Region: PAL-A, PAL-B
Developer: Bit Managers
Although he’s little-known across the world, Asterix is roughly as popular in France as Garfield is in the US. The pint-sized Gaul and his ragtag assembly of side characters have been featured in countless books, comics and animated media since 1959 – only fitting, then, that eventually the series would be adapted into video games. In this case, as with many games based on the series, it was published by French company Infogrames. More important in later console/PC generations, Infogrames kept a consistent output of home computer games in their early days and were late to the NES party. They did, however, publish the outstanding River City Ransom and S.C.A.T. in PAL territories (retitled to Street Gangs and Action In New York respectively), and also two licensed games based on properties far more popular in Europe: The Smurfs and Asterix.
A brief cutscene at the start informs that Obelix, the hulking, clumsy sidekick, has been kidnapped by (who else?) the Romans, and at the order of the morbidly named Chief Vitalstatistix, Asterix must make his way to Rome and rescue him. This journey takes him from his native Gaul through Helvetia, Spain and Egypt, and the levels are themed accordingly with snowmen in Helvetia, pyramid death-traps in Egypt and so forth. Dispose of the ever-present pig-faced Romans and dodge all of the traps through twelve fairly short levels, and Obelix will be waiting for you. Along the way, there are items littered everywhere. Extra lives can be earned by picking up a pair of wings or 50 stars, single wings add an extra health point, and about once a level, there will be a medallion or magic potion that grants temporary invincibility. Thanks to the generous amount of pickups, Asterix is easy, even with only four hits, three lives and one continue as standard.
The platforming is a fairly standard left-to-right affair, with moving hazards, wide running jumps and infrequent enemies that must be navigated. The controls are the usual A jumps, hold B to run and press B to use Asterix’s only attack, a powerful swinging punch that kills most enemies in one hit. The hit detection could have used some work. He has to get right up close to the enemies to hit them, and it’s common for a ‘draw’ to happen where the enemy dies but Asterix takes a hit. It’s best to attack a split-second early to make sure that doesn’t happen. The upward range of the punch is enough to break open the ‘A’ blocks littering each level and take the goodies, but attacking enemies directly above your head isn’t a good idea. To avoid taking damage in such a way, it’s best to attack enemies up and forwards of him. Watch out for enemies that can’t die, like the spiders and the fireball-throwing trebuchets.
All in all, the gameplay in Asterix doesn’t amount to much, but Asterix is a cool little guy, with his Frenchstache, winged hat and vendetta against Romans. The setting is well-done, looking like it came straight from a comic with detailed sprites and pastel backgrounds. The music is charming and fits the comic tone of the game (the drums, in particular, sound fantastic). More than anything, it’s the little details that make Asterix worth sampling: enemies fly off the screen with the iconic ‘PAF’ bubble when hit, you can kill and eat a boar for extra health, the end of the level is signified by a seesaw with a rock on it that you jump on to propel you to the goal, and my favourite is when Asterix falls down a pit with a scream before hitting the ground with a screen shake and loud thump.
Once you know how to get past the tricky parts, an average playthrough of Asterix ought to take around twenty minutes, but the short length works in its favour because it doesn’t have time to get tedious or outstay its welcome. Asterix isn’t a particularly interesting or deep game, but its faithfulness to the source material and visual humour make it worth seeking out for fans of the character or someone looking for a mostly enjoyable, one-afternoon 8-bit diversion. It’s the little things.