Looooong ago, seemingly a lifetime away, the Xbox 360 was released in Australia. I was there on launch day, picking up my pre-ordered-four-months-ago collection of hardware and software, and I remember urging the SO to drive home faster, swiftly whisking the bits from her car and then bidding her adieu for the day… she went to work, I stayed home and played and played and played. Yes, Thursday the 23rd of March 2006 was a great day.

Unfortunately, after the initial rush of all these shiny new games (and the compulsion to overtake some of my UK mates’ gamerscores) passed, I began to feel a little… well, bored. My three launch titles were Perfect Dark Zero (which I didn’t get on with at all), Kameo (which I finished within a couple of days), and Ridge Racer 6 (whose charms didn’t grab me for another couple of months). Because my international friends had a four-month headstart with the console, I’d been subjected to their ravings about various XBLA games… and so I snaffled, sight unseen, Robotron and Geometry Wars and Mutant Storm Reloaded (I’d been a fan of PomPom for years).

You see the problem, don’t you? Two games that were rubbing me the wrong way, one that was a doddle to plow through, and three twin-stick shooters that I’m rubbish at. Not a whole lot of delectable variety there.

So again I turned to my network of friends: what next? what are they enjoying? A few more titles were mentioned, and so I took advantage of the wonderful demo feature of XBLA to snaffle a few tasters: Wik: Fable of Souls, Gauntlet (an old arcade fave), and the focus of this blog post: Astropop.

Now, I don’t recall who recommended Astropop to me, and I hope that the forum responsible for that interaction has since lost track of that post; because I never want to associate that game – that horrible game – with someone’s name, someone’s face. That person surely has loved ones who need not know their mistake.

The thing is, I initially wasn’t even aware of how truly awful the game was; I’d downloaded the demo and fired it up – only to be told that it wouldn’t run in PAL-50 mode. Which was news to me, since I was running my 360 through VGA… but whatever. I deleted the demo, and thought nothing more of it.

It wasn’t until I discovered MyGamerCard that the GamerScore bug really bit me… and then, hiding on the left-hand side of my profile, I discovered a number that would taunt me forever: “GS Completion %”.

My percentage was depressingly low.

“But why?” I asked myself. After all, I was getting a fair few Achievements in all my games; why was this number so low?

I looked, and it became clear: the percentage took into account demos.

I checked my GamerCard on; it, too, kept a record of these demos. There didn’t appear to be any way to remove these unwanted guests, so the only way to get my percentage up to some reasonable level was to purchase and play them.

Look, it made sense at the time. And I viewed it as appropriate punishment for not having played the demos on a separate profile.

Now, some of these miscreant demos actually led to some enjoyable games: I actually quite enjoyed Wik. But Astropop, on the other hand…

I eventually discovered a fix for the PAL-50 problem, and finally got to play the game. And I truly sucked at it. Block matching games aren’t really my thing at all, especially block matching games with cluttered graphics (worthy only of two generations of hardware past), annoying music, and a piss-poor attempt at a “story” to hang the whole thing on. I would’ve felt I’d received an unfair deal if I’d bought this for my Commodore 64; but here I was, playing this abomination on my shiny new Xbox 360 – “next generation,” indeed.

Sure, one Achievement popped straight away… but it was another seven months before I could bear to return to the horrid little Match-4-fest (and in that time, Microsoft saw the error of their ways and started allowing 0-Achievement games to be removed from one’s GamerCard. I was furious). A few more Achievements, some through luck and some through bloody-minded determination, brought my GamerScore from the game to 60. Of 200.

Another year passed, and I discovered that you were actually able to save the game. Judicious use of memory and a shitload of rebooting gouged another handful of Achievements out, leaving just two remaining… but I just couldn’t do it. I had grown to loathe Astropop so much that I simply could not face it again.

Until last week.

“This has to stop,” I said to myself. “I have to get this game – no, this spectre – out of my life.”

So I started practising. After a couple of days, I tried the well-known attack on Level 3 for the Captain Quick Brick achievement… and got it on the second attempt.

Somewhat elated at seeing that little toast appear, I immediately set forth on another Survival game… my previous best time (from two years ago) had been something around 7 minutes & 10 seconds, but I needed 9 minutes…

My next attempt floundered at five minutes. I – again – felt The Rage. But I started another game regardless.

At the four minute mark, I started noticing that things seemed a little different. I seemed to be the recipient of some good luck from the game; a horrid wall of iron bricks? Here’s a handy row buster. Disparate obstructions? Why, your SuperWeapon has just powered up. An outbreak of poison blocks all over the screen? Why, they just happen to all be right next to red blocks, and here’s a red Nuke block! Uncanny timing, maybe, but the last thing I was prepared to accept was this game’s pity.

Suddenly, I realised that I was in the 8-minute region… I held on as long as I could, frantically blocking and memorising and pausing for breath and unpausing and going again – and then I saw the clock said 8:48… and my SuperWeapon was available.

Haha, you fucker. I have you now.

I let fly. I cleared the screen. The Achievement toast popped up. I cleared the screen again. “Fuck you,” I seethed. I wanted the game to suffer. I wanted the game to pay for every shitty moment I had spent with it, suffering because of that demo left on my GamerCard, because of that one Achievement. I cleared the screen yet again before the SuperWeapon exhausted itself and the bricks marched onwards towards my doom… and the end of Astropop.

9:42, or thereabouts. I could check the leaderboards, but I refuse to let that game poison the memory of my beloved console again. The game over screen bleated some message along the lines of “Try again to beat your high score!”… fat fucking chance.

I hated Astropop. I hated it with every fibre of my being, with every beat of my black little heart that pumps thick bilious hateful goo through my veins. I hope it drops to the bottom of my list of games and keeps going, not stopping its descent until it is incinerated in the bowels of a fiery hell. Yes, it only cost 800 points, and yes, I eventually “conquered” Astropop, but at the end of the day I’m left to wonder as to what the true cost of my accumulated suffering will be.

6 thoughts on “Astropop”

  1. A heartwarming tale of triumph through endeavour, mister. Very well done. All I can say is, I’m glad I don’t care what my completion percentage is… this OC business looks like it must be a real bind sometimes! On the other hand, at least you’re getting better value for your money…

  2. I had to look up what I paid for Astropop when I wrote that post… 800pts. I would’ve paid five times that amount without blinking if it was possible to have had it struck from my card.

    Twenty times, even.

  3. You are incredible! This tortured and twisted tail of despair and desperation is so beautiful I am still smiling as I recall your desperation. I remember 23rd March 2006 well – I was the long suffering SO of that day.

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