GameSpite Journal 12: Astro Warrior

GameSpite Journal 12 wants to make Sega-scented love to the part of your brain that still believes in print media, and the Blurb coupon code WONDERFUL will net you 15% off through the end of the month. It features cool grid-style page backgrounds for Master System retrospectives, such as this one:

By all accounts, Astro Warrior is unremarkable. It’s a competent 8-bit shooter; but being as it is a product of the ’80s, it falls victim to many of the nostalgia-shattering tropes that plagued early consoles in their first strides away from their quarter-hungry arcade brethren. Unforgiving controls are the worst offender, with speed powerups making it simultaneously easier to evade enemies and more difficult to avoid crashing into them. Add to that the kind of relentless difficulty that justifies a game with only three zones: Every powerup must be greedily and hastily collected, culminating in a multi-option death machine that slices through entire fleets of enemy fighters… until any single mistake strips you back down to the base ship, stranded in a now-overwhelming sea of enemy units and fire.

But I was young and oblivious to concepts like design and quality. I played the first stage over and over, each frustrated rage-quit lasting only a few minutes before my next attempt. (After all, my only other option was Altered Beast.) Glossed over as my memories of the game are, I’m sure I never conquered Zanoni, the first of the game’s three bosses; but that didn’t keep me from playing the game, nor did it keep me from remembering it as awesome 20 years later.

See, my mother worked part-time at the local hospital. A few days a week, after picking me and my brother up from school, she’d take us back with her to work the last few hours of her shift. That Master System in the children’s recovery room was the most advanced video game system we had ever seen. That we had never seen past the first stage was a detail as easily ignored then as the game’s design flaws are now (with the benefit of rose-tinted glasses, of course).

Playing the game now, I think about everything that was just a little bit beyond me back then. At first, I think about my younger self, always falling just short of getting to that second level. Yet, when I look past the surface, I see how blissfully unconcerned I was with the circumstances that introduced me to the game in the first place. To me, going to the hospital was tantamount to visiting an arcade; but to my mother, it was the sacrifice she made to provide for us. It was time spent for the benefit of, but away from, what she cared about most: Home and family.

Today, Astro Warrior can only really survive through nostalgia. It’s a fragment of a lost era that even modern retro games don’t dare recreate. For some, that might strip the game of all value; but, in the end, nostalgia isn’t about the object of a memory as much as the context that it returns us to. Astro Warrior might be objectively unremarkable, but to me it will always be a reminder of my mother—a symbol of her dedication to her children and her family. For that, it will always be a classic in my book.

Article by Jonathon Anderson

GameSpite Journal 12Astro Warrior (Master System)

2 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Astro Warrior

  1. I’m not even sure you COULD beat him! Every time you finished him off, the game would “surely revive Zanoni,” forcing you to struggle through another round so you could fight him again.

    And yes, the game was pretty bog-standard; not really that different from Star Soldier or Star Force or my own peculiar fascination, Alpha Mission. I was always convinced there was a damned good game hidden somewhere beneath the confusing rules and the overabundance of power ups, but I never could find it. I really ought to revisit the Neo-Geo sequel to see if it was an improvement.

    (Also, best Master System shooter? Power Strike. Or R-Type, if you prefer a side view perspective.)

  2. Always did like this game, but again, it’s for totally nostalgic reasons. For one thing, there just wasn’t much else being offered for my aunt/uncle’s (whom I visited frequently) Master System; for another thing, I had, and still have, absolutely no interest in this type of shooter. Hard as the game was, it seems pretty accessible to me now.

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