The deluxe name has been mentioned quite a bit recently, with Mario Kart 8 using the title and justifying the branding. With aspirations for eShop success Astro Duel Deluxe voyages to the Nintendo Switch accompanied by some exclusive add-ons that promise anarchic fun through same-screen multiplayer. Does it earn the reputable deluxe name, though?
Instantly reminding us of a revamped Atari game (Asteroids being the obvious inspiration), the arcade style brings strong nostalgia whilst upgrading the timeless graphics for today’s standards. Your main aim (with some mode variations) is to destroy your opponent’s ship and/or pilot within; you also have the obligatory team deathmatch setup to change things up. Shooting down your enemy is satisfying, yet the main kick comes from driving the ship’s stalk into the enemy pilot as they drift helplessly through space, impaling them for a brutal but satisfying finish.
For the Switch version three gameplay modes are available - Classic, Party and Chaos. The latter is new, allowing up to six players to take part through Joy-Cons and Pro Controllers. As you’d expect this mode is manic as everyone challenges for dominance; screaming and yelling will likely ensue in the best possible way. The tough part is identifying which ship is yours, and on a few occasions our ship was destroyed barely after the round kicked off - in essence this became half the fun. For quick rounds the Joy-Cons held on their side are the go-to option; they work well, though for non-gamers it may take time to adjust. As always due to the bigger button layout the Pro Controller reigns supreme.
Replicating the iOS strategy, Party mode is where the touchscreen is introduced, allowing four people to participate with only the need of two fingers each. For those with a lack of controllers this is certainly handy, as well as not having to lug around more when on the go. It’s a great idea, making smart use of the Switch screen, but perhaps the idea of smudging glass thanks to finger marks (even with a screen protector) won't encourage too many players to play this mode often.
Undoubtedly Classic mode is where the majority of time will be spent, due to it offering the most balanced gameplay. The disappointing aspect is the abyss of space where we'd like a genuine single player mode. Fighting CPU opponents can only hold up for so long, and with no progression or gains it seems rather pointless. A simple arcade mode where you battle through each level would have sufficed.
On the other end of the spectrum the stages bundled are of great quality and quantity, each bringing different landscapes to manoeuvre and obstacles to avoid. Black Hole and Turret are by far the trickiest and are correctly categorised into the harder difficult; the looming black hole in the middle of the former level - constantly pulling at the ship's navigation - provides both laughs and agitation. Turret changes the dynamic of the battle, making it more of a survival frenzy. A variety of items appear across all levels too, creating pandemonium as soon as they drop - utilising these can certainly determine the outcome.
Space can be a lonely place. Not here though, as the soundtrack fits the retro experience perfectly, making every fight exciting and tense. Prompting that nostalgia once again, the music is something out of a seventies sci-fi show, which is a sublime choice. One small note is that occasionally static would seep through both TV and Switch (when undocked) in our playtime, which doesn't seem by design.
Developer Wild Rooster has offered a fast-paced, frantic multiplayer game that will have you yelling and screaming for all the right reasons. The anarchic Chaos Mode is an appreciable inclusion that, when combined with the quantity and quality of stages, earn Astro Duel the right to its deluxe name. Where it falls short on that title is the absence of a meaningful single player option (beyond duelling with AI), which the premium shift in price perhaps merited. Apart from that the retro-tastic soundtrack keeps all battles thrilling along with a smart, convenient control-scheme that makes any spare moment accessible for play. It's certainly one to consider for those seeking local multiplayer thrills on their Switch.