AstroLander FAQ

A minigame that can be unlocked in multi-format console game TimeSplitters 2, AstroLander is the game of kings. Almost holy in its simplicity, with a trippy soundtrack and exactly four sound effects to boot. In this game, there's only one rule: gravity. No randomness, no weapons, no NPCs, no AI. Just you versus harsh, real-world physics. And strangely addictive it is, too. From this old-skool simplicity emerges a game where the truly high scores are obtained only by skill and skill alone.

This FAQ will offer plenty of good advice as to how to beat the game to start with - see "Detailed Gameplay Information" for that kind of stuff. However, completion is not the main excitement factor in AstroLander; after a while, even beating Hard mode isn't very entertaining in itself. High scores are where it's at, and world records. Therefore this document is mainly geared towards those who want to get high scores.

Well, here we go.

Contents

Blunt high-score advice for those who need it fast

  • It's ALL about the landing. Expending additional fuel to get to the very centre of the pad is usually worthwhile.
  • Long bursts are only ever needed when you need to move horizontally a great distance, to get you up to speed and then to slow you down again at the far side.
  • For vertical passages, use short thrusts to keep your speed roughly constant and travel gently up or down. This gives greater control but expends about the same amount of fuel.
  • If you find yourself needing to point the thruster upwards for any reason, you're doing something wrong. Don't waste fuel when gravity is there to do the job for you.
  • Cut corners as close as you dare.
  • Straight line routes are the most efficient, regardless of how slowly you must take them.
  • Speed does not necessarily equal fuel efficiency, or indeed successful landing.
  • Think ahead.
  • Think before firing.
  • Never correct your course until it becomes absolutely necessary - you might yet pass that outcropping.
  • Sometimes, a single controlled burst at the start of the level with some very minor course corrections is enough to get you within an inch of the landing pad.
  • Play Super Monkey Ball to improve your joystick control. <- not a joke
  • Aspirers to the World Records: For Easy, aim for ??K/level average, Medium, ??K/level, Hard, 18K/level.
  • That's just "aim for", by the way. If you score lower, who cares? Just compare.
  • Later levels are lower-scoring than earlier ones so you need to be roughly 5-10K ahead in your points quota at around level 8/9.
  • Ditch your craft if you're wasting fuel.
  • Play Hard mode in preparation for Easy.

And now, onto the FAQ proper.

Stuff you probably already figured out yourself

How to unlock AstroLander

Unlocking AstroLander in the first place is already quite a challenge, and requires you to be reasonably good at Story Mode. If you can't do all this off your own bat, refer to a Story Mode FAQ.

Enter Story Mode and play through on Normal mode until you reach NeoTokyo. Play the level through (still in Normal mode) until you've entered the hackers' hideout. Find the room where you upload the data to the police. Look on the back wall for some lockers. Open them up; the AstroLander cartridge is found inside. Once you pick it up, you can play it at any time during the level, but you don't have it permanently. To make AstroLander permanently available during any Story Mode mission, you have to grab the cartridge and finish the level alive too.

To play AstroLander, enter any Story Mode mission and bring out your Temporal Uplink. Press Manual Reload (Y by default) to activate the old-school games menu. Scroll down with the D-pad then press A to select AstroLander. Again, scroll and press A to select a difficulty setting.

Game Overview (in case you're really so brain-dead that you couldn't figure it out yourself)

The aim of this game is to safely land your ship on the white landing pad, while avoiding crashing into the rocks. At the same time, you also aim to expend as little fuel as possible, to land as close to the centre of the pad as possible and to land with minimal velocity, in order to gain a higher score. Land safely and the game adds up your score, then proceeds to the next level. There are eleven levels. After the eleventh is completed successfully, the game is finished.

You begin with four spare ships. If you land at too high a speed, land at the wrong angle, or so much as touch the green rocky landscape, you'll crash and lose your ship, then start the level again. Crash five times and the game is over.

After the game ends, you'll get awarded your final score, and possibly entered on the high score charts.

Learn To Fly (Controls)

Move the main joystick left or right to rotate your ship anticlockwise or clockwise respectively. Press A to fire your thruster. Those are all the controls in this game. It's a minimalist set-up, much like Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 for the same console. (Incidentally, experience with those two games will help you a lot here. Delicate control on the stick is fundamental to your success.) You can also use left and right on the D-pad to rotate your ship, but there is less accuracy with this method. Oh, and hit Start to pause and unpause the game.

