Games from the Landfill: Astal

For those who don’t know where the title comes from, there was a game released on the Atari 2600 based on the movie E.T. that was so bad there were millions of cartridges that were left on shelves, never to be bought.  Atari had them buried in a landfill in New Mexico, a place considered a burial ground for games so bad they ought to be put to rest.

I didn’t have any particular game in mind when I wanted to start this column.  Lord knows I’ve played enough terrible games to be able to choose, but I have a tendency to have so many options flood my mind that I cannot pick just one.  Needless to say, I will be getting to some of the more well-known stinkers, but for now I’ll let my mind race excitedly as I aimlessly come upon some game to talk about….OK, got one.

Developed by SEGA

Published by SEGA

Platform:  Sega Saturn

Year: 1995

The box-art alone is reason enough to see why this game failed.  Released not long after the Sega Saturn’s release, this was their big 2D release to get all the platforming nerds’ panties moist – because Clockwork Knight sure as hell didn’t do anything to get us excited.  The big deal back in the 90s was the advent of 3D polygonal graphics which made things look more realistic (…maybe) and gave gamers new ways to play games.  Platformers that weren’t in 3D or at least used the latest technology were frowned upon.  Even Sony told developers when it came out with the original PlayStation that if you were making a 2D game they would not allow the game to be released.  Sega still believed in 2D and delivered what they figured gamers wanted…just not with Sonic in it.

I’ll get the good stuff out of the way first, it’ll be very short.  The game did have beautiful hand-drawn graphics.  It was like playing a damn cartoon character for a show you’ve never heard of before.  The animation was very fluid, a lot of work was poured into this aspect of the game and it showed.  It also had the new-fangled zooming screen which was interesting at the time though most of the time it was done unnecessarily, just to show off that the Saturn could do that.  Finally, the music in some levels were quite good.

Anyone who has played a platformer (Sonic, Mario, Megaman, Earthworm Jim, Crash Bandicoot…Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel) you usually have the ability to not just go left and right, but levels could branch upward and downward making the level you’re playing seem bigger and more expansive. Astal kept you mostly on the X-axis, essentially you were slowly moving to the right taking out the bad guys until you game to the end of the level.

Dispatching enemies was either done by grabbing them and tossing them aside or jumping into the air and giving them the old Randy Savage double axe-handle.  Astal had the ability to inhale air and blow enemies away, kind of like Kirby.  There was a bird you could save early in the first level that could either attack everything on screen or go find health for you.  Finally, in some instances, you can pick up large objects in front of you to take out enemies, but the game practically forces you to do this when it wants you to, not when you feel like it.

Most creatures were strange crystallized monsters to go along with the rest of the landscape; everything was either made of crystal or at least wore a crystal to blend in.  After destroying these things, they turned into a crystal and shattered into nothingness.  Most enemies were very easy to defeat, no matter how many there were on screen.  The only challenge lies in making a few complex jumps or the bosses that may take a few tries to figure out.  It’s a short game unless you’re bad at going left to right.

While I did enjoy most of the music in the game, the voice work is something else.  From the awful delivery of the dialogue to just hearing Astal’s constant grunts and yells as he attacks is more than enough to check the audio options to see if you can turn it off.  I remember trying to cut down on my attacks as much as possible to lessen the aural atrocities that were put upon me.

Overall, the game was beautiful looking but below average.  Gamers still into platforming with the Saturn were stuck with the aforementioned Clockwork Knight which was a 2D game with 3D polish yet too short and easy to bother with and Bug which could be classified as a 3D game with 2D restrictions.  If you wanted old school fun, you’d have been better keeping your Genesis and SNES around.

Graphics: 7 – The best part of the game, easily.

Sound: 4 – The music was good but dealing with the godawful dialogue of the characters was too much.

Gameplay: 4 – Strictly by the book platforming that was marred by a slow pace and wound up being quite easy.

Overall: 3 – Originally worth playing just to experience the gorgeous graphics, the game is not much to play now and if you want to see the graphics, thankfully Youtube was created.

Legacy – The game initially garnered good scores from most magazines, however with the industry moving towards more innovative titles and gameplay, Astal was left behind and sold very poorly.  As far as I can tell, Astal has never even been mentioned again by Sega, a company that has usually made sequels to any game they’ve made.  I mean, it took them years to make a sequel to Nights which also sold poorly…but at least that game was good to begin with.

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