Astro Duel Deluxe review

Astro Duel Deluxe: Zany Multiplayer Party Fun!

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Indie studio Panic Button brings us Astro Duel Deluxe, an upgraded version of Astro Duel. This new and improved version for the Nintendo Switch offers HD rumble, a sweet soundtrack, and three modes of play: Classic (1-4 players), Party (2-4 players), and Chaos (1-6 players). The game supports up to 6 players and lets you play with your Pro Controller, Joy Con Grip, or split Joy Con controllers. And don’t think you need 6 people to have fun; you can always add CPU players to get the high-octane feel of Chaos mode!

A match begins
The beginning of a new round: FIGHT!

The gameplay varies in each mode, but the basic concept remains the same: cruise around in your galactic ship with B, attack your enemies with Y, use a special attack (attained through power-ups) with A, and tilt the left joystick right or left to turn. You can also get a quick speed boost with L or X. These controls may take some getting used to, but the game has you practicing your movement in a brief elliptical lap before each new play session begins, making this an excellent party game for players of all skill levels.

Warm-up before gameplay
Finish a lap to practice your movement before a new play session begins!

The only mode that doesn’t feature these controls is Party Mode, which can only be effectively played on the Switch touch screen. Party Mode moves your vessel automatically and lets you turn by touching your designated corner(s) of the screen. These Party controls are pretty tricky, but they present a fun challenge for you and a friend or two (or three!) while on the go with the touch screen.

In all modes, you can add CPU players and set their difficulty to “easier” or “harder,” but beware: these “easier” CPUs are quite skilled (except when they accidentally burn themselves to smithereens by bumping into laser beams), and they may be quite challenging to beat!

Optional Characters
Choose among 6 characters and add up to 5 CPUs, depending on your chosen mode! My favorite character is Box Cat, and my partner’s is Chomper (far right).

Your goal in all modes is simple: shoot and kill your enemies before they shoot and kill you! But use your ammo wisely, as you only get 3 shots at a time. Your ammo recharges within seconds of using it, and you don’t have to use up all of your shots for them to begin recharging—but if you use all 3 at once, you’ll be vulnerable for several seconds during the recharge phase. And your enemies aren’t the only thing to watch out for; other obstacles include thick laser beams that incinerate you with one touch!

My ship gets incinerated
See that red explosion to the left? That’s my ship being incinerated by a giant laser beam in an instant replay.

Each mode features 4 sub-modes: Ship Hunters, Pilot Hunters, Team Deathmatch, and Team Annihilation. Team Deathmatch is the team version of Ship Hunters, and Team Annihilation is the team version of Pilot Hunters.

There are 4 sub-modes: Ship Hunters, Pilot Hunters, Team Deathmatch, and Team Annihilation!
There are 4 sub-modes: Ship Hunters, Pilot Hunters, Team Deathmatch, and Team Annihilation!

Both Ship Hunters and Team Deathmatch have you killing ships, but Pilot Hunters and Team Annihilation work a bit differently: when a ship takes a hit, its pilot is exposed. The pilot is a tiny character that you get to choose, and the pilot cannot use attacks. Further, the pilot is rather difficult to control, and it’s extremely vulnerable: you can kill one just by running into it with your ship! But if you manage to stay alive as a pilot for about 7 seconds, your ship will automatically re-spawn (with your pilot inside the ship) and will be momentarily invincible so that you can get your bearings and (try to) get back in the game.

In this way, Pilot Hunters and Team Annihilation are more forgiving than the other sub-modes, since you can take a hit without any power-ups and have a (small) chance at survival. And these sub-modes allow you to steal someone else’s kill: for example, if P2 shoots P3 and exposes their pilot, you’re free to go after P3 and steal the final kill for yourself!

An exposed pilot is super-vulnerable.
An exposed pilot (circled in pink) is about to bite the dust! To the lower-right, you can see a few power-ups and asteroids floating about.

Astro Duel Deluxe determines the winner of each play session based on each player’s number of kills or wins, depending on the chosen sub-mode, and you get to pick how many kills or wins it takes to win. Want a quick game? Choose 5 kills or wins. Want to play for a while? Choose 8 or 13 instead!

