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Astal – Saturn

Astal – Saturn

Astal - Sega SaturnPlatform:  Sega Saturn

Release Date (NA):  April 27th, 1995

Developer:  Sega

Publisher:  Sega

Genre:  Platformer

Nerd Rating:  7 out of 10

Project Obscure

 

 

 

 

 

For a while now, Astal has been near the top of my stack of “games to play,” so tonight, after a brief scare that my Saturn was failing me, I had a chance to dig into this rather unique platformer.  Astal is often ranked among the best overlooked titles for the Saturn (or is the entire Saturn library overlooked?) so I had decent expectations.  Truth is, I knew nothing of the game before I bought it, but its $24 price tag and relatively decent condition convinced me that I was in for better than a lot of the FMV shovelware that many associate with Sega’s penultimate console.  Don’t be fooled by the goofy and innocuous cover art; Astal has its flaws, but it’s still a quality 2D platformer from an era when games like this were popping up less and less.

Astal - Sega Saturn

Astal breaks free!
There’s a very strange animation style used in these cutscenes.

Astal - Sega Saturn

Astal’s big bad.

If you start off by giving Astal a proper playthrough, then you’ll be privy to the somewhat bizarre storyline.  Through a beautifully animated cut scene, we learn just what we’re in for, and also the revelation that it’s pronounced “a-STALL” rather than “A-stuhl.”  The player is treated to a creation narrative about a world called Quartilla.  It’s a little complicated, but the bottom line is that Astal, despite his noble intentions of protecting Leda, has left Quartilla a wreck, and the creator imprisons him a moon.  But some leftover bad guys (from earlier in the story; the ones who Astal protected Leda from in the first place) are still creeping around, and still compelled by his nature to protect, Astal breaks free to once again ensure Leda’s safety.  The story is a bit clunky and awkward, but it’s serviceable enough.

Astal - Sega Saturn

Even from the beginning of the game, you know you’re in for a treat!

Astal is a pretty textbook platformer, and reminds me a lot of the earlier Rayman games with its bold presentation.  As a matter of fact, it’s utterly beautiful.  Everything is animated, and the backgrounds and environments are especially well done.  There’s tons of color bursting forth from Quartilla, with several different landscapes featured as well: ice, lava, caves, and forests just to name a few.  The artists really ran with their imaginations here and created a truly unique world.  Even beyond the high quality artwork, the Saturn handles the visuals with crisp definition and sharp detail.  Every moment is a pleasure to look at.

The character sprites are large and eye catching as well, not to be dwarfed by this alien world.  Astal himself is a little strange looking, but he fits in nicely with his quirky environment.  Enemies are based on jewels, since jewels have something to do with their creation, though the bosses have a little more flair.  It’s difficult to pinpoint to what visual theme the creators were going for; the designs seem random and unconnected.  A more cohesive vision could’ve really pushed it over the edge, but Astal is still a breathtaking piece of work.

Astal - Sega Saturn

So how about the actual gameplay?  Anyone with even a modicum of experience with platformers will find most of Astal recognizable.  He jumps, jaunts and attacks; he makes his way across treacherous stretches of floating earth; he even has a few tricks up his sleeve.  Astal can jump on most enemies without harm, though he doesn’t quash them and instead bounces.  His main means of dispatching foes is with a throw, but he can also blow really hard to put out fires and kill some baddies, and perform a ground pound that stuns his surrounding adversaries.

Shortly after the game begins, Astal gains the assistance of a small bird.  The bird can help reach items out of Astal’s grasp and launch massive attacks against difficult-to-reach bosses and enemies.  In 2-player mode, the second player has a greater degree of freedom with the bird and can join in the combat more thoroughly.

Astal - Sega Saturn

This shit frustrated me to no end…

The difficulty slowly ramps up yet few areas pose any serious challenge.  Astal does handle the movement of platforms in a unique way; most games that require the player to jump from one moving platform to another feature platforms moving at the same speed.  Here however, the platforms move at different speeds, requiring one to wait and time jumps more carefully since it’s harder to predict exactly where the platform will be.  Bosses require increasingly inventive methods to defeat, utilizing all of Astal’s attacks at one time or another in different ways.  Limited health and lives also contribute the Astal’s difficulty.  Five lives is the maximum that a player can choose (from the options menu), in addition to 3 hit points and a single continue being available.  Replenishing one’s health along the way is easy enough, but to my knowledge, there’s no way to gain extra lives, continues, or upgrade Astal’s health.

Although the game is composed of several stages, they’re quite short and the game ends sooner than it should.  Having just a little more to do and a little more variety in gameplay wouldn’t hurt, and a save feature would be nice too.  In true throwback fashion though, our opportunities are limited and “Pause” is as close as we get to “Save.”

A final point of note in Astal is the game’s liberal use of uplifting synth scores reminiscent of J-pop backing tracks, especially during the intro, outro, and cut scenes.  Hearing this sort of “happy” music is always fun in small doses and perfectly accentuates the fantastical, otherworldly tone of this strange story.

Astal - Sega Saturn

One of my favorite graphics are these giant bugs that turn out not to be traditional enemies, but more of an environmental hazard.

Does Astal deserve its place among the upper echelon of Sega Saturn games?  In truth, I probably haven’t dug through the Saturn’s library rigorously enough to make such a determination.  The Saturn had a much happier life in Japan, and though it was released in an era known for all of its 3D and FMV efforts, it’s easy to image that Sega had already put at least a significant portion of these lackluster games behind them with the mixed reception of their Sega CD add-on.  Astal is, however, a fun game worth the attention of any platformer fans.  I found myself wishing for a little more creativity by the time it was over, but it’s still a well-made game with stunning artwork, which I’m sure was a much bigger deal in an age where 2D sidescrollers were slowly dying out.

By the way, should Astal prove too difficult, or if you just want a more casual experience with the game, there are a number of built-in cheats to make your life easier!

Effect Code
99 Lives / Secret Mode Code
This code will allow you to enter other codes and also set “Lives” to any number up to 99.
In the “Options” menu, with Controller 2, enter: Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Down, L, R, Start.
Level Select
(Above code must be active!)
At the main menu, with Controller 1, enter: Up, Down, Left, Right, L, R, A, Y, C, Z, B, X.
Invincibility Pause game and enter: Up, Y, Left, A, Down, B, Right, C, then unpause.
Replenish Life Pause game and enter: Down, Right, Up, L, X, A, Y, B, Z, C, Right, Left, then unpause.
Sudden Death Pause game and enter: L, A, R, C, B.
With the Secret Code active, press any of these combinations repeatedly (until the “Sega” screen appears) to hear a different voice yell out “SEGA!”
Leda L + X
Astal L + Y
Geist L + Z
1st Antowas R + X
2nd Antowas R + Y
Gerardo R + Z

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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  1. Pingback: Project Obscure - Nerd Bacon Reviews

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