Detailed gameplay information

Generalised navigation advice

  • To travel horizontally, thrust gently > to build a horizontal motion, then turn to face ^ and thrust sporadically ^ to maintain your altitude while still drifting >. At the end, turn and thrust < and ^ to move to a stop.
  • To travel vertically upwards, use many small thrusts instead of one long burn. This is slower, which makes it easier to control, but more importantly uses exactly the same amount of fuel, and minimises the risk of overshooting. Do not be impatient.
  • To descend vertically, again, use many small thrusts instead of just falling straight down under gravity. This maintains control but minimises the risk of crashing, while being fuel-efficient.
  • ...In general, always use short bursts except in moments of danger.
  • Cut corners as closely as possible. This is more fuel-efficient.
  • Tying in with the corner-cutting advice, do not attempt to correct your course unless you are absolutely certain to crash. Sometimes it's possible to pass within a pixel (or even less) of the rock without colliding. Rotate your craft to minimise the risk when this happens.
  • If you find yourself needing to point the thruster upwards for any reason, you're doing something wrong. Don't waste fuel when gravity is there to do the job for you.

Physics

Gravity pulls you down. The thruster pushes you in the direction your ship is facing. In accordance with Newton's First Law of Motion (and the fact that there's no air resistance on whatever planet this is), if you are moving sideways you will continue to move sideways until you thrust in the opposite direction. In other words, if you start moving horizontally, you will KEEP moving horizontally regardless of how fast you are moving upwards or plummeting downwards. You will keep moving horizontally until you thrust horizontally in the opposite direction and cancel that motion out. Also, it takes energy (= fuel) to raise and lower your craft. Therefore, you should fly over hills leaving as small a gap as possible, and similarly pass under overhangs as closely as possible, to minimise the amount of fuel used.

Difficulty settings

Easy, Medium, Hard. So simple, and yet so devilishly complex in its apparent simplicity, this trio of similar yet somehow totally alien difficulty settings unites to... create a synthesis of... uh...

The main difference between Easy, Medium and Hard is the gravity strength. You get the same points system, the same levels, the same number of ships to start with, and the same amount of fuel. It's just that in Easy mode your ship will waft slowly to the ground like a feather, in Medium mode it'll descend in a leisurely but still disconcertingly rapid manner, and in Hard mode, it'll drop like a stone.

To counteract the increasing gravitational field, your thruster is actually stronger on higher difficulty levels, too. In effect, you accelerate faster whether pulled by gravity or propelled by rocket. In other words MEDIUM AND HARD MODES ARE JUST LIKE EASY MODE, ONLY FASTER. Except you don't turn any faster in Medium or Hard modes. You turn at the same rate. What this basically means is that on higher difficulty settings the theoretical maximum scores are exactly the same, but you'd require considerably higher skills on the joystick and delicacy with the thruster to achieve them. Because your reactions are effectively lengthened and your turning speeds aren't as fast, your score will decrease, and there's nothing that can be reasonably done about this.

Going straight to Hard mode is inadvisable. Practice on Easy to get the hang of the levels and the game itself, then move up to Medium. Then go to Hard when you feel ready. The difference in gravity between difficulty levels is actually pretty sharp and can make a lot of difference to the way you play (and the amount of success you have). On Easy, AstroLander is a very sedate and relaxing game. On Hard, it actually becomes a game of speed and reactions.

You can actually play Hard mode in preparation for Easy mode - this helps your scores immensely.

Points scoring

At the end of each of the eleven levels, you'll be awarded a points score which is added to your total. The score is counted in three categories: Fuel Bonus (which is based on your Fuel Remaining; see later for much more information), Landing Speed Bonus, and Landing Accuracy Bonus. I'll examine these in reverse order.

In general a Fuel Bonus will vary between 0 for some levels and 12000 for others. On the other hand, LAB and LSB are ALWAYS awarded out of 10000 and roughly 4000 respectively. Where there's a very variable points bonus for fuel, there is a DEAD-CERT 14000 up for grabs for EVERY landing. In other words, points-wise, LANDING IS EVERYTHING.

  • Landing Accuracy Bonus

    Landing Accuracy Bonus (LAB) is based on how close to the centre of the landing pad you manage to land, and how close to upright your Lander is when you do so. Ideally you are pointing exactly vertically upwards and positioned directly in the centre of the pad. On a worse run you might be off-centre when you land, or tilted slightly to the left or right (the ship will still land safely up to a certain angle - tilt by more than about ten degrees and even if you hit the pad accurately you'll still crash). The LAB is awarded out of 10000 points on every level, and position and angle of landing contribute in equal parts. A really skewed landing at the middle will get you about 3000 points, and a perfect flat landing at the very edge will get 5000 or thereabouts. It's not too much to expect a score of over 8000 for pretty much every level, and over 9000 is very respectable. Exactly 10000 has only ever been achieved once to my knowledge - it's extremely difficult to do since you need to actually be BETTER than pixel-perfect. There is a degree of luck involved.

