With pixelated, triangular ships thrusting around an asteroid-studded starfield and issuing forth crunchy 8-bit sounds, the trappings of Astro Duel [$2.99 (HD)] would allow it to blend seamlessly into any eighties-era arcade. Yet, Astro Duel is timely, for it taps into the quiet renaissance currently unfolding in the mileu of razor-sharp in-person competition waged across a single screen. Whether sitting cheek-by-jowl around a Warlords machine, or in a tangle of controller cables strewn from a console running Bomberman or in front of a desktop PC running the latest indie sensation on Steam (if you're curious, try out Nidhogg, Samurai Gunn or Crawl), there is a particular intensity to testing your reflexes and tactics against those of your friends with no barriers between you.

Online competition is dandy, but duking it out inches apart via the single device local multiplayer mode raises the stakes and the excitement; a beer or two probably doesn't hurt, either. Developer Rusty Moyher has set out to bring that type of experience to iPads with Astro Duel, and he succeeds, though the amount of enjoyment you can expect from it is somewhat situationally dependent. One can have a decent time alone (thanks to acceptable computer-controlled opponents), but a live competitor makes for a far better game. Add another two people and a few iPhones running the free Joypad [Free], and you can expect a great time. For best results, mix in a set of MFi controllers, though that's quite a lot to ask given the current state of the iOS controller market.

Astro duel 1

A likely scenario is that you'll end up with a mix of these input methods in play simultaneously. They all feel reasonably precise, and a degree of finesse will come with practice. Competitive-minded players may perceive a disparity; I'd recommend using it as a handicap of sorts. Regardless of hardware configuration, the inputs consist of five commands, each of which is triggered in a binary fashion: rotate clockwise, rotate counter-clockwise, thrust, fire and use powerup. The basic feel will be immediately intuitive to anyone familiar with Asteroids.

There are indeed asteroids floating around the arenas, though they are not hazards so much as cover from enemy fire and a source of hidden powerups. These powerups offer a variety of offensive and defensive effects, and their specific properties are fun to discover during play. Similarly, each combat arena has a unique layout, and most include a "gimmick" of some sort, like an environmental hazard that can destroy unsuspecting players, or a gravitational anomaly that influences ship and bullet trajectories.

astro duel 2

The aforementioned elements add spice to the action, but the core can be distilled down to the maneuvering and shooting. Flying your ship feels good. With only a little practice, you'll find yourself drifting around the screen, trying to line up shots while slipping sideways through enemy fire. Shooting may seem obvious, but it's implemented in a well-considered fashion here. Similar to a few of Astro Duel's contemporaries on other platforms, it is not possible to shoot continuously. At the outset of a round, each player has three shots to fire, and they take a moment to recharge when spent. This system encourages players to pick their shots carefully and to develop a sense of when their weapons will be able to fire again (the status of which is helpfully represented on screen). It seems as if a lot of time must have been spent tuning these aspects of the game, because they simply feel right.

These fundamentals and the complications afforded by the powerups and stages cohere into a tense series of standoffs, punctuated by chaotic outbursts, deft play and blundering suicides. These moments emerge in three modes with different objectives: stay alive; kill the most; survive as a team. Various options are available to tailor the match rules, which is always a welcome feature in a game of this sort. With the right people and mix of devices, a raucous time is in the offing, full of last-second upsets and opportunities for gloating. Every aspect of Astro Duel contributes to achieving its specific ambitions; it is a product of singularly focused design.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • RamazUltra

    Really getting sick of all these simple arcade like games getting 5/5 where more complex games with amazing gfx and really good gameplay mechanics get 4/5,4.5/5,3.5/5. It's extremely annoying. And not only games with great gfx. Games like blood bowl.

    • Neddy F

      While normally you would have a point, in this case you are barking up the wrong tree.

      I finally got four people round to play this today and it is tremendous fun.

      I also have to say this is polished to near perfection. The balance of the game is amazing and the fact you can use iPhones to control it is genius.

      I haven't played blood bowl but I'm not sure you can compare them. This does what it aims to do with a high level of polish. The develop was aiming for a bomber like experience on iPad and he has more than delivered. Personally this is exactly the type of game I would like to see more off.

      It deserves at least four stars, and none of your unwarranted criticism.

    • mattreeder

      I too hate when people have different opinions than me and things do my way :(

      • mattreeder

        *dont go my way

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        It's internet celebrity and everyone's favorite party animal Matt Reeder!!!

      • RamazUltra

        You are pretty ignorant don't you think.

      • mattreeder

        I don't think; I just party like an animal ;)

      • Neddy F

        The only ignorance on display is the comment comparing this to a simple arcade game. Clearly you have neither played it or read the review properly!

      • mattreeder

        I love the little details in the game. For example, when you pass the finish line but it's a tie, and then you win the tie breaker and smash right past the finish line. Overall, the game is excellent, and I agree with the five star review. The level designs are so varied, and involve different tactics to succeed. Also, the inclusion of box cat makes my face took like this -------> :D

      • Neddy F

        Exactly! I also found the shark from SHARRRK! As a hidden character!

        When I was playing with my siblings I lost so many matches through trying to obliterate their bodies after destroying their ship!!!

