Asterix and the Great Rescue
Pros: Music, Graphics, Sound Effects, Some Clever Map Designs, Simple Passwords
Cons: Flawed Gameplay Physics, Inconsistent Difficulty, Stringent Time Limits
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Although it doesn’t have much of a mainstream following in America, I was pretty familiar with Asterix the Gaul growing up. This was probably because my mom was a Classics teacher, and Asterix was known for having been translated well into many languages, including Latin. Naturally, she decided to get this game for me and my brothers. It has some nostalgic value for me, but it’s generally seen as a needlessly difficult game in many of the wrong ways.
The game’s story involves the kidnapping of the Gaulish druid Getafix by the Romans. He makes a potion that can temporarily grant people super strength. This is the reason why his village is still not conquered, and it also makes one wonder why he has not taught this potion to anyone else. The franchise’s hero, Asterix, is tasked with rescuing Getafix with the help of his fat, dim-witted sidekick Obelix. Fortunately for these two, the Romans were somehow dumb enough to allow Getafix to leave potions along their circuitous path back to Rome which they can use to keep their strength up. And thus Asterix and Obelix forge of path of destruction through Western Europe to rescue their friend.
The game is divided into six worlds which are made up of multiple levels and one boss at the end. At the beginning of each level, the player can choose between Asterix and Obelix. While Obelix, with his nonchalant pacing, overheaded throwing of items and celebratory butt-bouncing, is more amusing to watch than Asterix, there is usually no practical reason to pick him. Asterix seems far more balanced and doesn’t need to duck to get into some areas. I also think Obelix may have even worse hit detection than Asterix, but that’s something to get to later. There are many enemies in the game, but the most common ones are thin legionaries (who take one hit), fat legionaries (who take two) and centurions (who take three). Other enemies can be pretty random and nonsensical, and the game has been criticized for absurd and inconsistent settings. Hazards also include squirrels, small birds and plants with some guy/monkey behind them that goes apeshit when you pass them, showering you with harmful dandelion seeds unless you crawl past them for some reason. However, since I believe such nonsense is endearing in platform games, I don’t really count that as a flaw. I admit that I’m not the best gamer and I haven’t fully beaten every part of this game.
Vital to beating many levels are a few items that you pick up. The three main items are thrown bombs, clouds which act as temporary platforms and temporary levitation. They are used on boards that require them for passage and there’s often just enough to get through. This has invited comparisons to puzzle games by people who have a very liberal definition of what constitutes a puzzle game. Other items include various point items, a one-up heart, an invincibility sickle and a turbo invincibility bomb.
One of the first things to notice about the game is that the graphics are quite appealing. While the bold, black outlines of the cartoon characters might look too pixelated, the backgrounds are colorful and detailed. The scenery is creative and diverse, and the maps are well-designed. One exception would be a couple underwater stages, which feature a grotesque and impairing net of blue pixels as well as intentionally sluggish game physics. As with most Genesis games, animation is fluid, but I got some lag when confronting multiple enemies. I’m not sure if that’s the fault of my RetroN 3 or not.
I love the sound effects, which fit the cartoonish look of the source material. Punching enemies results in rich sounds that are very satisfying to listen to. Some items make a nice jingle when you pick them up. There’s also something therapeutic about listening to the coin collecting sound effect in quick succession. Come to think of it, for all the advances in gaming technology, I tend to prefer the crisp sound effects of older games to that of newer ones. Case in point: the satisfying cracks and bangs of the original Super Smash Bros. being replaced by the gentle thumping in Melee.The best part of the game is its soundtrack. The tunes are memorable, and the songs go on for a substantial length with satisfying variety before they loop. While the 16-Bit sound effects can often sound odd, it’s clear that effort was put in to simulate various sound effects and instrumentation. Most of the worlds have a song that fits the setting well. The first world, Gaulish Village, has a cheerful song that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mario game. The Roman Encampment’s theme is a badass military march. The Forest has a distinctive and atmospheric theme. Germany is set to a neat and vaguely industrial tune, and the Roman Galley is straight-up metal. After imagining what song would represent the glory of Rome, it was a bit disappointing to hear this. Music should represent the feelings associated with certain settings or situations, and I’ve never heard a song that so perfectly captures the feeling of constipation as this one. Still, it develops into a good song, and I’m sure that strange sound effect was the fault of the system’s limitations. The pause music is pretty decent, too. Overall, the score is above average by industry standards, and composer Nathan McCree deserves credit for his work on the music and sound effects for this game.
