The original Asteroids released in 1979 into arcades across the world and changed the face of video games forever. It was one of the original smash hits for the industry, proving that video games had the potential to become huge. Its premise was generally simple. You controlled a small spaceship that would fly around a flat plane, shooting rocks coming at you. It became progressively more difficult the further you got. Forty years later, Back to Belt hopes to revive the gameplay and stylings of Asteroids into a more modern package. Despite missing some marks, it mostly succeeds.
When you first boot up Back to Belt, it immediately throws you into gameplay. Right away you get a feel for how the ship controls. It’s a basic affair with the ability to thrust, spin, and shoot. Not much has changed on that front. However, these three fundamentals all feel tight and responsive. It’s fun to just simply move around in the space and fire off potshots.
Instead of the flat plane of its spiritual predecessor. Your ship is positioned on a vector sphere which you can move around in any direction. There’s a great sense of speed when zooming in circles and zig zags around this sphere.
Obviously you are not alone in this battlefield – there are also a huge variety of enemies and obstacles. In the first stage it’s just simply rocks that break apart, but as you progress more insidious combatants appear. This is Back to Belt’s greatest strength and there’s fantastic creativity to every new ship that appears. Each one offers a unique twist and challenge on the base objective to survive, as it is consistently inventive in the ways it turns this seemingly simple game on its head.
On rare occasions these enemies can be frustrating and feel cheap, particularly because it can be incredibly hard to hit smaller targets on the sphere. Often I’ve been stuck trying to take down one last target.
Progress is separated into different sectors which each hold a collection of levels and a final boss. Usually a new enemy is introduced in each of these sectors, with the final boss incorporating them in. There is a large collection of levels and a score system that rates your performance in each one.
After beating the main campaign, there’s an arcade mode which is more difficult and allows leaderboard rankings. There are also some short mini-games sprinkled throughout. However that’s about it in terms of game modes, which is disappointing. These two modes will occupy a lot of time yet there are so many creative alternate modes that could have been added to this formula, that it’s slightly disappointing it does not try for more, especially when you consider that there’s a lot of potential here.
However for what is here in Back to Belt, it’s quite a challenge and will keep you glued to the screen. This game demands your attention and focus, and even though I was worried that the comparisons to Asteroids would be skin-deep, that’s not the case. This is just as nail biting as the original and there have been many times I’ve narrowly avoided dangers at mach speeds, sweating and gripping the controller tight.
It must be said that the challenge may frustrate players at first. The ship controls a very particular way and it takes some practice to get used to it however mastery can be achieved. You’ll soon be flying across the sphere, blasting away anything that moves.
This means that it’s an experience that’s easy to engage with for short periods of time, but it can also suck you in for hours on end. That’s a perfect position for an arcade-style game to be in and Back to Belt absolutely nails it. You can jump in for one level or twenty and always feel like you’re having a great time.
Being a retro revival of Asteroids isn’t the flashiest look for an indie game and I fear Back to Belt on Xbox may suffer for that. But if you have any interest at all in arcade-style, pick up and play games, this one is definitely worth a look. It does not get everything right but there’s a lot of challenge and fun to be had here. Frankly for the price you can’t go wrong, and it’s time to go back to the asteroid belt for one more round.