Asterix vs Mario! Alex vs An Obscene Tangle Of Cables! Obelix vs… a really ancient midget?
Game #19: Asterix
Format: Sega Master System
My Copy Is: A cartridge. That’s all. Just a cartridge. More on that shortly.
Ah, Asterix. Being the child of heavy duty francophiles, my youthful days were spent with more than my fair share of the Gaulish hero and his rotund chum Obelix — and I definitely wasn’t complaining. I do complain these days about the rather ludicrous prices that the hardcover volumes fetch here in Australia. But that’s a whine for another day.
I know going in that this game’s covering a subject area dear to my heart, and indeed that its prospects in the open market probably aren’t worth my time, what with it lacking a case. Or instructions. Or even the slightest hint of roast wild boar.
I should explain why I’ve got this with no box (and, indeed, why I have a large number of Master System cartridges sans box, probably more than for any other retro system). A number of years ago, when I was working at ZDNet, the then editor of GameSpot (Hi Ed!) wanted to shift stuff that was cluttering up his home, including his Master System. I didn’t need the spare master system, coming as it did with an AV cable that was 97% sticky tape, 2% electronics and 1% hoping-it-will-workitude, but I did want the games. Cash changed hands, and the games were mine. Mostly sans cases, which was an odd thing for Master System games.
I can deal with most of Nintendo’s pre-Gamecube era games coming without boxes, as they all shipped in cardboard boxes that were never going to survive the attentions of most kids, but Master System games came in hard plastic boxes. I never did ask Ed why it was he’d dumped most of the boxes. Oh well. On with the game!
Ten Minutes Later
Actually, it’s more like twenty, as I discover to my embarrassment that the Master System’s the one console that’s actually not plugged in. So off to a collection of cable boxes I go to find a working RF switch, then a power supply, then a controller. And then to work out how to incorporate it into a retro games setup that already accommodates (from top to bottom) an N64, a SNES, A Mega-CD/Megadrive, A PSOne, A Saturn, A Dreamcast, a PS2, Two Gamecubes, an Atari 7800 (with its own great backstory, if you’ve never read it before) and an NES. Let’s just say that there’s lots of cables, more than one switching box and a certain amount of blind luck when I try to work out exactly how it all.. works. Which it does, and now the Master System’s in sequence with all of them. Huzzah. We now return to the scheduled ten minutes of actual, y’know, gaming.
And after all that, Asterix (SMS) is a Super Mario Bros clone. Which isn’t all that surprising — pretty much any given game in the 8-bit era was a Mario clone, more or less. In my haste to get going after all the plugging, cabling and tuning, I skip right through the story, but it’s almost certainly that Getafix has gone missing or been kidnapped by the Romans. Again. Perhaps he and Princess Peach should form a support group.
As an 8-bit platform game, Asterix is a bit empty. There’s a lot of ground to traverse, but not that many enemies, although in deference to the source material, there’s more hitting and less bottom bouncing to be seen in this particular game. And a few liberties as well, starting with Obelix’s ability to carry around exploding menhirs.
An exploding menhir would make Obelix cry, and make Dogmatix angry. That’s a bad combination.
Speaking of Obelix (you play alternately as Asterix then Obelix on each level), he’s got this weird animation when he jumps where he sticks his hands out, puppy style. It rather makes him look like a strangely effeminate chubby T-Rex, and it’s not.. quite right. That having been said, apart from the kind of flicker you’d associate with any of the games of this generation, the visuals are spot on, with lots of Romans in silly costumes and nice bright tones.
Oh, and I was right; it looks like Getafix has been nabbed by Rome yet again, based on a brief interstitial frame in-between the first and second levels.
As I played through my ten minutes, though, my dissatisfaction with how Obelix has been treated grew. Obelix’s enemies tend towards the.. well, weird is the only word that really fits. The end of the first level boss for Asterix? That’d be a wild boar, well within series canon.
Obelix beats up an ancient midget who looks rather like Geriatrix, only much shorter. He’s not even much of a challenge, as he jumps straight up in the air and waits for Obelix to thump him on the head. I felt embarrassed that the strongest man alive in Gaul is lowered to thumping senior citizens. It didn’t get any better in the second level, either, where Obelix faces off with, for reasons I still can’t quite fathom, a muscled dude in bike leathers who summons bats to attack you. No, really. I don’t recall him from any of the classic bande dessinée… perhaps he’s in one of the crappy new ones.
Ten Minute Game Verdict: A keeper. It’s not great, and Mario-style platformer clones are in abundance on 8-bit platforms, but my love for the original IP pushes it over the edge into acceptability. Plus, a single cartridge takes up very little space. Perhaps that’s why Ed got rid of them…