  • Landing Speed Bonus

    Landing Speed Bonus (LSB) is based upon how softly you land your ship. Bringing it crashing down on the pad and you'll crash and burn. Land with a big (but not too big) bump, and you'll get very low points. Land as softly as a feather and you'll get plenteous pointage. A hard landing is around 3 digits (lowest I've seen was 27), while a typical landing is between 2000 and 4000.

    However, well above 4000 is possible, though I've never seen higher than 5000. The upper limit for this score is therefore very hard to judge. I believe one of two things are possible: one, the LSB is awarded out of a maximum of 5000, or two, the LSB is inversely proportional to landing speed in which case the theoretical maximum would be infinite if one was to land at zero speed (which is of course impossible... or is it?). I'm inclined towards the former, but if you have more information that could help shed light on this situation, I'd love to know it. Email me.

    Either way, higher scores than 4000 are very hard to obtain and 2000-4000 is considered typical and acceptable.

  • Fuel Bonus

    Fuel Bonus is based upon the percentage of fuel remaining in your tanks when you land. Percentages vary EXTREMELY widely from level to level. Theoretically it can go between 0% and 100%. It is entirely feasible to land with no fuel remaining if you run out while sufficiently close to the pad (I've done it a number of times on level 9 on Hard). However, 100% is by definition impossible, and in practice it's very difficult indeed to get to the pad with more than about 80% fuel remaining on ANY level. (Your best chance at this is on level 7, the narrow crevasse - let me know if you beat 80%!)

    The Fuel Bonus is also calculated differently according to each level. It is awarded out of a maximum of 14000, 16000, 18000, 20000, 21000 or 32000 points. The maximum fuel bonus is noted alongside each level in the listings below. Because of the massive variation in the multiplication factor and finishing percentage, it's impossible to state a typical Fuel Bonus. The total available Fuel Bonus for the whole game is 211,000 points but don't expect to get more than about half of that in total.

    To calculate a fuel bonus, you take your Fuel Remaining, divide by one hundred, and multiply by maximum possible bonus. Example:

    Level 4
    Fuel Remaining: 33.6%
    Maximum Fuel Bonus for Level 4: 16000
    Fuel Bonus = 33.6 / 100 x 16000 = 5376 points.

  • IMPORTANT! Things you do NOT get points for

    1. FINISHING A LEVEL QUICKLY. You have all the time in the world. Allow gravity to take its course! This is not a high-speed, frantic game. This is a game of calculated coolness under pressure.
    2. SHIPS LEFT OVER AT THE END. If you finish the game with all five ships remaining, having not crashed once, you get no bonus at all! What does this mean? If you're reasonably confident that you can finish the rest of the game, then on a particularly bad run (i.e. burned a lot of unnecessary fuel, overshot the landing pad), you can consider deliberately crashing. You lose a ship, but you lose no points at all, and you have another shot at a peaceful, fuel-efficient landing. At the end of the day, the man who lost four out of his five ships may get more points than the man who made eleven painful landings first time. Note: Going kamikaze is not recommended on Hard mode unless you are really confident. The last three levels are exceptionally difficult on Hard mode and you can expect to lose many ships before you even complete it successfully for the first time.

Landing

Basically, to maximise your points, you want to land as close to the middle and as upright and as slowly as possible.

There are 10000 + 4000 = 14000 points (sometimes more) at stake for each level, or a potential 154000 over the whole game, REGARDLESS OF DIFFICULTY. Meanwhile you maximum Fuel Bonus is at most half of 211,000. The best score on Easy is roughly 250000, and landing bonuses made up more than half of that. In other words, LANDING IS EVERYTHING.

Landing is a tricky business, and the most annoying factor in landing is this: when you land accidentally while completely off-centre and at a bad angle, giving a low LAB and a low LSB BUT TAKING YOU TO THE NEXT LEVEL ANYWAY, thus giving you a lousy score for a level you could've done well on. That's really annoying.

Landing takes place in two phases.

  • Lining up

    The first thing you need to do is to be directly above the middle of the pad with zero horizontal speed. This is a case of getting skilful at killing your horizontal motion quickly without fuss. It's basically a matter of skill and practice and experience. It's also very difficult. You need to be very delicate on the thruster, and when you overshoot and end up moving in the opposite direction, you need to have time to turn the ship around before you thrust in the opposite direction. On Hard it's the turning that takes the time, which makes the lining-up very hard.

