Retro Gaming Challenge Week Eleven: Asterix (Sega Master System)

Trends in games come and go, and as they do, a lot of average games emerge. Asterix for the Sega Master System is one of those.
Editor’s note: If you came here to vote on my next game, that’s at the bottom of the review. Just scroll down, but while you’re here, you may as well read the words. You might even learn something!
We’re into the proper double digits now, which gives me more impetus to keep this rather silly challenge going. For anyone joining us afresh, I’m going to play one retro title from collection, as voted for by the readership, and write up thoughts and reviews of the titles I play on an ongoing basis.
Here’s the range so far:
Retro Gaming Challenge Week One: Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation (N64)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Two: Donkey Konga (Gamecube)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Three: The Firemen (SNES)
Retro Games Challenge Week Four: Space Invaders (2600)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Five: Three Dirty Dwarves (Saturn)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Six: Trog (NES)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Seven: Robocop vs The Terminator (Megadrive)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Eight: James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Xbox)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Nine: Godzilla Generations (Dreamcast)
Retro Gaming Challenge Week Ten: Devil Dice (PSOne)

Asterix: Sign O’ The Times

I’ve been thinking this week about trends in gaming. It’s inescapable as E3 rolls around, because the hot trends right now – mostly open world stuff and military shooters – predominate the hype. It hit particularly hard considering there were military shooters being spruiked the day after the Orlando massacre with only the perfunctory silence at the start of some events to mark it. A tough balancing act, to be sure.
Still, if you want to make a successful game right now, make it either open world or an FPS, or possibly both. That ticks the list for an awful lot of the E3 fare this year, and indeed the games fare of the last ten years or so; you could if you wished blame Call Of Duty for all of this, although naturally it didn’t invent the First Person Shooter genre.
At this point you might be wondering what on earth this has to do with the adventures of a Gaulish cartoon warrior, circa 1991. Here’s the thing: Just as Military Killer: Guns Go Bangy Bang* is the trend of the now, back in 1991, if you had a game concept or idea, or especially a licensed title, you pretty much did one simple thing with it.
You made a platform game that tried to ape the success of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros.
You did.

Asterix suspects that there might be something dodgy about that flower.
Asterix suspects that there might be something dodgy about that flower.

Everyone did, whether it was Robocop, Lethal Weapon, Home Alone, Mickey Mouse, The Addams Family, Batman… I could go on. Quality varied widely, and some of them were more “action” plaformers than others, but platform games were the style at the time.
People talk of console generations, and while power has improved such that a barely noticeable freckle on a minor character’s arm takes up more storage space than the entire catalog of 16-bit consoles combined**, what I suspect has really happened is that we’ve had lead game generations.
Space Invaders led to a flood of copycats, derivative (and in some cases excellent) knockoffs, and for many people, either that or Pac-Man (which was also endlessly copied and cloned) defined that early generation. Platformers were the next big thing, seeing through both the 8 and 16 bit generations handily, and even somewhat into the 32 bit era when you consider how deeply influential Super Mario 64 was. From there, we move into 3D and the dominance of both open world and FPS games that we’re constantly being sold hype about today.

Asterix: Not entirely boar-ing

Asterix sits dead in the middle of the “big games are platformers, so let’s make one” era, and for the most part it’s deeply, deeply average. The lead gimmick is that you can play levels as either Asterix or Obelix, and they naturally have different abilities so their approaches to levels varies a touch. Not massively, because this is still a standard platform game, but a little variety is a fine inclusion.
Still, Asterix hits all the cliches you’d expect. There are forced scrolling levels, and levels where you have to keep on moving platforms or you die. There are more than the usual amount of maze type levels, largely because each level has a key that must be found to unlock the final door. Sometimes the game design is downright lazy with this, placing the pot containing the key right next to the locked door, while at other times you’ll have to do a little back and forth sleuthing to unveil it.
Asterix is also guilty of a lot of the sins of the genre, whether it’s slightly iffy controls, especially towards the end levels, or having some sections scroll naturally off the bottom of the screen while others are deadly pits with no real indication of which type is which. There are swimming levels, there are snow levels, and there are levels where the floor rises and you’ve got to keep above it. Does anyone ever really enjoy those?

Asterix: Beat the clock

For some reason, Asterix also has a timer clock. Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with a timer, but in Asterix it’s essentially just a bonus points clock, because you’re given way more time than you would ever need to finish any level. This is true even if you do take your time to check out alternate paths and hidden treasures.

