The best looking version of Asteroids I've ever played is the Vectrex version which plots all its graphics as vectors, rather like the original Star Trek arcade machine, and still manages to feel incredibly futuristic despite being over 40 years old. Since I was introduced to the Vectrex version, every time I've seen Asteroids with raster graphics instead of vector ones I've been disappointed. Trickysoft's new port of the original Atari arcade ROM to the BBC Micro is a black and white raster version and it's another 'new' game for a machine that already boasts quite a few Asteroids conversions already. So is this worth a download?
Well, perhaps. Not, I hasten to add, because it's amazingly good, but because it absolutely stands alone in the world of BBC Micro games in one crucial respect. Ladies and gentleman, I give you... the first BBC Micro game ever (well, at least to my knowledge) that runs in Mode 0!
Now Mode 0, to all those unfamiliar with the BBC's architecture, is a very peculiar Mode indeed. What's that, you say? What the fudge-fingers is a Mode anyway? Well, essentially the BBC Model B has 32K but, if you're designing a game on it, the first question you should ask yourself is which of its eight Modes will allow you to best employ that 32K to suit the game you're designing. Some Modes are black and white only, but programs execute extremely quickly in them, others allow sixteen different colours, but at a cost of game speed and with a lot of flicker.
Mode 0 is the BBC's highest resolution mode, black and white only, and rendering at 640 x 256 pixels. And it proved to be more or less totally useless back in the Eighties. Most TVs were 320 x 256 pixels, which meant the Mode was useless on them. Only monitors would show the Mode correctly but, with such a high resolution display, available memory was reduced - meaning you had only about 6K to play with... and, as if this wasn't crap enough, when loading and saving in this Mode, the display was completely blanked out! So, as you can imagine, developers stayed well away from programming anything in it at all.
So yes, an actual game in Mode 0, eh? That's definitely intriguing enough alone to pull in the Beebsters. And, as it happens, Asteroids isn't all that bad. You are plonked in a laser ship in the the middle of a bunch of floating asteroids and the idea is to thrust around, loosing off bullets, and splitting the asteroids into smaller and smaller pieces until they disappear. The playing area is rather large and, as I've just explained, the resolution is very high indeed.
The problem is that it's another game from 1979 that, when ranked next to BBC space-based classics like games like Elite and Exile, is so boring that exposure to it for more than fifteen seconds is likely to send you into a coma. The Superior/Acornsoft Asteroids clone, Cosmic Camouflage, is a lot more fun to play. The high resolution of Asteroids, which initially seems to be a big plus, actually ends up working against its playability... because it's much more difficult to hit anything on a high resolution playing area than a low resolution one.
However, notwithstanding this, I do think this might well find its fans. Asteroids is almost universally loved, and some people do really seem to enjoy racking up scores on it in the hundreds of thousands. This BBC version really is the game at its most simple, smooth, fast, with no frills, passable sound and a claim to fame as far as Mode 0 goes. In that sense, there's nothing really to dislike. So if you're a fan of Asteroids or if, indeed, you've never played it before, then this might well be your 'must have' game of 2020. Oh, and it's one of those games that you get a lot better at with practice too, so don't be discouraged if you initially struggle to avoid all those rasteroids/vectorites!