    • NickyNichols

      Bundle this with Spaceteam and watch as the reviewers minds collectively explode over these overrated minigames.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I've actually got the perfect solution for you. Most (all?) modern browsers allow you to set a custom style sheet. Typically this is used for accessibility purposes, but, it works great for other uses as well.

      Download this file: http://tapodcast.s3.amazonaws.com/no_rating.css

      Then in your browser's settings, add it as a custom style sheet. It'll make all the ratings on TouchArcade disappear, from there you can just read the review instead of focusing on the headline and score.

      • mattreeder

        The bitching from people in the comment section is starting to remind me of ign lol. You have a good solution though. Another solution would be for people to go outside for some fresh air and exercise. That would help repair their damaged brains and then they wouldn't care so much about people having opinions that are not the exact same as there own.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        It's just a side effect of increasing traffic/popularity. I can think of worse problems to have. :)

      • RamazUltra

        Perfect

    • nini

      Ratings are based on like-for-like, comparing similar games by genre or playstyle as otherwise it's pointless giving games which are simple and arcade-like 1 star because they fail to be as deep as, say, Battleheart Legacy though many never intend to be. Just leads to a bias that really only favours the "core" gamer, I'd like to think TA's community is a little better than that.

  • runesnatcher

    Great rec, great game. Wish there was more like this on the App Store.

    • Four: The Space Fight

      Check out my game as well it's called Four: The Space Fight, and it's quite similar to this one. Supports single and up to 4 player face to face matches. And it's free ;)

  • Honki

    Cool game. Have no friends, though.

    • RiptoR

      I'll be your friend :D

      • Honki

        It's...it's that easy??

      • RiptoR

        Why yes, yes it is!

    • mattreeder

      I made a friend once </3

      • slamraman

        I remember.

      • mattreeder

        Thanks for remembering :)

  • MasonHurst

    I'd like to but for some reason you limited your audience to 7.0 only. I don't want to update my old iPad 2 and I wonder what in you game would require such a limitation.
    Disappointing indeed.

    • http://www.fourios.com Four: The Space Fight

      What's dissapointing is, that my previous answer is not appearing. In that I would have told you, that of course I was aiming for maximum compatibility and the game itself is indeed working on iPad1 as well. It's a framework I'm using for certain online multiplayer tournament possibilities, that is limiting me to iOS 7. I wish the life was easy, but it's not.

  • Neddy F

    Thanks for the nidhogg mention in the review too! I picked it up last night and it is awesome! Still laughing from the many classic battles with my brother!

  • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

    It's in really poor taste to hijack a review to promote your own game.

    • http://www.fourios.com Four: The Space Fight

      Wait, was the post not removed just to be able to comment on it something like this? It's f*** hard to get visibility as an indie developer, and I have worked pretty hard to make the game. And it's a slap in the face whenever I see a 5 star review of the same idea, that I have out for a year now. So yeah, we both have our problems it seems. I was just not going WTF, because that's poor taste.

      • mattreeder

        The games may share a similar idea/concept, but it's not a new idea/concept. Multiplayer games using one ipad is nothing new. Having played both games, I can tell they are both quite different. One is a fun and polished multiplayer gem, while the other is bland, boring and not quite finished. I'll let you use your objectivity to decide which game is which.

      • http://www.fourios.com Four: The Space Fight

        I'm fine with that, let everyone try, and decide. You know, there are people, who prefer usability over features.

      • Neddy F

        These games aren't the same. I actually picked yours up and had fun with it. Then I looked for a forum promoting your game on here and couldn't find one! Maybe that's a good place to start promotion - have your tried social media?

        Why don't you see this review as a positive instead of a slap in the face? It shows there is a desire and market for games like this and one with a price tag!

      • http://www.fourios.com Four: The Space Fight

        Hi, thanks for not being by default negative. I've been "in the business" for a year (and a half). At first I spent a lot of time promoting the game in forums with little success. I've courted pages for a review, that too with little success. I have facebook and twitter (that you can reach from the game's settings screen). All this counts for very little compared to such exposure, as a 5 star review. As for the money without significant exposure, you can forget that. I've earned a total of $10 (yes, ten) so far. Compare that to the 6 months, that I spend developing the game. I did everything from scratch, wrote the music, created the graphics and design, and the coding. But I've moved on, not going to spend my life on trying to promote the game (except for now and then). I'm having fun with my children, and working on my third game. And I get pissed off sometimes, when people with power, but also the knowledge of how this goes (like Eli) tells me to get lost.

      • LarryWP

        I played both games, and if I had to pick one it would be yours. Better controlling of ship, better graphics, better music. Personally I think the reviewed game sucks. I wasted $2.99. However, I'm just an old fart and an idiot when it comes to getting in trouble in forums like this. :) What amazes me through many years of watching forums of all types, is the lack of tolerance to opposing views. Just incredible. :(

      • staraffinity

        I think it's fine that you mentioned your game that is similar to this. Can't see how "hi-jacked the review" by doing that... I'be downloaded the game now and will check it out when I have time (busy being a father at the moment...).

Astro Duel Reviewed by J.D. Cohen on . Rating: 5