Wow, another top-down shooter on the PlayStation Network?! How… unoriginal. Yet, despite its wealth of competitors, PomPom Games’ Astro Tripper manages to stand out from the crowd with its retro, healthily streamlined gameplay, not to mention its very affordable price point.
You see, Astro Tripper is not another ‘dual-stick’ shooter like Blast Factor or Super Stardust HD, nor is it a free-flying experience like NovaStrike. Astro Tripper finds its niche in utter simplicity. The levels are viewed from a top-down perspective, but some contain vertical hills and slopes which have a minor effect on gameplay. Your ship is equipped with two weapons: a blue power laser and a red spread weapon; very simple, very functional. The controls are incredibly basic, but extremely tight; either analog stick steers the ship, X fires, Square switches weapons, and Circle flips the ship left or right (you face one of the two directions the entire time). It’s all pretty self-explanatory after a few minutes in the game.
The basic goal is straightforward (see a recurring pattern here?): shoot all enemies in each level within the time limit. Power-ups, dropped from blasted enemies, upgrade the weapon that’s equipped when you acquire them. The two modes, Adventure and Challenge, each has its own objectives and leaderboard. In Adventure, players take on four chunks of three or four levels, which all culminate in a ‘Big Boss’ battle. Challenge, meanwhile, is a survival-style mode where you play on one level against waves of foes until your sole ship perishes.
Despite its simplicity, Astro Tripper is devilishly hard. There’s no shame in beginning on Easy when it comes to this game. Enemies are everywhere, and the stringent timer makes boss encounters much more difficult than you’d expect. The harsh difficulty is a two-way street. If you’re not inherently skilled at old-school shooters, then you’re bound to experience some frustration when you’re coming to grips with each level. One touch from anything — and there’s a whole lot of ‘anything’ on-screen — and you’re toast. Then again, it’s supremely satisfying to finally clear a world after getting mowed down by a Big Boss time and time again. Ultimately, perseverance pays off – it’s just a matter of patience.
Visually, the game is less than stunning, though it’s not poor by any means. Astro Tripper certainly retains that evocative old-school feel, but it still feels a bit lacking. It’s hard to pinpoint anything “wrong” with the presentation, but nothing is all that noteworthy or impressive either.
Let’s be honest here though: you don’t buy a game like Astro Tripper to impress your friends. You buy this $5 USD gem to play an old game with a coat of fresh paint, and it’s a purchase well worth making.