Astro is a fun new DSiWare shooter that’s almost dragged down by a number of small annoyances.  Fortunately its classic gameplay still manages to shine through, thanks in large part to it’s terrific control, helping it to succeed in spite of itself.

One of the small annoyances with Astro is the visual package, which is decidedly mixed.  The opening and ending cut scenes are presented in an unattractive art style that’s seriously lacking in sharpness, and appears almost unfinished.  It doesn’t give the best first impression, and neither do the clunky polygonal ships.  However, there is good variety among them, and the large imaginative bosses in particular do make for some visual impact.  The pre-rendered background stills are attractive, and the game is colorful overall.  So while it is a dated look in most respects, the graphics do end up working all right.scr_004

Another annoyance  is the space ship selection menu, which is needlessly confusing due to a lack of any text and cryptic blurry icons.  It isn’t intuitive, and I had to consult the manual to figure out what was what, and how to navigate it.  This oversight annoyed me, and again made my initial impressions not favorable.  Thankfully this only comes up every so often, and once you learn the various icons and how to outfit your ship there’s no problem.

I grew to appreciate the game’s soundtrack; but only after I turned off the blaring sound effects.  They left much to be desired, and drowned out the games solid tunes.  Without the sfx however I was able to get into the games variety of music tracks, and I found them to be mostly enjoyable.

Some in game gripes I have are directed at the auto save feature and the continue option, both of which can potentially contribute to the challenge seeming unfair.  The former is designed to be helpful, but can prove devastating if you struggle and lose several lives on the higher difficulty settings.  Levels end with little warning, so if you think you may want to try again, better act on that hunch quickly.  An option to save manually would have been nice.  As for continuing, while the game does give you the option to do so if you exhaust all your lives, you’ll only resume with one.  Better to view it less as a continue and more of an option to load a saved game, which it essentially is.scr_007

It might sound like I’m being overly harsh on this game but I’ve saved the best for last, and thankfully it’s the gameplay.  The style of game (think Asteroids) is time tested, and Astro makes it work very well with an absolutely superb control scheme.  The standard button control is fine in itself, with each button corresponding to a different direction to fire in.  But the stylus control works even better … in fact I think it’s great!  Quick, and responsive, I can’t think of a single instance where I struggled with it.  It actually might be one of the finest uses I’ve seen of the DS touch screen … not in terms of scope of course, but in execution.   And it’s a good thing too, since there is lots of on screen action.  A game like this demands good control, and Astro far exceeds expectations in that regard! I’m struggling to articulate just how much the control added to my enjoyment with this game – it’s one of those situations you’d just have to experience first hand.  But it did make what would’ve been an average game much, much better.

People might ignore this download since it’s a DSiWare release, or because the trailer shows such dated visuals.  But in terms of gameplay Astro’s good fun, and an outstanding example of how touch screen control can be used to enhance a game experience. Attached to a classic formula, and slapped with a budget price, I can recommend it to gamers who grew up during the early days of our favorite hobby, when gameplay was king and good graphics were left to the imagination.  I had fun beating Astro, and for the price ($2.99) I think it’s a pretty good download.