In early 1987 Sega decided to follow Nintendo’s lead by giving their potential consumers an option on which system setup to buy, and as a result Sega shoppers could either go for the regular Master System package or the lesser-priced Base System bundle. Those who chose the cheaper option were treated to a combo cart featuring Hang-On as well as this space shooter, which was also released as a stand-alone cart (in Europe it was also combined with a puzzler called Pit-Pot that I might look at sometime). If you looking for a basic shoot-em-up you’ll find it here, but you’ll be disappointed to find that’s about all this cart contains.
First off there’s no real story or objective given by either the game or the manual, you’re just soaring in your trapezoid-shaped ship through three vertically-scrolling levels for whatever reason. As you drift through each level, waves of various enemy forces fly into your path and you must blast them on your way to the end. Several times in each level you’ll fly across a few psuedo-3D platforms that have squares to shoot out which in turn causes power-ups to float down the screen. Snagging them increases your ship’s speed, triples your firepower, upgrades your shooter to lasers and even gives you some Gradius-like options. However your ship has no shields and one hit will destroy it, but fortunately each level has several checkpoints to keep you from having to start the entire level over. Not surprisingly one of three monster boss ships (Zanoni, Neibiros and Belzebul) awaits at the end of each level to challenege you and must blast them by attacking their weak spots before you can proceed on your way (and get a cryptic message saying Surley Revive [boss you just beat], whatever that means).
The game gives a nice first impression, as the graphics are fairly good with bright colors for your ship and enemies and some cool-looking bosses, though the animation is slightly lacking. Also the background isn’t much to look at other than the twinkling stars, and the platforms do break up the monotony. The audio consists of a few backgroud tunes which aren’t anything special but are pretty catchy, and the sound effects do their job nicely. The controls are pretty easy to understand, just guide your ship around the screen and push either button to shoot. There’s no rapid-fire, though, so prepare for some button mashing.
Unfortunately after a couple of playthroughs you quickly discover Astro Warrior’s glaring lack of depth as you don’t really find anything outside the basic shmup ingredients. Not only that the unbalanced challenge level is a little lacking as well. You’re able to collect all the power-ups within minutes of starting the game, becoming an unstoppable killing machine in almost no time at all, and even without the upgrades the first two levels are no problem once you learn all the enemy patterns. However the difficulty jumps severely in the last stage and you’ll need all those upgrades to stand a chance. In addition, after you die your next ship starts back at the default setting, and in the third level that leaves you with almost no chance to succeed. Plus the bosses are also no problem to dispatch for the most part, and if you somehow get to the third boss you’ll find him easy to beat as well. Not only that should you conquer the third level you’re simply booted back to the first stage to do the same three levels all over again, and the only real change is more enemies shoot projectiles, otherwise you’ve see it all with one playthrough.
So Astro Warrior isn’t a terrible game, in fact it’s fairly competant, but it doesn’t do anything outside what it’s “supposed” to. With only three levels that cycle over and over endlessly you’ll lose interest before too long, and it’s hard to stick with this game when much better shooters such as Power Strike are available for the Master System. It just feels like there was no need for a stand-alone release as there isn’t enough game to make the cart worth it, so stick with the Hang-On combo cart.