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One of the classic arcade games of all time must be Asteroids. A simple concept in which a single ship roams the screen, disintegrating asteroids and trying to stay alive, Asteroids requires fluid, skillful play and provides an increasingly frenetic pace. The arcade version of Asteroids used simple vector graphics, and clones matched it closely. By the time microcomputer graphics had improved significantly, the Asteroids concept had become somewhat passe. Ben Haller’s Lunatic Fringe After Dark module used many of the same game play concepts, but instead of moving the ship around the screen, Lunatic Fringe moves the screen around the ship, providing a larger universe but seemingly removing some of the ship’s agility.

Now, however, we have a worthy successor to the original Asteroids. Called Maelstrom, this shareware game comes from the talented and prolific Andrew Welch. Maelstrom brings Asteroids graphics into the 90’s, and Andrew tweaked the game play to make it more complex.

Asteroids had only two external variables, the asteroids themselves, which split into smaller sizes when shot, and the offensive aliens who enter periodically from one side, shooting at you as they crossed the screen. Maelstrom retains those elements, but adds others, including goodies, which give you additional powers when you run over them and a steel asteroid that you can deflect but never destroy. Andrew’s additions should make Maelstrom more intriguing in the long run (it’s only been out for a few weeks), while at the same time not detracting from the original appeal of Asteroids.

Despite its short existence, Maelstrom has had two updates, and is at version 1.02. You can find updaters online, and most places should have the proper version available. Overall, Maelstrom is an impressive effort and worth the shareware fee since it’s easily equivalent to commercial games. Check it out.

Richard adds… — This is a very enjoyable version of the classic Asteroids. It plays in 256 colors only, and it uses all 256 well. The object is simple: survival. You start with three lives (more are available every 50,000 points and at random intervals) and you shoot at flying rocks and enemy saucers. But there’s where the similarity to Asteroids ends. Brilliantly crafted 3-D objects careen towards you: comets giving bonus points, first-aid cans giving random useful goodies (triple shots, long shots, more shields, and others), supernovas, persistent mines, and still more nasties. The sampled sound effects aren’t always appropriate, but they do add to the game (an interesting challenge is figuring out where the author got them from). One downside is that the control-configuration dialog is clumsy and unfriendly, but the author assures me that it will change in the future. There’s more than a passing similarity between Maelstrom and Solarian II, but I think this is more a tribute to Ben Haller than anything else. The game supposedly ends at a confrontation with a super-ship, but I haven’t gotten that far. Yet.

Available by anonymous FTP from sumex and umich.
Version 1.02 is current
Cost: $15 shareware
Overall: 4.5
Repeat Playability: 4.5
Value: 5

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