Review: Astro Warrior (Master System)

The Sega Master System is a quirky little system. When you think of the original Nintendo, the Genesis, or even the Playstation, you can instantly think of a handful of games that defined that system.Playing the word association game with the Sega Master System likely conjures up nothing. I've heard of many gamers getting a Master System for the first time, doing a quick play of the games including, and wondering why in the world people love Sega's 8-bit machine so much. It's games like Astro Warrior that leave a bad first impression for many would be collectors.

Astro Warrior is a Sega Master System exclusive title released by Sega in 1986. It's a vertical shmup set in space. There are just 3 levels, called zones: Galaxy Zone, Asteroid Zone, and Nebula Zone. The 3 levels all look rather similar, with a scrolling black star field, and generic tile based platforms that occasionally scroll beneath you. The end of each level features a boss battle with a generic looking ship. Yawn.

The main gimimick in Astro Warrior are the tiles. In order to power up your ship, you need to shoot at tiles that are littered throughout the platforms. Despite each tile having different pictures and symbols on them, they really don't mean anything. What does matter is how many you shoot. After shooting twelve, a speed powerup will float down the screen. After that is a triple shot, a laser, and some mini ships that will assist you.

The triple shot and laser are the two different weapons that you can have. I prefer the triple shot as it shoots much quicker. The laser shoots slower, but travels straight through enemies to also kill whatever is behind them. You can collect up to 2 mini ships that follow in your path and shoot whatever weapon you have equipped. Additionally, these mini ships destroy enemies on contact. You can position them in front of you to act as a shield. Overall, they are my favorite part of the game. Lastly, you can collect up to 6 levels of speed boost, to really make you fly around the screen.

Like many games of this type, not dieing is the name of the game. Once you die, you lose all of your power-ups. Without the power-ups, your ship is way to slow to dodge the quick enemies and bullets of the last two levels. This means that once you die once, chances are you are going to lose the rest of your lives fairly quickly.

The other main problem with Astro Warrior is the lack of variety. The 3 levels all look, and play, fairly similar, and repeat once you beat them. On most versions of the game, the levels loop endlessly until you lose all of your lives. On the Hang On/Astro Warrior cart, the game ends on the third loop. The second time through, and thereafter, enemies move and shoot quicker.

Adding to the mediocrity are the enemies. They feature little animation, and don't look very interesting. Some look like wagon wheels, others are simple circles that rapidly change colors. Lame. In fact, the game just isn't that interesting to look at. About the only positive I can say about the visuals is that the basic nature of the game means the dreaded Master System flicker is avoided completely.

Astro Warrior actually has some decent music. Each of the three levels features a unique tune that fits the era of this game quite well. It's upbeat and catchy and really defines the kind of sound that came from arcade shooters in the 80's. The weapon sounds and explosions are strictly average though.

I've really been digging shmups lately, and have played some of the genre's best. I though that I would enjoy this game, but I really didn't. The game is flawed, as dieing means your ship moves slower than what is required to complete the stage. The lackluster level design, and the fact there are only three levels, leave a lot to be desired.

As I eluded to at the begining of this review, Astro Warrior is the kind of game that has gamer's scratching their heads wondering what is so special about the Sega Master System. The game is extremely common, like many of the Sega Master System's average games, meaning when you begin collecting for the system, you are going to come across this game. If you want a shmup that is both enjoyable, and showcases the power of this machine, check out the excellent R-Type.

Overall, Astro Warrior isn't that great, in fact, it's not even good. The game play is flawed, the enemies are boring, and the level design is uninspired. The catchy music does help, but not enough to matter. Fans of the genre will likely get some enjoyment of the title, but for everyone else, don't even bother.

Graphics 4/10 - Bland
Sound 6/0 - Catchy tunes
Game play 4/10 - Uninspired and flawed
Overall 4/10 - For fans only