Stardust logo Gamer Gold

Let's take a stroll down memory lane and look at this Swedish Asteroids clone which has received a complete lick of 90s paint.

Do you remember the early days of computer games? Do you remember a particular wire-framed arcade-cum-pub classic, Asteroids? There won't be many who haven't seen some other version of this landmark in the annals of software history. I have vivid memories of entering my local tavern in an attempt to do battle with wireframed UFOs and the outlines of large chunks of rock. This was no mean feat as to play my favourite stand-alone piece of high technology, I had to get pass the disconcerting eyes of the landlord.

The lengths to which this reviewer went to as a young man just to satiate his desire for electronic mayhem were quite disturbing. Preparation would begin some five days before my sticky coinage got anywhere near the slot of the machine. The golden rule was to appear mature; this was perfected by exercising the right regime of not shaving.
No matter how much the scratching and itching persisted, shaving must be avoided. With this in mind, it was imperative to avoid the cat who would inevitably lick my bum-fluff off.
Preparation also involved stealing Dad's aftershave, saving school dinner money (expenses) and giving my boyish anatomy as much room as possible to keep my voice as low as was feasibly achievable - tight pants were definitely a no no.

Before all the planning felt in place, the big night would be upon me. Approaching the bar surreptitiously, with all the swagger and poise of someone at least 18, I would order my pint of insipid bitter, the disappear off to the arcade machine, not even touch the beer and regress to the mental age of a four-year old, blasting to my heart's content.

But that was then and this is now, and the industry has come a long way. However, it seems that the Amiga is about to be pushed that little bit further by Finnish programmers Bloodhouse.
Published under the Daze umbrella, Stardust is a spectacular version of the old Asteroids theme. The basic object is to clear the screen of asteroids and enemies while collecting all the bonuses and power-ups.

While it's a very simple game in essence, there is a tiny sub-plot. An evil professor has taken it upon himself to destroy the galaxy in its entirety and kidnap the beautiful princess Voi. To this end he has cunningly disguised his top agents as meteors which he's dispatched to go on the rampage.
You play the do-gooding chisel-chinned hero in your big manly pointy space ship, whose task it is to blow everything to pieces. OK., so there's the plot which really is purely incidental; the main thing the Bloodies (as we shall now call them) have been screaming about is that Stardust pushes the Amiga through new boundaries in graphical capabilities.

They've employed a ray tracing technique as yet unknown in the world of home computers. Stardust also uses 32 colours in the overscan mode. The program has taken a full year to complete and much of its hi-tech development is down to Bloodhouse's chief programmer. He was formally responsible for the development of Real 3D, possibly the best ray tracing packages available on the Amiga.

Playwise, there are dozens of Asteroids-lookalike levels to do battle in. After the successful clearance of each planet, you play a sub-game as you travel to your next destination. This is one of the most impressive routines ever to run on the Amiga and really does push its circuits to the limit. It's a fast rolling, mega-scrolling shoot-'em-up blitz which left all of us completely ga-ga. Really the screenshots don't do this aspect of Stardust any justice - seeing is believing.

The other great thing is that it comes at the bargain price of £16.99, though it's not a budget title by any means.
Stardust is going to be down as the definitive Asteroid clone for the Amiga. It's visually brilliant, sounds great and plays superbly.

The idea's a simple one, but works very effectively and at this bargain price, Stardust is unmissable. Now, you really can show off to all your mates who own consoles.

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Anyone here fancy a quick game of Asteroids?" I asked in a rare moment of extreme boredom. "No!" screamed the rest of the team, "you are so bloody nineteen seventies". I skulked about some more, kicked the filing cabinet a few times, wondering what it was that made that peculiar rattling noise (they had lost the key several years ago, about the same time they last saw Blinky, the cat) then delved into my bag (a rather cool Gordon and Smith rucksack, nothing girly). I re-emerged a few seconds later bearing a bundle of floppy disks.

"All right then. Anybody here want to play this fab new full-colour, ray-traced parallax-scrolling space shoot-em-up with dozens of action-packed levels, mindblowing sound effects and the best explosions I have ever seen in any computer game?".
Barely had I finished speaking when I was submerged beneath an avalanche of team members wielding joysticks, and shouting "baggsy me first".
A hushed silence fell over the team as the disks were inserted and a rather Star Wars intro revealed the story line. We did not pay any attention to it, nobody ever does, it did go on a bit though. Then came the scrolly starfield bit.

"Looks like a PD demo to me," muttered one or two of the team.
"That is because it is a Bloodhouse game, and they were part of the Silents demo crew," I explained. Next up, a request for disk two. But it did say 'in any drive' so second drive owners won't have to keep swapping.
I snapped disk two out of the elastic band, and into the drive. A flash intro filled the screen. As the game controls, and credits rolled over the top, the team prepared themselves for... Stardust.

The first player grasped their joystick, hit the fire button and was presented with a comprehensive options screen. Preferences set, the fire button was pressed once more, and they were playing.
"Wow, that is good!" was the first reaction, and that was just to the level select screen, a tasty pencil and graph paper sketch affair.
"Great graphics," was the next exclamation, as the game screen appeared.
"It is a bit slow, the light-sourced ship is not fast enough, this gun is a bit weedy," they continued.
"Collect the power up that says G for a more powerful weapon, and E for better engines," I advised.
"That is better," they agreed, relaxing as their now altogether more powerful ship completed another level.
"Whoa! What is this?"
"That is the superb into the screen shoot-em-up bonus section," I replied helpfully. But they were not listening. Instead they were thrusting this way and that, trying to avoid the huge meteors powering towards their small, but exquisitely-rendered, ship. And as they destroyed the rogue boulders, they scuttled round trying to collect the shiny gold power-ups that improved their defence.

