Asteroids Gunner blasts onto iPhone

Asteroids Gunner was released by Atari today in the iTunes App Store, taking some cues from the company's arcade classic, Asteroids, and adding contemporary gaming mechanics that might make it a hit for iOS gamers.

Asteroids Gunner was released by Atari today in the iTunes App Store, taking some cues from the company's arcade classic, Asteroids, and adding contemporary gaming mechanics that might make it a hit for iOS gamers.

When I think of the classic arcade games of old, the titles that pop into my head are games like Pac-Man, Defender, Galaga, and Asteroids, among many others. You can still find many of these games using emulation software on desktops or purchase them in newer iOS collections like Atari's Greatest Hits. But today Atari released a sequel to Asteroids (first released in 1979) called Asteroids Gunner, and it has just the right mix of action and contemporary gameplay elements to make it a must-have for those who like old arcade hits.

Asteroids Gunner
Old-school gamers will recognize the layout here, but there's a lot more to Asteroids Gunner than meets the eye. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Asteroids Gunner (Free - Universal) follows the same basic gameplay as the original standup arcade game. At the beginning of the game, you find yourself in an asteroid field and your job is to maneuver your ship and break up asteroids until you've cleared the area. Also like in the original, occasionally a UFO will materialize that you can shoot for bonus points. But what brings Asteroids Gunner squarely into the present day are several improvements that will keep you coming back for more. For starters, Asteroids Gunner uses a dual-stick control method with the left stick for maneuvering and the right for firing your weapons--a common iPhone shooter control method that most can pick up and play right away.

Asteroids Gunner
Use crystals (the in-game currency) to buy power-ups, new weapons slots, and repairs for your ship between waves. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Along with updated controls, Asteroids Gunner introduces several new gameplay elements. As you shoot asteroids, some will leave behind crystals. Crystals are the in-game currency you can use to buy new ships, temporary boosts that give you an advantage, skills that upgrade your ship permanently, and weapon slots that let you customize your ship's loadout. In between waves, the game prompts you to head to the store to spend your crystals on new items and skills so you can get through harder levels more quickly.

In terms of content, Asteroids Gunner offers plenty to unlock and explore. You get to play through three different galaxies for a total of 150 waves of asteroid-shooting fun. You also can pilot three different ships with varying attributes so you can choose your play style. The game also comes with over 200 achievements and both OpenFeint and Game Center support.

Asteroids Gunner
Increase shot frequency and other skills in the Skills menu. Notice that some (in the middle) can only be purchased with Space Bucks. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Though Asteroids Gunner is a free game, as with many iOS app titles these days, there's plenty of opportunity to spend your money through in-app purchases. There's a Bank screen where you can spend real money to purchase Space Bucks that you can use to buy better upgrades than you can get using the in-game currency. You can buy 50 Space Bucks for 99 cents, all the way up to 1,000,000 Space Bucks for $99.99. (Seriously? There are people who spend $100 for in-game money? That is a concept I don't think I'll ever understand, but I digress.)

Overall, Asteroids Gunner offers challenging gameplay that sticks to the basic concepts of the arcade original while adding tons of content and upgrades you can earn as you play. While I'm (obviously) not crazy about the idea of Space Bucks, you can always slog it out and get excellent upgrades simply by playing the game and earning achievements and crystals.

If you have even a passing interest in arcade classics or shoot-'em-up games in general, I strongly recommend Asteroids Gunner.

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.