Since the Master System never made much of a splash in Japan and the U.S., it only made sense for Sega to develop a few games tailored specifically to the tastes european gamers. And anyone who knows their way around Europe for a bit knows that Europeans just love Astérix. The French comic series by Albert Uderzo and the late René Goscinny depicts the struggles of a small Gaulish village against Roman invaders in the year 50 B.C. Astérix is loved by kids for the likeable characters and the funny brawls against the Romans. Teachers love Astérix for its generally accurate display of Roman and Gaullic culture, and all other grown-ups love the comic for it’s broad satire of political events and national stereotypes. And while political satire certainly wasn’t too high on Sega’s agenda when working on Astérix for the Master System, they managed to compensate with excellent gameplay.
Yes, in a rare twist, Astérix on the Master System is actually not only pretty good for a licensed game, but a pretty fun game overall! Simply put, Astérix looks really good and plays beautifully. The backgrounds are colorful and the sprites, while slighty deformed, capture the essence of the comic-characters. Granted, Obélix’s sprite could use more weight, but those are the limits of the old 8-bit hardware. And besides, there are nice touches directly taken from the comics, like the Roman soldier hidden in a tree-trunk or that scrawny guy in the huge fur coat. The usual 8-bit control setup—A for jumps, B for attacks—works without a flaw and feels responsive and precise: If you lose a life, it’s your fault and not the controls’.
Their journey takes the heroes across Gaul, through the Alps, to Roman cities, and even to Egypt. Before most levels, the player can choose between Asterix and Obelix. While both handle pretty much the same, the former can use small explosive vials that work similar to Castlevania’s holy water, the latter smashes blocks with his head and bare fists. It’s an especially nice touch, that both characters often venture through completely different levels, giving Astérix great replay value. The difficulty ramps up just nicely, with the later levels providing a good challenge, even for seasoned veterans of the genre.
From the beginning, it’s obvious that some talented people worked on Astérix’s first adventure on the Master System. One of the key developers was Tomozou Endo, who previously worked his 8-bit magic on the Master Sytem ports of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Castle of Illusion. Astérix, however, is a genuine 8Bit-development that doesn’t have to compare to a technically superior 16-bit brother. Free from this pressure, Endo and his team crafted one of the finest plattformers on the Master System. So good, actually, that you could safely argue that, together with Konami’s great Astérix brawler in the arcades, Astérix’s first adventure on the Master System is still the best game starring the short Gaullic warrior. It’s just a bit sad that Astérix was released neither in Japan nor in the United States for other fans to enjoy.
Article by Thomas Nickel
GameSpite Journal 12: Asterix