In the pilot-centered sub-modes, each round of play ends when only one player is left alive. Players advance forward for each kill they make in each round, but they take a step backwards if they accidentally kill themselves (i.e., by bumping into a laser, or blowing themselves up with their own mine).

In the ship-centered sub-modes, rounds still end when one player is left alive, but only the winning player (or the winning team) takes a step towards victory. (You still take a step backwards if you kill yourself.)

Players advancing towards the finish line!
Players advancing towards the finish line!

In all modes, an optional (and skippable) Instant Replay reminds you of how each round ended— which can be quite hilarious, especially if you or a fellow player has accidentally incinerated themselves!

When playing one-on-one, a draw is possible at the end of a round, even if one player dies a second or two after the other. This might frustrate some players who feel that a draw should only happen when both players kill each other at precisely the same time, but I don’t mind it. When a round ends in a draw, both players advance one step towards victory.

What happens in a draw
An example of a draw. The explosion near the top of the screen is my character—but if you look closely at the blue ship, you’ll see a white dot near its nose; that’s my ammo that I shot right before I died, and it’s just about to hit the blue ship, seconds after my ship’s annihilation! Sweet revenge!

As you glide about each course, you are free to shoot asteroids and other flying objects to attain various power-ups, which may be offensive (like a powerful laser beam) or defensive (like a reflector that disappears when hit). Sometimes, power-ups are just there for the taking, and you don’t have to jump through any hoops to get them. But going after a power-up will do you no good if you’re shot and killed in the process, so you’ll have to decide if it’s more important to seek out power-ups or to quickly target your enemies with your 3 shots instead. (And if you love the power-ups in this game, you’ll definitely want to try Chaos mode, which features more power-ups than Classic and Party.)

Opponents armed with power-ups are tough to beat.
My opponent snagged a Reflector (the pink crescent) and a Scatter Shot (the circle of blue ammo) power-up and completely annihilated me. (I’m the colorful explosion near the top of the ammo circle.)

With Astro Duel Deluxe, you’ve got a lot of options. For example, you can select the frequency of asteroids, and you can set a variety of features to “on” or “off.” These optional features include sudden death, autobalance, powerups, starting power-up, fixed spawn, friendly fire, and super dash—and for an extra challenge, you can even specify whether you want your dashes (X or L speed boosts) to use up your ammo.

In Sudden Death, thick laser beams converge in the center of the screen
Sudden Death! These laser beams are swiftly moving towards the screen’s center. They’ll probably end up incinerating one of us ships/pilots, but we still have a chance to finish each other off ourselves!

Plus, you can control more general options: do you want the music? The voice? The instant replays? These are just a few of your many customizable game features. You can also select whether you want your play session to feature random stages, or if you’d rather have the session feature your favorite stage instead. With Astro Duel Deluxe, your custom gameplay options are nearly endless!

13 Stage Options, Plus "Random"
There are 13 stage options. Choose 1, or select “Random” for more variety!

While playing Astro Duel Deluxe, I only noticed occasional skipping and lagging while playing by myself with 3 to 5 CPUs. Otherwise, the gameplay was totally smooth, even when playing with a fellow human (one of us using the Joy Con Grip, the other using the Pro Controller) and 4 CPU players in Chaos Mode.

While this game is a blast to play—especially if you have at least one other real person to play with—it does have its drawbacks. For one thing, there’s no option for online play, even though such a feature seems to be much-requested by the community and could really be a game-changer for someone who plays alone. Another drawback: if you don’t have a Pro Controller or an extra set of Joy Con and want to play multiplayer in a mode other than Party, you’ll have to use the split Joy Con controllers, which are a bit hard to control. Also, when playing on a team, it can be easy to confuse your vessel with the vessels of other players, since the colors on each team are easily confused with one another. Finally, some players may consider the retail price of $14.99 to be a bit steep, especially since the original Astro Duel costs only $4.99 or $9.99, depending on the system you purchase it for.

The shades of red and blue on teams Red and Blue can be confusing
Blue team and red team: see how things could get confusing?

Overall, Astro Duel Deluxe is a fun and hilarious party game with plenty of variety for gameplay, especially if you have a few friends to play with. (And if you don’t, you can always play with CPUs!) I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes zany party games, or anyone looking for a fun, colorful, retro-esque title to join their growing collection of Switch titles!


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