I smiled quietly to myself. If only they could see themselves now, having the times of their lives. Playing Asteroids.

Mega Asteroids

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Gelegentlich trudelt ein Game zum Test ein, ohne daß man je zuvor davon gehört oder darüber gelesen hätte - und enpuppt sich als echte Top-Ballerei! So geschehen beim Erstlingswerk der Bloodhouse-Jungs.

Daß die finnischen Programmierer der Demoszene entstammen, merkt man an allen Ecken und Enden: Hier wird ein wahres Feuerwerk an Spezialeffekten abgebrannt! Eine Vorgeschichte hat man sich dafür gespart, aber mal Hand aufs Herz - wer braucht die schon, wenn nur die Action heiß genug tobt?

Prinzipiell handelt es sich beim Sternenstaub um einen "Asteroids"-Klon, wie es sie am Pd-Markt haufenweise gibt; freilich nicht in dieser Qualität. Sämtliche Animationen wurden nämlich mit einem Raytracing-Programm bewerkstelligt, so daß Meteoriten und Raumschiffe sehr real rotieren, zoomen oder sich sonstwie bewegen - eine vergleichbare Optik gibt es sonst nur in der Spielhalle! Der Spieler steuert seinen Raumer nur kreuz und quer durch das nicht scrollende Inferno und ballert vorrangig auf Weltraumgestein, das sich bei jedem Treffer teilt und schließlich in Wohlgefällen auflöst; je nach Farbe der Meteoriten sind dazu mehr oder weniger Treffer nötig. Zusätzlich tummeln sich feuerspeiende Feindschiffe, rotierende Spiegel oder messerscharfe Rundklingen am Screen, die bei Körperkontakt allesamt am Schutzschild nagen. Manche Gegner hinterlassen nach dem Exitus Sammel-Icons für frische Energie, Extraleben, bessere Beschleunigung oder Zusatzbewaffnung wie Dreifachschuß und Zielsuchraketen; die Waffen lassen sich dann in einem Menü einzeln an- oder abstellen.

Ganz einfach ist die Räumaktion jedoch nicht, denn der Schwierigkeitsgrad bringt selbst Ballerprofis ins Schwitzen, und ist erst das Zeitlimit verronnen, stürmen Dutzende von Gegnern gleichzeitig den Screen - wer hier überlebt, darf sich wahrlich auf die Schulter klopfen! Insgesamt 30 auf fünf optisch unterschiedliche Welten verteilte Levels gilt es so zu absolvieren, wobei Langeweile erst gar nicht aufkommen kann. Dafür sorgen immer neue, teils recht intelligent agierende Gegner, Oberbosse und Spielszenen. So gelangt man von einer Welt zur nächsten durch spektakuläre 3D-Warptunnels, in denen kräftig gezoomt wird, während sich Könner zwischendurch an einer Freiwilligen-Mission versuchen und in parallax scrollenden Bonushöhlen mit wunderschön wabbelndem Hintergrund Extraleben sammeln.

Mag das Spielprinzip also grundsätzlich auch bereits einen kilometerlangen Bart haben, hier stimmen Abwechslung und Technik: Die Animation setzt Maßstäbe, selbst die bunten Hintergrundgrafiken bleiben nicht unbewegt, und die Musikbegleitung entzückt zumindest Techno-Liefhaber - alle anderen dürfen die furiosen Sound-FX pur genießen.

Ein Genuß ist auch das hübsche Intro, zudem fallen die Nachladepausen angenehm kurz aus. Daß Stardust dennoch kein Hitprädikat einheimst, liegt an der abgenudelten Spielidee und der gewöhnungsbedürftigen Rotations-Steuerung, trotzdem darf man hier unbesorgt zuschlagen - schon wegen es erstaunlich günstigen Preises! (rl)

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There is this mad professor right, and he's got these agents disguised as meteors. No, honestly - I swear it's true.

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.

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

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I was always a fan of Asteroids. In terms of popularity it was the Street Fighter of its day. The Amiga has had its own version for some time but there has been little in the way of innovation since that version - until now. Finnish coders, Bloodhouse, have come along with Stardust. This super slick game takes the Asteroids concept, bolts on a few designer accessories and warps it into the '90s.

Set over 36 levels of rock blasting mayhem there is much more to Stardust than first meets the eye. For a start, the enemy is not just millions of tons of meteorite hurtling aimlessly through space. There are spaceships that drop mines, huge rotating spiky ball things, a mercurial blob that morphs into a huge head (à la Terminator 2) and a DNA snake that grows with each passing second. What is worse they do not just float about a bit, they come after you! Fortunately, your intergalactic space destroyer is equipped with a limited shield and the ability to bolt on extra weapons and stuff that get left behind by the odd exploding enemy. These add a touch of thought to the mindless blasting as certain weapons work better against specific opponents.

In addition, your warp between levels via a tunnel sequence that must be one of the fastest, smoothest sub-games this side of infinity. This section is so realistic I found myself ducking as the asteroids came flying out of the screen.

Utilising fully ray-traced 3D graphics and pushing the Amiga's palette to its limit, Stardust is a dream to look at. There is no special A1200 version basically because there does not need to be one - it already looks like it was coded for the 1200. The 3D sprites are incredibly vivid and have a texture mapped feel to them. Imagine that the 3D shapes in your favourite rave demo have been dumped into an incredibly fast and smooth game and you will get some idea of what they look like. But do not take my word for it - go and see a version playing.

Perhaps the only real criticism is that it could have done with a few difficulty levels to keep you going for a while. That aside, it is amazing that a game as playable as this could have appeared with so little advance publicity. Grab a copy now.