Review: Astro Duel Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)
The Nintendo Switch seems like the perfect platform for local competitive multiplayer. After all, the key feature of the console is portability, not to mention the double Joy-Cons, allowing for two-player gaming anywhere. Astro Duel Deluxe is a game keenly aware of the Switch’s strengths as a multiplayer device, and smartly harnesses that potential to create an intriguing, if limited experience.
Astro Duel Deluxe can best be explained as Asteroids with deathmatch. Players control a triangle-shaped spacecraft with a simple blaster on its point and a thruster on its rear. The only goal is to hit opponent ships with slow-moving energy blasts, which is more difficult than it sounds due to your craft’s movement. Holding down the ship's booster will catapult your geometric craft through the darkness of space, and just like in Asteroids, the lack of friction causes your ship to behave like it's gliding atop a sheet of ice. The slippery controls are half the fun, and while your ship may seem hard to manipulate at first, it quickly becomes second nature.
The game is at its best, and craziest, when it mixes up the standard formula with unique arena mechanics. One stage in particular features spreading gravitational ripples that curve and warp shots, while another places a circular planet in the center of the stage, allowing for speedy slingshotting around its perimeter. Working these hazards into your plan while dodging, shooting, and colliding with opponents ratchets up the excitement in a tangible way. Likewise, the power ups that spawn in each arena (shields, spread-shots, missiles, jousting attachments and more) act as fun, match-changing variables.
Astro Duel Deluxe comes with numerous game modes, including mainstays like deathmatch and team deathmatch, but the real star of the show is Pilot Execution. In this mode, it’s not enough to destroy your enemy’s ship, you need to splatter or shoot their escaping pilot. Failing to execute the pilot within a few seconds will result in their ship regenerating, giving them a second lease on life (and a second opportunity to kill you). Some of the game’s best moments come when you’re drifting through space without the safety of a ship, avoiding boosting enemies and projectiles, biding time until your ship reappears.
It’s in the heat of local multiplayer match that Astro Duel Deluxe comes to life. The screen-filling effects, slippery movement, devastating powerups, and arena hazards combine to create an experience that’s as hectic as it is fun and exhilarating. Playing the game with a group of friends was some of the most fun I’ve had in a multiplayer game this year, and our matches were full of swearing, screaming, and laughing. There are even a number of game modifiers that can be flipped on to increase the chaotic intensity of the match.
Astro Duel Deluxe goes out of its way to ensure that everyone, regardless of their Switch configuration, can hop into a game with their friends. Not only is it possible to play with a single Joy-Con, the game supports Pro Controllers, combined Joy-Cons, and a unique mode in which each player holds one side of the Switch and uses on-screen touch controls. Even better, multiplayer supports up to six players, allowing for some truly epic battles.
While it's possible to play the game solo (with 1-5 CPU bots), you probably won't want to. Options in single player are very limited, and CPU opponents can only be toggled to "easy" or "hard" difficulty, with no options in between. After only an hour of playing, I quickly surpassed the skill of the "hard" opponents, leaving me with little challenge going forward. I understand the desire to preserve the purity of the couch multiplayer experience, but Astro Duel Deluxe could have benefited from an online multiplayer component. The easy bot difficulty, combined with limited single player options, made it impossible to adequately hone my skills before my next local multiplayer session. While I can see Astro Duel Deluxe becoming my go-to party game, it won’t see much play outside of those situations.
To be clear, Astro Duel Deluxe isn't for everyone. Some may be turned off by the game's simplicity and singular focus, while others will long for a more robust single player experience, deeper gameplay, or an online multiplayer component. While those criticisms are valid, the fuel that powers Astro Duel Deluxe is raucous local multiplayer with a group of close friends. In those moments of tense positioning, near-collisions, and across-the-map sniping, the simplicity of the experience fades away, and it becomes an excellent party game.