Astro Wars Review

Astro Wars - portable tabletop

Back in the early 80’s, the closest thing to having an arcade in your home was to have one of a plethora of electronic tabletops. In a sea of these portable tabletops, one stood out head and shoulders – Grandstand’s (Epoch developed), Astro Wars. Everything about this black and grey beast was and still is uber cool. It looks like a miniature arcade and it even plays like one. It has a 2-way metal joystick (for left and right movement) and one big plastic fire button – what more could you want !

Astro Wars - portable tabletop

Even after three decades, the hardware oozes coolness. Just look at the unit ! The display is a “vacuum fluorescent display”, or VFD (the box says Multicolour FIP Display !). This was used on consumer-electronics equipment back in the early 80’s, like calculators. Unlike liquid crystal displays, a VFD could emit a very bright light with high contrast and could support display elements of various colours.

Astro Wars - portable tabletop

The unit feels sturdy and can be powered by mains (6 Volt) or with four ‘C’ batteries. The unit is “portable” – perhaps only around the house as you wouldn’t want to lug it around.

Astro Wars - portable tabletop

So, how does this Astro Wars play ? Well, as a shoot’em up, it is quite simple – move your earth ship left / right to avoid missiles from the fierce squadron of attacking fighters and fire back to blast them into smithereens. Once you blast away waves of enemy fighters, warships and command ships, you attempt the docking manoeuvre – landing the upper module to the rocket part of your earth ship. Succeed with this manoeuvre, and you are given extra points. Speaking of points, once you reach 9999, the counter resets to zero and you have effectively “clocked the game”. When you do end up finishing the game, you still want to re-play it. Now that is saying something for a game that has been around for 30+ years. How many other games can you say that about ? OK, I hear people screaming Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, and yes, them too.

If you want a cool piece of gaming history with “pew-pew sounds” and a great game to boot, then hunt down this unit – you will not regret it.


It was on a family holiday that videogames first got their hooks into me. Sure, they were around before that, and I was vaguely aware of them, even ‘dabbling’ on occasion, such as when I played the table-top classic, Astro Wars, for practically the whole weekend I stayed over at my cousin’s house, for example, or when I played Frostbite on a school friend’s Atari VCS after school now and then. At that point though, they were never anything more than a passing distraction.

Torbay - The English Riviera

The aforementioned trip was my first vacation and would see us visit the land of my forebears. Namely, the Torbay area of Devon, and we would stay in a rented cottage. I was around 11 or 12 at the time and was very excited about my first trip away, it sounded fantastic, even if it would be occurring in the school summer holidays, thereby failing to ensure that I’d miss any schooltime! For those who don’t know, Torbay is a beautiful area of the Devonshire coast known as “the English Riviera”. It enjoys a mild climate and is home to a sizable marina, some top beaches, three lovely resort towns – Torquay, Paignton, and Brixham, which collectively feature many sights and attractions of magnificent splendour. I, however, ultimately saw very little of all this after I first wandered past an amusement arcade.

OutRun Deluxe arcade machineUp until this point I’d had little interest in arcades. Sure, I’d seen most of the big-name machines like Centipede, Asteroids and the like dotted around here and there and I had a bash on occasion like when my dad would give me a few 10p coins to use on the Space Invaders machine at my youth club, but videogames were still a niche subculture at this time – some games had intrigued me but none had ever truly captured my imagination. Until, that is, I happened upon one of the several arcades in Torquay and something caught my eye. I saw a machine, big, bright red, gleaming like a….. Ferrari! Now cars were an interest of mine at that time. This magnificent-looking machine grabbed me by the ears and pulled me in.

I arrived beside the dauntingly large machine. I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Amazing images greeted my young eyes. It was fast and colourful. The sounds came booming out of the speakers. There was actual music… The arcade games I’d seen before were pretty impressive, but I’d never seen anything like this – it was amazing! After moaning at my parents for what seemed like an eternity, they yielded and bestowed upon me a shiny fifty pence coin. I finally lowered myself into the large seat armed with the coin and immediately felt more important. I deployed it and selected the music – Magical Sound Shower of course – and began the game. The excitement as I floored the accelerator and zoomed away from the start line was immense.

OutRun game Start screen

I soon reached the first corner of the exquisite Coconut Beach Boulevard, started to turn the wheel and – oh my God! – the whole seat moved! I managed to get as far as the uphill chicane before succumbing to the ever-precarious tree-lined roadside. Upon hitting them for the first time, the whole machine shook around! To say that this was unexpected would be to put it mildly – this was quite incredible! Unfortunately this revelatory experience didn’t last much longer as my time expired, but it was to become an important experience for me. Suffice to say, and the rest of this holiday was predominantly spent in the various arcades of Torquay, and most of that time, sat in an OutRun machine’s seat.

It’s hard to explain how much Outrun means to me. It was the first videogame I ever really played properly – the beginning of what was to become a passionate, not to mention expensive hobby, which has been vigorously pursued ever since. It’s a real possibility that had this encounter not taken place, I may not even be a casual gamer now, let alone the hardcore gaming nerd that I became and remain. The holiday had to end though, and upon returning to Hampshire, the source of my obsession was nowhere to be found. This situation was soon rectified, however. After a hard fought campaign, my parents finally bought me a Sega Master System, on which I had discovered I could play Outrun. I had to pay them back of course, so three years of paper rounds ensued, all proceeds going to this cause. It didn’t matter though – I had Outrun!

OutRun Marquee