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Memories of SEGA: Asterix

In this edition of Memories of SEGA, Awinnerwasyou looks back at one of the best platformers on the Master System, and why it deserves more love.


 Ever since the dawn of video games, licensed games have always been a part of the market. After all, what rakes in the cash like a game featuring a favourite cartoon character or based on a popular movie? While many licensed games are generally cheap and crappy titles made for no other purpose than to cash in on what’s popular at the moment, there have also been many quality titles that either make great use of the license, or are just plain excellent. SEGA were among the companies who actually put a lot of effort into their licensed titles. Their Disney games were, of course, amazing, but they were also responsible for several other great titles as well. These include Taz-Mania, Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin and the X-Men games- both the original and it’s 1995 sequel, The Clone Wars- and Ex-Mutants. “Ex-Mutants?” I hear you all say. Yeah, that one was based on a very obscure comic book. Pretty decent game, that. Who knows, maybe I’ll cover it in a future edition of Memories of SEGA! But we’re not here to look at that game today. Nope, we’re here to check out a licensed game on the Master System based on a much more well-known character. This particular game is never mentioned in the same breath as SEGA’s Disney titles, but is just as fantastic in my opinion. So, ladies and gentlemen, I bring to you Asterix!


Asterix, along with fellow European favourite Tintin, was one of my favourite series of comics as a child. I used to get the comics out from my local library all the time, and I just loved reading them. For the uninitiated, the comics take place in the year 50 BC, where Julius Caesar has occupied all of the country of Gaul. All that is, barring one tiny village. The reason? The villagers have access to a magic potion made by the local druid, Getafix. (Boy, did that joke go right over my head when I was younger!) This potion gives whoever drinks it superhuman strength- enough to flatten an entire army! The main character is, of course, the titular Asterix, along with his… big boned sidekick, Obelix. Each comic sees them getting into various scrapes and adventures, mostly for the good of the village. Thanks to the great characters and humour, this series was a huge part of my childhood, and if you’ve never read them, I highly recommend you do so. Naturally, as the comics were so popular, Asterix branched out into other forms of media. Cartoons, board games, a series of live action movies (With Gerard Depardieu, of all people, as Obelix) and even a theme park were spawned from the series. But most of all, what would a popular cartoon character be without a few video games?


                                              Neat visuals like this introduce each stage.

As mentioned earlier, the game we’re looking at is the first of Asterix’s Master System outings. I first heard about it back in 1992, in a leaflet for a shop- I can’t quite remember which one. But it was featured along with various other games coming soon. Though the sole picture was of the box art, and showed nothing of the actual game, that didn’t matter to me. What mattered was, there was an Asterix game on the Master System. And I wanted it. Because it was Asterix. My interest in the game went up even further when I bought issue seven of Sega Pro magazine, and saw a review of it. It earned a whopping 92%, which only served to make me want the game even more. My chance to play it would finally come when the game showed up at my local video rental shop. Needless to say, I had to rent it! Eventually, I would get my own copy for my birthday that year, along with the Master System version of Sonic the Hedgehog. That’s a pretty clear indication that I really liked it. But what was the game actually like?


                                                            A video of the game in action.

Unsurprisingly it was a platformer, and it was very similar to Castle of Illusion. The story is a simple affair which sees Getafix being captured by the Romans, leaving Asterix and Obelix to find their way to Rome in order to rescue him. No easy task, as they find themselves getting lost very quickly… There are eight stages in all, with all but the first and last stages split into three rounds each. The first stage is split into two rounds, the first of which you play as Asterix, and the second you play as Obelix. From stage 2 onwards, you can choose between the two. Both characters have similar move sets, but play quite differently. Asterix is more nimble, but isn’t that strong, and needs a special item to break destructible blocks. Obelix on the other hand, is slower and can’t get into small places, but is stronger and can break blocks with his bare hands. Cleverly, the layout of most stages change depending on your choice in order to accommodate their abilities. There’s also a two player mode, where player one plays through Asterix’s section, then player two goes through Obelix’s level. This means in two player mode, each stage needs to be completed twice. An interesting idea, for sure.


                                       A tree with eyes? Yeah, that's not at all suspicious...

The ultimate goal of each stage is to find the key to the exit. Sometimes this is found right next to the door, but sometimes you’ll have to do some proper searching to find it. There are also plenty of hazards to take care of as well. These are quite unique for every section- for instance, one level has you having to jump on flimsy platforms placed helpfully over the jaws of crocodiles. It only takes a split second before the platform collapses and drops you into their jaws, so you’ll need to be very quick! Each level is very varied in its traps and design, so it rarely gets boring. There’s a fair few secret rooms to find as well, where you can find plenty of goodies including extra lives. You’ll especially need those, as the later levels get very hard- in particular the one stage that gave both my friends and I more trouble than any other…

That was stage 6-3. One of those levels that started off tough, then got even tougher. It starts with a mad dash to get ahead of an ever rising pool of lava- one touch, and it’s instant death. There’s no time to waste here, as the lava rises quickly and there’s virtually no margin for error. Needless to say, Obelix is not a good choice for this one. Should you finally make it through, you’ll quickly discover that was actually the easy part of the stage. The second half of this stage involves you riding on a platform while dodging the spikes on both the floor and ceiling. Sounds easy? It isn’t. At all. The platform moves up and down of its own accord, and the only control you have over it is to either slow it down or speed it up. You have to make sure you’re moving at just the right speed so you avoid the spikes. This gets very tricky very quickly, and can result in many deaths and smashed controllers! Out of every stage in the game, this one gave me the most trouble by far. It’s incredibly frustrating, and yet- never unfair. It’s perfectly doable, but takes a lot of practice to get just right.


                                          Expect plenty of tricky platforming as you progress...

After that, the game gets a little easier. Stage seven is fairly tricky, but after that previous stage, anyone should be able to do it. Then you get to the eighth and final stage. You’ve finally made it to Rome, and the game is sure to throw everything but the kitchen sink at you here- right? Well… No. The final stage is actually very anti-climactic. Only consisting of one section, it’s a very short and easy section that places you on a chariot where you must dodge spikes and other obstacles. Once that’s done, you’ve beaten the game. No final boss, no more tricky platforming- that’s it. The end. On the plus side, the ending is well worth the effort. Displaying the kind of humour that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics, it’s a great reward. If only that last stage had been a bit more interesting…


                              This particular stage is an auto-scroller, so you'll need to be quick to best it! 

It’s a shame no one seems to mention Asterix that much when it comes to classic Master System platformers, because it really is up there with the best. The presentation is top notch, with each stage opening with a great static image. The intro is also very much in tune with the original comics as well. In addition, you can choose to play the game in either English or French. (For some reason, when I completed the game for the first time, I was playing in French. No idea why, I just felt like doing so.) The graphics are great, with both Asterix and Obelix instantly recognisable, and plenty of varied backgrounds. Most of all, the game plays like a dream. The controls are very tight, and the level design is nicely handled throughout. It’s challenging too- while it can be very frustrating in places, it never feels cheap or impossible. It’s a game that rewards practice, and in my mind, that’s the best kind of challenge. This one of my favourite games on the Master System, and a great example of how good a licenced title can be in the right hands. I can’t recommend it highly enough, so if you’ve never played it before, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Next time on Memories of SEGA, I’ll be looking at the Saturn port of an all-time Playstation classic. This particular port goes relatively unnoticed by people, and yet it had a few features its Playstation cousin didn’t- one of which would end up becoming a staple for future titles in the series. See you then!

22nd August, 2014 - 23:08 GMT Awinnerwasyou Article viewed 2540 times 0 Comments


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