The top down 2D space party shooter Astro Duel that landed on pc and mobile a little over a year ago has been given the “Deluxe” treatment this week with a release on the Nintendo Switch. With it comes the inclusion of all the features in the original plus an all-new exclusive Chaos Mode that adds more power-ups and increases the maximum number of players. This new mode plus the inclusion of tabletop support and touch screen gameplay for up to four people means folks looking for a quick multiplayer hit won’t be disappointed.
The core gameplay remains the same as the original. Each player pilots a 16-bit style triangular neon-colored ship (à la Atari’s ‘Asteroid’) and attempts to shoot their teammates while chasing down power-ups. It’s a bit like Space Invaders collided with Towerfall Ascension, making for pick-up-and-play chaos.
The straightforward gameplay is complemented by a substantial mix of modes, power-ups, and maps adding to the fun and variety. Some maps introduce basic obstacles such as walls or asteroids, others add deadly lasers and obfuscating nebulas. The diversity in the battle arenas keep each match unique without unnecessarily complicating gameplay.
The collection of power-ups comes in a handful of archetypes: offensive, defensive, and passive.Lasers increase ship firepower by projecting a beam that cuts across the map, shields offer a protective barrier from a few enemy blasts, and others like proximity mines are traps that explode if foes get too close. The full buffet of ship enhancements and map variations is available in all modes, but the modes alter the win conditions.
Each mode pits players against one another until one player wins a set number of matches.
The win conditions for each mode are different; some are a standard last-ship-standing affair in which remaining alive will net more points than destroying ships. Others count the number of ships destroyed towards your score total. The most interesting (and my favorite) awards points for pilot kills. Unlike in the other modes when a ship is hit pilots are ejected from their exploding ship giving them desperate second attempt. Outside the ship pilots are defenseless but if they avoid fire long enough, a new ship will scoop them up and reenter the fight. The last pilot standing mechanic creates tense moments of cat and mouse style pursuit extending the length of the matches for the better.
Any of the aforementioned modes can utilize the full suite of Switch control options: single joycon, dual joycon, pro controller, and an additional mode even supports up to 4 players by exclusively leveraging touch screen controls. With the wealth of content packed into a portable package with a veritable smorgasbord of control options, it’s safe to say you could take Astro Duel Deluxe just about anywhere with any number of controllers and start a party!
Unfortunately for those who don’t have folks to join in on the fun in person there’s no online play and no plans to add it at this time. While bots can be added added to fill out empty roster spots, playing against the AI wears thin fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the lack of campaign or arcade modes makes Astro Duel a tough game to recommend unless you’ve got some mates to enjoy it with. Though the concept is solid and the frantic gameplay fun, there really isn’t much here without some companions to join the fun. Even an endless horde mode with a leaderboard or an arcade mode would have been a small change with low development cost that benefited the experience greatly. It’s just a bummer that Wild Rooster chose to forgo those routes and opt for what’s essentially a $15 party game. It’s a bit too rich to justify a purchase to play with friends every now and then yet cheap enough that some small additions to enhance the single player could have made it an impulse purchase. As it stands, if you’ve got some folks to share joycons with and you’re looking for the next party game on the Switch, then it’s worth a shot. But if you’re hoping for a single player arcade shooter with a bit of depth and replay value, you might want to explore other options.