This is it. Judgement Day. They say the Amiga's dying, you know. They say it's got maybe two years left in it at the most as a viable games platform. Several major software publishers have jumped ship already, and many more are teetering on the edge, watching and waiting. SNES, Mega Drive, Mega CD, 3DO and half-a- dozen other potentially-lucrative new formats lurk offstage with beckoning fingers, luring talented developers away like sirens on craggy reefs. And let's face it, you know why, don't you? It's the dreaded P-word.
YO HO HO ETC.
Future Publishing (the company which publishes AMIGA POWER) recently held a forum between a whole busload of software house types. One of them estimated that for every game sold on the Amiga these days, 25 pirated copies were in circulation. No-one disagreed with him. Now, while no-one's arguing that if there was no piracy, every one of those 25 pirates would have bought the original, the certain truth is that some of them would (let's say, ooh, I don't know, just 10%), and that adds up to an awful lot of lost money for the publishers. Yeah, yeah, I can hear your heart bleeding from here, but hang on a minute. It doesn't matter if you think they're talking rubbish or not. It doesn't matter whether you think they've got a justified complaint or that they're all just going to have to drive one Ferrari instead of two this year. It doesn't matter if you think they're greedy fat-cat rip- off merchants who've had it coming to them for years. It doesn't matter.
This game is hard and all the better for it.
What matters is that they're fed up of it and they're off to lusher pastures and uncopiable formats. It's going to have to stop, or our machine's going to die.
"But we can't afford to stop pirating!", you cry. "Games are too expensive!" Well, that's true. Unfortunately, if you keep pirating and kill the £30-a-game Amiga market, what you'll be left with is the £50- and- upwards-a- game- and-no- budgets-or- compilations- either console market, but let's forget that a moment. Let's stick with the price issue for a rnoment. "Make games cheaper we'll buy more!" goes the plea. Mindscape listened to us all a while back and brought out a fabulous full-quality game, D/Generation, at the more sensible price of £19.99 (which even fell to £14.99 just a couple of months later). Copies sold, ever? About 12. Quack-quack oops. You blew it.
Now you're getting the luxury of a second chance, and frankly I reckon it'll be the last one. Another software publisher has brought out a great game and decided to sell it at a reasonable price. Stardust is brilliant (and if that's what you wanted to glean from this review rather than listen to a lot of shouting from me, further elaboration will be forthcoming in just a moment) and it costs 17 quid. If you want it, BUY it. The consequences of any other action, well, you just don't want to think about them. Really.
So, enough hectoring. What's Stardust like? Well, it's like Asteroids, obviously. I don't know about you lot, but it gladdens my heart to see good old- fashioned, challenging, blasting games back in vogue. For a while it seemed like we were doomed forever to tedious platform games and beat-'em- ups that you could finish in an afternoon, but the likes of Overkill, Uridium 2 and this have brought back the almost-forgotten thrill of not knowing whether you're going to get to the end of the next level or not, rather than the empty curiosity of wondering how many continues it would take before you either saw the end sequence or completely lost interest and fell asleep trying. Do you remember that feeling?
Remember why you got into video games in the first place? I do, and it wasn't to go through the same old motions in Sonic 56 every other month, or even worse, some half-arsed, half-hearted, half-baked imitation. Let's make no mistake about it - this game is hard, and all the better for it. It's not just hard because it overwhelms you with weight of numbers, either - each new level seems to throw some weird kind of different new enemy at you, and every one's got a new and frightening of trying to kill you. The last thing you expect from an Asteroids game is variety, but Stardust's got it in spades, and not just in the Asteroids sections.
Surprise the living daylights out of all the baddies.
The tunnel sequences are a work of art in themselves (as you should have seen in our demo back on issue 28), and you also get a couple of voluntary special missions where you can pick up (or lose) several extra lives. These play a bit like Thrust (which is extra-nasty given the lack of keyboard controls), there's no shooting in them, and the slow, careful pacing does make for a welcome break from the intensity of the main game, if not exactly a relaxing one.
The most pleasing aspect of the game overall, though, is probably the presentation of it.
No 'Disk Accessing... Please Wait' messages here - loading is masked to some extent by plot explanation (and a great plot it is too, all about a mad evil professor and his agents disguised as meteors), and the atmosphere is never broken. The weapon system is particularly brilliant, too. You get five types of weapon, power- up able to various levels, which you can switch between via a menu screen. The great thing, though, is that you can redirect power-up tokens to weapons other than the one you're actually using. This means that you can pick up a good but weakly- powered weapon, keep blasting away with a less-impressive but powered-up one, and pick up power-up tokens which then beef up the better weapon in waiting, until you can suddenly switch to it and surprise the living daylights out of all the baddies with major-league firepower.
Complaints? Only one, really. Asteroids was always supposed to be played with the keyboard. You shouldn't have to stop thrusting to put your shield on (as you do here, since thrust is forward on the joystick and shield is back), and grabbing a floating power-up shouldn't be a task as hard as shooting an end-of-level boss. The control system in Stardust works perfectly well once you get used to it, but it never gets as intuitively natural as it would do with keys, and it spoils the feel for me just a tiny but which is why the mark at the end of this review isn't as high as it might otherwise have been.
I'd have loved to give Stardust a score in the 90s simply because I enjoyed it so much, but the lack of keyboard control is a flaw (especially when it comes to the special mission sections, where the extremely intricate manouevering reguired is nothing short of a nightmare when using a joystick) and it really ought to be penalised. But finding faults in things for the sake of it is my job - don't let it put you off this superb game. I'd been beginning to think that I was just a miserable jaded old grouch and that I'd never feel heart- racingly excited while playing a video game again but now I know that it's just that the games haven't been good enough. Let your enthusiasm be born again - buy Stardust