Arcade ports on the Atari 2600 need to be taken with lowered expectations. The Video Computer System, which was designed to play a large number of games, just couldn't match the graphical or sound capabilities of an arcade board designed to play just one. So, while perfect conversions were near impossible, adaptations can still carry the appeal of the originals and hold up on their own. One of the best examples of this is the port of Asteroids.
The original arcade game turned heads in 1979 with its use of vector graphics which, while lacking color, gave the game a sharp look that was and still is quite eye-pleasing. The sound design instilled tension with a low throb reminiscent of the Jaws theme punctuated by the sharp alarm-like rings accompanying the arrival of a flying saucer. The gameplay was simple and intuitive. You had a ship with a hyperspace jump and shields, and you're blasting space rocks. Arcade Asteroids still rocks even today.
The same is mostly true of this port. The Atari 2600 is incapable of doing vector graphics; so the asteroids have become colorful, amorphous blobs, and the ships have become simple nine-pixel sprites. The sound design is not as clear as the arcade, but it still works quite well at maintaining tension.
The gameplay has taken a couple of hits, but it still works. Due to the single fire button being used for shooting, pressing up becomes the ship's thrust while down is used for another function. While the arcade machine gave access to both hyperspace and the shield, control limitations restrict the player to one or the other depending on the chosen game mode.
The first game mode (out of 66) is WAY too easy. A four-year old can play that mode forever. Take the time to check out the other modes which, aside from determining whether you have hyperspace or shields, also determine the angles that the rocks travel when they break apart. The flying saucers can be turned on or off by flicking the difficulty switches. If the flying saucers are also turned on, the port is still easier than the arcade original, but it still gives a challenge.
Shooting rocks may seem lame in the Call of Duty era, but Asteroids is still a blast. Even though the arcade original can be found in numerous ways from Game Boy to smartphone, if you have an Atari 2600, the port of Asteroids should be in your collection. It is easily one of the best arcade ports on the system as long as you have enough imagination to call colorful blobs "Asteroids."