Asteroids Deluxe was an old arcade game released by Atari Games way back in 1981 (the game itself claims 1980, but the first one didn't ship until May of 1981).

The story

The original Asteroids proved to be wildly popular, but there was one problem. The game was simply too easy for expert players (many people could play for hours on a single quarter). So Atari decided to make a more difficult sequel, "Asteroids Deluxe". They succeeded a little too well, and had to scale the difficulty back after their inital version proved to be too difficult for the average player.

The game

If you have played Asteroids, then you already know how to play this game. I will quickly go over the differences, then you can skip down to the next section. The hyperspace button has been replaced with a shield, and your craft can accelerate twice as fast, but it still maintains the same maximum speed. Finally the game has added a new dangerous enemy, and the playfield has been covered with a color overlay of an asteroid field.

If you are an experienced Asteroids player, then you can skip these next two paragraphs.

You pilot a small wedge shaped ship, and you begin play in the middle of an asteroid field. Large slow moving asteroids surround you, when shot they break into two medium sized asteroids, which will each break into three small, fast moving asteroids. Shooting the small asteroids makes them disappear. Your goal is simply to eliminate all the asteroids from the playing field, while avoiding anything that would cause you to lose a life (touching an asteroid, or getting shot by a flying saucer).

The playfield consists of a single screen (which wraps around in each direction). Your controls consist of five buttons which are "rotate right", "rotate left", "thrust", and "shield". The ship moves rather realistically for a zero gravity craft, which means that it keeps moving even after you stop thrusting. This takes a little practice to get used to, but it really enhances gameplay, as it allows you to do fly-bys of asteroids and enemy ships.

There are three types of flying saucers that you might encounter. The first type is large, slow moving, and stupid. These are quite easy to shoot down. While the second type is small, moves quickly, and is more intelligent in its actions. These are worth a lot of points, but are dangerous to approach. The third kind is a large hexagon shaped ship (the "Killer Satellite"), that breaks into smaller ships when shot (these all come straight for you, which makes this a difficult enemy).

The Machine

This particular machine was released in three different formats; an upright, a cabaret, and a cocktail. With the upright being the most common, and the cabaret being the least common. All three versions were nearly pin compatible with an original Asteroids boardset, only a few wires had to be swapped.

The upright was a rather interesting looking design that actually bulged out toward the player from the control panel on up (there is nothing wrong with that design, but something about it just looks "wrong" to me). Atari went all out with the sideart on this one, it completely covers the sides from the floor to the top of the machine (it is a scene of a ship in an asteroid field, similar to the one on Asteroids, but more detailed). The control panel layout is a little more subdued than the red, white, and blue monstrosity on the original Asteroids. Just a dark surface, a few instructions, and some buttons (this title did not use a joystick, although it plays well with one).

The cocktail version was almost identical in appearance to the original Asteroids cocktail (and just about every other Atari cocktail). It was black and woodgrain, with only a minimum of ornamentation behind the glass.

The cabaret version (a cabaret is a mini upright that is less than 5 feet tall), is an ugly little creature, with woodgrain sides and a black front. The nameplate is down low on the machine near the coin mechs (which makes the game hard to identify at first). Finally, this version uses a 13" monitor instead of the normal 19" monitor.

Where to play

You can play this title using the MAME emulator (or one of several vector only emulators). Just be aware that you have to download the "artwork" file separately (that is the background picture for the game). I do not believe this particular title was ported to any console systems (feel free to correct me if I am wrong on that one).

This is an excellent title to add to your arcade game collection. It is a bit more challenging than the original Asteroids (which means you won't get bored of it), and often sells for a cheaper price as well (despite the fact that it is a whole lot rarer). I would advise against the purchase of a cabaret style machine, as they are a bit on the homely side, and they have smaller monitors, which are nearly impossible to find replacements for today. You should also keep in mind that vector games tend to have a few more problems than other titles due to their complexity.