than three or with mixed groups. Dodging a single shot is easy, but avoiding multiple shots, missiles, and laser beams all at once is a real challenge. Also note that enemy shots can also hit other enemies so you can use that to your advantage.
As you go through the different stages, new enemy ship types will appear. Some will have incredible armor and may seem impossible to destroy, such as the attack planes, bombers, and the destructive commodores. Platforms and astroliners are massive ships or stations that have been converted to military use by the pirates. Turrets get upgraded, making them more destructive and heavily armored. When facing an incredible number of enemies at once, it helps to make use of the various missiles available to you to turn the tide in your favor.
While your laser is your main weapon, and you can upgrade it about 25 times, sometimes bigger payloads are necessary. Plain ballistic missiles are cheap and useful, but homing missiles will be able to turn and go after enemies to your side and behind you. Medusa's are explosive missiles that will split into six other missiles in various directions. Nukes act as smart bombs and destroy everything on the screen, which is very useful when you're running out of battery and have way too many targets. My favorite weapon was the Swarm cluster bomb. Launching multiple small homing missiles, you can cause massive damage to multiple enemies. I loved using Swarms on the laser-toting astroliners. Normally they will shoot beams and launch kamikaze ships, but a few well placed Swarms will knock them out before they fire a shot.
After so many stages are completed, you will fight one of the impressive and powerful bosses. These battles can be difficult, but I find it is best to take out the smaller and easier enemies first so you can concentrate all your energy on defeating the boss. Winning the battle treats you to more of the story and leads you to more action.
Astro Avengers also has multiple difficulty levels, so Easy will have the enemies easing up on you while Hard will have them gunning right for you immediately. The game also lets you publish your high score, allowing you to compete not only against yourself but other players. The game has plenty for shooter fans, especially those who liked the Airstrike series.
From the ship models to the special effects, Astro Avenger looks incredible. The animation is very polished, and exploding ships fall apart into space. This effect is especially cool to watch when you destroy large astroliners as you can watch various parts of the carrier split apart. Definitely top-notch.
The music gets repetitive, but the explosion sound effects are great. Larger explosions are more impressive sounding, and your different laser upgrades have their own distinct sounds.
The game is very easy to pick up and play, and it provides options to use a mouse, joystick, or keyboard controls. I preferred to use the mouse, and it was very intuitive.
The game's 50 stages, multiple difficulty levels, and hiscore system should provide plenty of bang for buck. Also, the upgrade strategy you pick can completely change the nature of the game from one session to the next. You can also save and pick up where you left off later which is a must for the busy gamer.
Imagine playing classic games like Galaga, only ships can attack you from all angles and you can make use of a range of weaponry to fight back. On top of that, you need to think about your upgrade strategy since it affects how easy later stages will be. Sahmon Studio improved on the old formula quite well.
Playing the game a few times allows you to try out different strategies. Massive laser power, low armor? Lots of swarm missiles, low laser tech? And the gameplay itself is a blast.
I was impressed by the incredible polish of the game and that I was having so much fun with it. While it may look like a simple shooter at first glance, playing it will reveal a strategy element that makes for enjoyably interesting game sessions.
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Asteroids, Atari: 80 Classic Games in One!, Atari Anniversary Edition, Battle Engine Aquila, AirStrike 3D: Operation W.A.T., Bandits: Phoenix Rising, Atari Arcade Hits, AirStrike 2
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