Sega first previewed a prototype of Astron Belt, the first ever
laserdisc video game, at the 1982 fall AMOA show in Chicago. Its
unveiling there marked the official beginning of disc fever within
the industry. However, Sega opted not to release the game
in the U.S. due to several hardware and software bugs and it was
beaten to market by not only Dragon's Lair but a slew of others.
As Sega was preparing to finally release Astron Belt (it was
technically the first commercial laser release since it debuted
in Japanese arcades in mid-1983), Sega's U.S. arm was acquired by
Bally/Midway, who subjected it to much fine tuning and location
testing. The result was a laserdisc game that was much improved
but it was a matter of too little, too late.
Appearing in upright and environmental (or sitdown) models, the
premise of Astron Belt is as basic as they come. Similar to many
space games the object is to shoot at anything that flies in order
to score points. Your spaceship is represented by computer-generated
graphics and is easily and accurately maneuvered around the screen
by use of a Tron-style trigger joystick.
From a behind-the-ship perspective, you fly through realistically-detailed,
laserdisc-generated special effects backgrounds. You'll zip through
moving fields of stars, approach land on planets, and watch gaseous
nebulas cloud the heavens. What's more, a never-ending armada of
menacing spaceships (that look as good as anything you saw in
the Star Wars films) will zoom in and out of your firing range,
occassionally blasting your spaceship as they whiz by.
All in all, Astron Belt is your standard shooter that is quite
polished as far as laserdisc games go. The space ship movie scenes
in the background of Astron Belt were actually taken from the '70s
Japanese movie "Message from Space." .The laserdisc-generated
effects are smooth, and the game cuts from scene to scene, and
scene to explosion, without the blackouts that plagued Dragon's
Lair. Had it not taken Sega and Bally/Midway over a year-and-ahalf
to perfect Astron Belt, it may have been more of a commercial
success. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.