You will never, ever, not beat the clock in Asterix.
You will never, ever, not beat the clock in Asterix.

It’s all average and beyond a couple of specifically difficult sections later in the game that are more to do with control problems than a difficulty curve per se, it’s not terribly hard or lengthy on the whole. The final level is particularly insulting here; a chariot race that you’d almost have to try to fail in order to do so, even though you’re not told the controls in any real way. I aced it the first time through and was genuinely surprised that it was the finale, because it’s rather lame. All up, if you were so inclined, you could make your way through the entire game in under an hour very easily; I’m sure the speed run types could have a field day here.
The final level of Asterix is a real letdown compared to the rest.
The final level of Asterix is a real letdown compared to the rest.

Still, Sega’s heart was in the right place. Asterix looks like Asterix, and he uses a variety of magic potions. Getafix has been kidnapped, so you can’t have the legendary magic potion of strength. Instead Asterix makes do with explosive and gunge potions that blow up blocks and form bridges respectively. No such luck for Obelix, what with all that falling-in-the-potion-as-a-young-boy history to deal with. I’m not sure I’d want to know what an explosive potion would do to Obelix anyway.

Asterix: Who let the Obelix out?

For an 8-bit title Asterix’s animation is fine, as are the enemy figures, which predictably are mostly Roman legionaires in a variety of silly costumes. I’m less enamoured of Obelix, not because I bear him any ill will, but simply because his jumping animation has him put both hands forwards in the manner of a begging puppy. It looks weird for a mighty Gaulish warrior to be begging for treats every time he jumps.

Obelix should NOT look like an obedient puppy when he jumps. It's just... wrong!
Obelix should NOT look like an obedient puppy when he jumps. It’s just… wrong!

Asterix: So, not a good game?

Asterix isn’t a great game. It’s simply average, but I do think there’s a certain stigma against average games. Sure, if you’re limited in budget and time there are better examples of the genre on the platform. I could have spent my time playing Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, for example, and that’s a much better game.
Still, I’ve got a lot of affection for Asterix. Maybe that’s to do with coming from a family where literally every adult parent was a French teacher, but that at least would explain why I bothered playing the generally awful Asterix: Megaslap, or for that matter the equally atrocious Asterix: Total Retaliation. Asterix has a hard time with good games, so even the average ones stand out.
Equally I’ve got fond memories of the Master System, because it was the first console I bought with my own money, pretty much back around the time Asterix came out for it. My copy came into my hands much later, and this is the first time I’d actually played it to completion. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t truly terrible, and if you’re a fan of Asterix it’s fair but simple fun.

Where can I get it?

Asterix, as a licensed title, is one of those games that will almost certainly never see the light of day on an official virtual console style service, because Sega doesn’t hold the rights to it any more. As far as I can see it was only released for PAL territories back in the day, although it’s far from rare.
It should run you about $20, bearing in mind that there are two Asterix games for the Master System; this one is sometimes referenced as “Asterix and the Great Rescue”, although my cartridge simply calls this particular game “Asterix” anyway, as distinct from “Asterix and the Secret Mission”, which I really ought to pick up. Asterix shouldn’t (at the time of writing) cost you more than about $20 Australian based on current asking prices.
You can hunt for copies on eBay (affiliate link) here.

Next week

The Lynx never sold in enormous quantities, so it’s perhaps not that surprising that voting was a little slower this week. Still, the Internet’s choice for which game I should play went through several variants until a very late surge of vote changes put arcade conversion Toki over the line.
I should be grateful. It could have been Pit Fighter. I’m not sure I could live through that.
So Toki it shall be next week, followed by my first theme week.
Instead of concentrating on a particular system – and I’ve still got a few of those to go – I’m going to go with a theme. As certain Twitter commentators have gleefully informed me, they enjoy the idea of voting for the terrible games that I’ve suggested, just to see if I’ll play them.
Silly people. Of course I will.
So that’s what I’ve done, dredging through the collection to collect the worst in their categories. Some are ex-review titles, while others came in bulk lots or were just poor judgement on my part. Only one of them ever earned my review ire enough to get a 0/10 score, though. Bonus points if you can work out which one it was.
No, I don’t have a copy of E.T for the 2600, although I’ll play one if anyone feels like sending one my way. I did play all the way through WWC:World Wrestling Championship, though, so I clearly do understand suffering.
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*I’ll be announcing that one at next year’s E3. You heard it here first.
**Probably. Might even be more.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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