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Hang-On & Astro Warrior Review Rewind


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On 05/12/2021 at 04:00 PM by Jamie Alston

Motorcycles and space battles- together for the first time.
RECOMMENDATION:

Hang-On could be worth your time in short bursts. Astro Warrior, not so much.

There are certain games that I’ve played combo cartridges that leave me wondering why they were sold as standalone releases in the first place. I found myself asking that question after playing the Hang-On/Astro Warrior compilation. I mean, don’t get me wrong- it’s nice to have both games on a cartridge. But neither one held much weight when all was said and done. Even so, I was still able to come away with some goodwill toward it. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Astro Warrior, but I’ll touch on that shortly. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

First up is Sega’s original racing classic, Hang-On. Initially released in arcades in 1985, it was the first in their motorcycle racing series. It was built on the Super Scaler arcade system board, which allowed for 3D effects using 16-bit sprites- a technical marvel in its day. When Hang-On was ported to the Sega Master System, it was vastly scaled back, resembling Namco’s Pole Position in 8-bit form.

Your goal is to race from checkpoint to checkpoint while beating the timer. The challenge is avoiding the many other bikers on the road. Any contact with other racers or road hazards will cause your bike to explode rather spectacularly, no matter how slow the speed upon contact. Each change in scenery represents a different checkpoint- there being four in total. And this is where the game turned shallow for me.

Anyone expecting a sense of accomplishment and closure to the race is in for a disappointment. There’s no definitive end to the game; it just loops back to the starting area after reaching the final checkpoint. All you get is a quick message saying, “congratulations…challenge the next course”. That next course, however, is no different than the one you just raced on. After playing through the same course four times in a row, I gave up hope of officially getting a confirmation that I did indeed finish the race for real this time.

The good news is that you can add a little variety into the mix by adjusting the difficulty level between one to three. The highest setting places more riders on the road, and they move around a lot, forcing you to be extra careful when negotiating curves. This at least makes the game a bit more engaging. I admit to doing a short-lived happy dance upon reaching the “final” checkpoint. So even with its lacking content, the simplicity of Hang-On still holds a special place in my heart.

The visual presentation isn’t nearly as detailed or fast as the arcade version. Gone are the advertisement signs and highly detailed scenery. Understandably, character sprites had to be reduced for the game to run smoothly. Even so, there’s still enough here to like. The view around you features bright hues and a decent sense of speed. The dark colors and city buildings surrounding the night driving segments are the game’s best feature.

The audio in Hang-On keeps to a minimum with no music tracks playing as you’re flying down the road. However, what sounds are in the game are decent enough. I found it surprisingly relaxing to play a racing game where all you hear is the smooth engine of your bike and soft hums of rival bikers vying for a spot on the road.

 

 

Astro Warrior is an unremarkable shoot-em-up. In retrospect, it's hard to imagine people paying full MSRP for this as a single game before Sega decided to package it with other games. Are there power-ups for speed and firepower? Yes. Can I pick up a maximum of two helper drones that fire the same weapons as I do? Sure. Does the game feature bosses with multiple weak points? Check. Well, you get the picture. But the lack of originality is the least of this game’s problems.

The game is a ridiculously short affair with only three levels to play through. Like Hang-On, the game loops back to the first level after you destroy the final boss ship. I have read that the game ends after the third loop, but good luck making it that far. Despite Astro Warrior’s brevity, it still has a formidable challenge factor. Your success heavily depends on staying fully powered up. Once you die, you go back to your slow, single pellet-firing ship, and it’s pretty hard to make progress if you’re anywhere past the first level.

The game tends to be unbalanced, with the hordes of enemies attacking much faster than your ship at average speed. Often, I found that if I managed to make it to the boss ship at the end of the second level, my journey would soon end there. Those laser attacks are often too quick to dodge. On the other hand, the danger of collecting too many speed-up items is also present- heightening your chances of slamming into an enemy ship or stray bullet.

It doesn’t help when the starry background goes pitch black while fighting the boss armada ships. When it happened, I couldn’t accurately judge how far to the side my ship could go. While that may sound like a minor nitpick, it matters a lot when you have to keep your eye on the boss character on the upper portion of the screen to anticipate when it’s going to start shooting at you. To my dismay, Astro Warrior comes off as a cheap shooter with a rate of difficulty too steep to be fun for most players.

The game does have a few tunes to accompany your journey to the stars. I can’t say that the music is particularly outstanding, but given the bare bones makeup of the game, I suppose I should be happy that it has a soundtrack at all. The same goes for the sound effects of lasers firing, enemies exploding, so on and so forth. It’s all average stuff for a below-average game.

With the plethora of other more robust racing and shoot-em-ups out there, Hang-On and Astro Warrior are two games that I would never buy separately. While Hang-On gets points for at least being an enjoyable game in brief sessions, it lacks the longevity you would expect from a racing game of that era since you’ve seen all there is to see after five minutes or so.

Astro Warrior gets even less credit because it gives the player nothing more than the bare necessities when most of the other competing sci-fi shooter games out there were giving us significantly more fleshed-out content. Looping back to the beginning after the third level and just upping the difficulty doesn’t cut it. If I were trying to prove to a friend that the Master System was the superior gaming console back in its heyday, I wouldn’t want to use this game as an example.

In the end, it was a far better idea to get these games as a combo cart instead of purchasing them separately. At least that way, if you hated Astro Warrior as much as I did, you’ll still have a 50/50 chance of enjoying a ride down the never-ending road of mediocrity.

 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Cary Woodham

05/12/2021 at 04:21 PM

I never had a SEGA Master System so I don't have many memories of its games.  However, a friend of mine had one so we played it a little bit every now and then as kids.  The games I remember playing on it most were Fantasy Zone: The Maze and Spy vs. Spy.  The Master System version of Spy vs. Spy was better than the NES version, which I didn't want to admit as a kid since I had the NES game.

Many years later in college, my roommate bought a Master System and some games, so I saw some again then.  He mostly played Transbot and some RPG that wasn't Phantasy Star.  I wasn't impressed with either.  And that's really the entirety of my experiences with the Master System.

I did play the Master System Alex Kidd in Miracle World game when it was re-released on the PS3.  I wasn't impressed with it, but I will give the remake a try when it comes out in a couple of months.  Everyone deserves a second chance!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/25/2021 at 01:47 PM

I loved the Fantasy Zone trilogy on the Master System. I think I still have all three games.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/15/2021 at 07:37 PM

I had a Sega, and I had this. But I was terrible at both. However, my older brother was really good at both. He would later give up gaming when he entered high school (he is five years older), but for a brief time he would play Nintendo and SMS games with my younger brother and I. One time he finished Hang On, but was disappointed when the ending just invited him to play the game again. Laughing He did not beat Astro Warrior. But I loved watching him play that and make up stories about the game's world while I did. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/25/2021 at 01:49 PM

Yeah, some of my favorite moments as a kid was watching my brother play games like Mega Man or Marvel vs. Capcom has he explained the details of each character. That's how I got to know more about most of the principal characters in the Marvel universe back then.

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