Game-related ramblings.

Scratching That Itch: Asteroid Farmer

This is the second entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1704 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,175,279.81 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our next random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is Asteroid Farmer by Allicorn Games. It’s tagline in the bundle reads:

Dodge big asteroids. Collect and deploy turrets. Scoop up the little bits.

Ah, asteroids. Ever since the classic 1979 arcade game Asteroids, asteroids have been a constant presence in video games. They threaten our space ships or even our planets, we strike back by shooting them or mining them. In reality, space is incredibly empty, even in the middle of an asteroid belt, but in video games asteroids always come in packs, ready to smash into things. But let me ask you this, Allicorn Games: what if we could talk to the asteroids?

Reader, you cannot talk to the asteroids in Asteroid Farmer. But, surprisingly, you cannot shoot them either. At least not directly. As the Irish-accented man explains in the brief introductory text, you are a professional asteroid farmer, piloting an unarmed space-tractor designed to collect the “nuggets” from asteroids. To actually get these nuggets out of the asteroids, you’ll need to pick up turrets from the regular supply ships and drop them off so they can shoot the asteroids for you.

This is actually a stroke of genius. You see, Asteroid Farmer is a clear homage to the arcade classic Asteroids, with the same single-screen arena (with wraparound, so e.g. flying off the top makes you reappear at the bottom), the same vector graphic style, the same large asteroids that split into smaller and smaller pieces when shot, and the same “thruster” controls that see your ship maintain its Newtonian velocity indefinitely while you frantically try to rotate and fire your engines in order to correct your course. But when I played Asteroids or one of its innumerable clones, I would always stay put in the center of the screen for as long as possible, just rotating and shooting, knowing that once I fired my thrusters it would be so much harder to stay alive. The memorable moments, of course, always came when I was finally forced to start flying, trying to maintain control but inevitably careening off in an unintended direction and colliding with a space rock. Allicorn Games understand this, and so in Asteroid Farmer they force players to move.

The only way to directly destroy asteroids is with limited-use smart bombs, which are really more of an emergency measure. So while players may start with a motionless ship in the center of the screen, they’re going to have to move almost immediately with those big asteroids bearing down on them. To fight back, players must rendezvous with a supply ship that will slowly fly across the screen, and pick up a turret. This means getting flying up to the ship and then maintaining close proximity for a few seconds. Dropping off turrets at one of the pre-placed hardpoints on the screen works similarly. Once installed, turrets will start automatically firing at asteroids to break them up, while players can go looking for the next supply ship. This forces players to not only fly around, but also to carefully control their velocity when picking up or dropping off a turret, leading to some tense flying between asteroids.

Then there are the nuggets, another stroke of genius. You see, the smallest asteroid bits no longer damage the player’s space-tractor. Instead, they are the very things that the player is trying to collect. Seeing a sea of nuggets drifting around, I found it nearly impossible to resist jetting off at high velocity to pick them up, which of course got me into scrapes more often than not. Nabbing these nuggets is surprisingly tricky, and it felt great when I pulled off some fancy flying to collect some.

There are a few different types of turret, and initially I thought there was little reason for this since I was always going to install the first ones I found. Sure, lasers may be accurate at long range but less powerful than shorter range cannons or flak guns, but it didn’t make a whole lot of difference at the beginning of the game. But in later levels (there are 50; I only made it to level 10) where there are more asteroids and maybe even some hostile flying saucers, I found I would often want to replace a turret with a better or more appropriate one, which kept me focused on catching the supply ships. These supply ships can also carry powerups instead of turrets, which can increase turret fire rate, have turrets automatically target the asteroids closest to the player’s space-tractor, or just provide more smart bombs or shields. Ah yes: unlike the original Asteroids, in Asteroid Farmer the space-tractor can take a few hits before going down, due to its shields. Extra shields are earned when finishing levels, which can help players keep going on longer runs. New runs can be started on any level players have reached before, so there’s no need to trudge through the simpler early levels again once you’ve learned the ropes.

The modern vector graphics in Asteroid Farmer are quite nice, employing color and effects like screen shake to enhance the experience without losing the familiar aesthetic of Asteroids. But special effects and even colors can be turned off for those who desire a more retro experience. Sound effects can also be toggled between modern and retro styles, and there are even two entirely different soundtracks. The default is labeled as “Witchy Woo Woo” in the settings menu, which is amazing. It’s a kind of moody synth-pop with female vocals. Google informs me that this music is composed by Allicorn himself, and might be described as “darkwave”. The other option is “Heckabomb OST”; Heckabomb is an earlier game by Allicorn Games and its OST is has more of a retro synth style, and is much more intense. I like both soundtracks, but otherwise preferred the modern sound effects and graphics.

So there you have it. A few simple tweaks to the Asteroids formula, and Asteroid Farmer becomes a quite different beast, where the challenge arises from constantly having to fly around using thrusters while avoiding danger. It’s still a fairly simple arcade affair, so don’t expect a huge playing time from it. And the controls are sadly not rebindable, nor are they clearly explained before playing. For some reason, the up arrow key fires the thruster but the left and right arrows do not steer. WASD can be used for flying instead, and I actually ended up using the up arrow for thrusting and A and D for steering. Smart bombs are fired with the space bar, shift or enter keys. And apparently also the Numpad 0 key which I tried to use for screenshots (F eventually worked as a screenshot key that didn’t accidentally do something else). But once I got a hang of the controls I had a good time. Asteroid Farmer is fun and great for quick runs. I think I’ll keep it installed for a bit in case I find myself in the mood for a quick round of asteroid farming.

If you missed the bundle, Asteroid Farmer is available for $4 USD (or more) at itch.io. That’s two down, only 1702 1739 to go. Onwards!

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3 Comments

  1. Isaac Kelley

    That sounds pretty neat. I’ve got a real soft spot for the source material.

  2. Sam Vikson

    Thanks for taking a look at some of the lesser known parts of the itch.io bundle. Most gaming sites seemed to only consider the same dozen already critically-acclaimed titles that many people already have some familiarity with. Still, if you feel like covering one of those, I’m sure I’d still enjoy the posts.

    • Glad you’re enjoying these! But I’m just picking things at random from the bundle, so eventually I’ll stumble upon one of the better-known titles. I did hope that random selection would let me find some lesser-known games though, and I’m happy that’s panned out so far!

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