Developer: Irondales Entertainment | Publisher: Irondales Entertainment | Release Date: 2021 | Genre: Action / Casual / Indie | Website: N/A | Purchase: Steam
It’s a tale as old as Space Invaders; an alien fleet from a distant universe has arrived in the solar system, and it is up to a single pilot in a powerful spaceship to thwart their invasion. However, Astro Ace has more in common with another retro classic, Asteroids. It is a single screen shooter that sees players fighting against endless waves of enemies while dodging their bullets and collecting weapons, bullets, energy, and power-ups. In a nice homage to Asteroids, there are also plenty of these space rocks floating about and breaking into pieces when shot.
There have been countless Asteroids clones over the years, but Astro Ace has a couple of tricks up its sleeves that prevent it from feeling too derivative. Although it is a single screen shooter, there’s no wrapping around the playing field. Instead, the screen is surrounded by radiation walls that cause instant death if players venture into them. The spaceship controlled by players is also constantly in motion, so remaining motionless while lining up your shots is not really an option. Furthermore, your ship has a turning radius, so players expecting to zip around the screen Geometry Wars style are in for a rude awakening.
From the get-go, it is undeniable that the odds in Astro Ace are stacked against players, but that doesn’t stop the game from being very addictive. Before each attempt, players can select their ship and load out from the hanger or leap straight back into the action to try again if they fail. Astro Ace is very much a game about chasing the highest score, and the leaderboard serves as an excellent motivator to keep trying. In true retro style, the game also makes sure to show at all times what your highest previous score was. The result is a game that is tough as nails but also very addictive.
Visually, Astro Ace is a decent-looking game with a very nineties feel. The graphics are colorful, and after a few power-ups, players will be looking at a screen filled with bullets, debris, and explosions. The downside is that it is easy to lose track of projectiles heading your way amidst all of the chaos. It’s telling that a lot of our runs ended after picking up the “Wingman Support” power-up that unleashes a fifteen-second barrage of bullets across the screen. While the power-up has to be earned by shooting down five elite ships, and it can cause devastation if used properly, it also makes it easy for a stray enemy bullet to slip through and take you down. Thankfully, the backdrops in the game are pretty but sparse enough that they don’t contribute to the visual clutter. Another feature that we appreciate is the arrows that appear to show from where off-screen enemies are coming.
Astro Ace doesn’t have a lot of variety when it comes to the music, but the main theme playing in the background complements the action without becoming a distraction. The sound effects are typical arcade shooter fare, and we don’t have any complaints apart from the “Wingman Support” bullet sounds that, for some reason, are much louder than the rest of the effects. Astro Ace is best played with a controller, and it has rumble support with adjustable intensity. There’s a bit of a learning curve to the controls as your ship is constantly in motion. It is possible to use the brake button to slow down and the boost button to quickly move out of harm’s way, but both consume energy. Once players run out of energy, they cannot use the brake or boost again, but luckily energy is dropped by defeated enemies. The same goes for bullets, which are finite and must be replenished by collecting drops from enemies.
Astro Ace starts you out with one ship, but your score is converted into experience points after each run. Earn enough experience points, and you level up, which unlocks new ships and load-outs. Ships all have different stats in areas such as their health, ammo, speed, bombs, turning radius, and energy, so it’s worth trying them all out. Players can also earn new color schemes for each ship, which is a nice touch. Unlocking new load-out options gives players more control over what weapons or support items they want to start with, but we have to admit that not all of them felt useful. Some weapons also feel very underpowered and will likely get you killed until their range or damage is upgraded. There are 14 unique primary weapons along with seven secondary weapons, which allows for a lot of interesting combinations. Unfortunately, the only way to switch weapons while playing is to collect them from destroyed enemies, making it easy to accidentally pick up a weapon you didn’t want if you are not paying attention.
Overall, Astro Ace is very addictive, but there’s no denying that the game is hard as nails. According to the global achievement stats, less than 6% of players have even managed to complete the first stage at the time of writing this review. In fact, the rarest achievement in the game is completing stage three, which less than 1% of players can boast about. This probably has a lot to do with the bosses in the game, which appear along with other enemies at the end of each level. Dealing with the swarms of regular enemies already takes a lot of coordination, but having a boss in between really ramps things up.
Despite the game wiping the floor with us most of the time, we managed to claw our way up the leaderboards to a somewhat respectable position in the Top 30 when writing this review and had a ton of fun along the way. Astro Ace really is the personification of “just one more go,” and seeing how affordable it is priced, we can’t complain too much about the difficulty or lack of different game modes. Some type of multiplayer mode to compete alongside or against a friend would have been very welcome, though. At the end of the day, Astro Ace delivers on what it promises but doesn’t shake up the genre in any significant way. Retro shooter fans will appreciate the challenge, and the game is addictive enough to keep players coming back for more. The low price tag also makes Astro Ace a title that can easily be picked up on a whim without regrets.
- OS: Windows® 7 64bits
- Processor: Intel Core2 Duo E6550
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000
- DirectX: Version 10
- Storage: 55 MB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Soundcard