The first world is the Gaulish Village. It is overrun with Roman soldiers, and Asterix must secure it. The first stage is fairly straightforward and is an accurate depiction of the village as a bunch of simple, thatched huts. However, we soon see immense structures that rival what the Romans could build, especially The Purple Palace of Pain (or Pink Palace depending on how your TV is adjusted). This is one of the most infamous examples of the time limitation in the game. The level is complex, indirect and full of hazards, and the locations of the keys and passages are not readily apparent. Despite this, you’re expected to beat the board in 3 minutes. How my brothers eventually figured it out is beyond me, but it took a while. When I revisited the game, I thankfully remembered the layout, but it took a few deaths to get through it. Afterwards, there are a few more levels including one featuring a giant sculpture of a man’s lower and upper jaw in two pieces apparently made by two artists who weren’t communicating with each other. Finally, you get to the boss: the village bard Cacofonix. Cacofonix is such a bad musician that his musical notes have assumed physical form and hurt anyone they hit. Of course, this is only a problem if you get near his treehouse as Asterix and one random guy running past with a shield over his head insist on doing. In order to defeat him, you must jump on the guy’s shield at the right moment and press C to throw fish at him until he retreats back into his house, because Asterix can punch a Roman soldier into the stratosphere but he can’t throw a fish ten feet into the air. You throw the fish with the item button, but there’s no indication you have these fish to throw unless you think to press it. You’d think that Asterix has better things to do than put Cacofonix in his place…like, you know, rescuing Getafix. The boss theme is pretty well executed, having a memorable tune while clearly sounding that it’s being played by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
After you’ve secured your home, you advance to the Roman Encampment. It’s mostly a straightforward world until you get to a board that’s infamous for a case of some of the worst hit detection in game history. At one point you encounter two horses. One of them is bucking full tilt, but isn’t too tricky to jump over. However, the second one is barely moving his feet back one at a time, and yet you will get thrown halfway across the stage just by bouncing off his ass without coming anywhere near his hooves. Later I was defeated by another stage that was far too long and hazardous for its time limit. The boss is a simple punch-the-projectile-back-at-the-boss deal.
Next is The Forest. I already mentioned the randomized difficulty, and nowhere is this problem more apparent than here. It’s just before halfway through the game, and it is by far the most consistently hard world. The worst board is one that features giant killer spiders, and those spiders are the least of your problems. This level is a distillation of every complaint I made about the unpredictable platforms. In addition to all the standard legionaries running around, this board has a lot of natural enemies allied with them. To paraphrase The Chronicles of Narnia, “Even some of the trees are on their side.” Asterix must have also been hit by a shrink ray, because the plants and animals in this world are enormous. As if to complete a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids reference, there’s also a board with anachronistic LEGOs. This world also has an infamous boss. Apparently you have to just press the D-Pad really fast to win this log game with a fat legionary. In other words, it’s impossible to do until you somehow stumble upon the answer, and when you do there’s no challenge to it. It’s a perfect example of how not to design gameplay.
Then you go to Germany. It’s one thing to fight your Roman aggressors, but it seems a bit inappropriate to attack every German you see just because you’re looking for someone who passed through the area. I think the same thing happened in Star Trek into Darkness. Reflecting the game’s odd sense of humor, Germany has one of the more absurd hazards: fat opera singers who explode when you walk past them. If I saw a woman so fat that simply walking past her would cause her to reach critical mass and blow up, I would think twice before doing so, but Asterix clearly does not have time for such ethical trifles. Then again, there’s also a board later in the game that requires you to murder old women to get through it. This world has what may be one of the worst ones in the game (the spider board is pretty stiff competition). It‘s a labyrinth of sausage links populated by turbopacers and guys in bathrobes who throw axes or sausages at you (Asterix can punch away the axes, but not the sausages). I had no idea where to go, and the board certainly doesn’t give you the time to figure it out in one try. The Sausage Stage is also the least visually appealing board in the game (it’s just sausages against a generic sky background). I could not get past it. The world is over once you successfully outrun a beer flood.
After this comes the Roman Galley, which for some reason starts off in a snow mountain that would be more appropriate in Germany. This stage is relatively easy, but it features annoying oversized snowflake graphics. The rest of the world is pretty straightforward, and I managed to get to the boss, a big fat alligator. It was an easy boss made challenging by terrible hit detection, while sneaking up behind him, I was more likely to stub my toe against his back than land a blow.
Finally, you get to Rome, which is arguably the easiest world in the game. The hardest level in it was the aqueduct stage, and that was average despite some pesky Roman archers that pop up out of nowhere. A few boards later, you’ll be running across a Roman banquet table while Sylvester Stallone throws food at you. Eventually you’ll get to the boss, where you find yourself fighting two tigers while a static background graphic of Julius Caesar looks on grimly. Because the tigers don’t actually attack you, they’re pretty easy to defeat.
Asterix and the Great Rescue has its clever moments, but it also possesses too many objective flaws to truly give a pass. When it’s hard it’s hard for all the wrong reasons. Still, most of the time it’s just playable enough to be fun. I would love to see James Rolfe do an episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd and/or James & Mike Gaming Mondays of this game.
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