    On levels where you have a clear vertical descent to the pad (like the first three) you're well-advised to get the lining-up done very much in advance. This gives you plenty more time for correction to horizontal motion while you descend.

    Now you'll be near the middle of the pad, with nearly zero lateral (lateral means sideways) velocity. The slight drift that you won't be able to get rid of shouldn't be a problem unless this next bit takes a while to do, and you end up drifting away from the middle of the pad.

  • Descent

    Gently allow the ship to descend vertically, tapping on the thruster to keep it as close to zero speed as possible. Aim to let the ship reach the pad JUST as you reduce the speed to zero, or maybe a pixel before or later.

    Since you're trying to go slow here this bit might take a long while, meaning that even with a very slight lateral velocity you will drift away from the exact centre before you get to land. If this happens you can either elect to land anyway and take the low LAB, or you can turn diagonally, thrust briefly and try the landing over again. This wastes fuel and therefore reduces your Fuel Bonus. Either way, it's better to get it right first time.

Level information

There are eleven levels which are probably supposed to increase in difficulty as you go along. However, the best I can say about the difficulty curve is that the first level is easy and the last level is hard. In the middle, they vary enormously.

LANDING IS THE SAME FOR EVERY LEVEL, SO IT HAS A SEPARATE SECTION. These guides will take you as far as the pad, no further. See "Landing", earlier on.

  1. Straight drop

    • Relative difficulty: 1/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 16000
    • Gently thrust very slightly > and allow the Lander to descend softly. As you reach just over halfway down counteract your > motion and your descent by thrusting < and ^, then descend vertically and slowly, aiming to bring the ship to a rough stop about one ship's length above the pad. See "Landing".
  2. Capped Volcano

    • Relative difficulty: 1/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 18000
    • Do one long diagonal thrust ^ and < so you trace a parabola up and over, making slight corrections so you pass directly over the pad. When you start to get close, turn to face ^ and > and thrust briefly so you come to a stop above the pad. See "Landing".
  3. Hill Valley

    • Relative difficulty: 1/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 14000
    • Gaining excess altitude is a waste of energy. Thrust almost horizontally < so you pass the top of the hill with minimal spare altitude, and get a reasonable amount of horizontal speed to trace a wide path down to the pad, which you should aim to pass over fairly high. When you start to get close, but haven't passed over yet, turn and thrust ^ and > so you counteract your horizontal motion and descend softly at the same time. Once you've stopped moving horizontally and you're over the pad, just descend carefully. See "Landing".
  4. Chunky

    • Relative difficulty: 2/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 16000
    • Your first cave level will look unpleasant initially but is actually very friendly. Gently thrust ^ and >, aiming to pass over the square outcropping with minimal spare altitude. As you get to the corner turn and thrust < to stop moving horizontally and descend < into the hole, cutting the corner halfway down as closely as possible. At this corner, a long thrust ^ and > will slow your descent and steer you > towards the pad. Turn and decelerate ^ and < as you get to the pad, then see "Landing".
  5. Crevasse

    • Relative difficulty: 1/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 18000
    • An entertainingly simple and easy level, but an easy one to mess up too if you are overconfident. Thrust ^ and > from the start, aiming to perfectly judge your flight over the spike next to the crevasse as closely as you can. Before you get there thrust < slightly to cancel out your horizontal motion and fall as vertically as possible down the chasm. Descend slowly using gentle ^ thrusts to keep the craft under control, and steering very slightly < or > if necessary to minimise your horizontal motion. See "Landing".
  6. Sidewinder pit

    • Relative difficulty: 2/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 16000
    • Thrust > and slightly ^ towards the inner lip of the crater, cutting it as closely as possible. Use a long < thrust or a few short ones to reverse your horizontal motion near the lip and fall < into the pit. Decelerate ^ and > as you fall so you are moving vertically downwards as you reach the pad, then see "Landing".
  7. Shortcut

    • Relative difficulty: 3/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 20000
    • Never, ever, take the long route. It's just not worth it: it's actually harder, and it wastes fuel. Descending slowly down the narrow passage is a piece of cake, even on Hard. Gently manoeuvre into the hole and use gentle thrusts ^ and > to keep the ship moving slowly down through the passage. At the corner, turn and gently thrust ^ and < instead. After you emerge, carefully navigate ^ and < to end up over the pad, then see "Landing".
  8. Crashed flying saucer

    • Relative difficulty: 2/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 20000
    • No harder than level 4, almost the same technique. Thrust ^ and > to get over the ledge as narrowly as possible. At the corner, thrust horizontally < to more than counteract your horizontal motion, then descend < into the pit, keeping a line with the underside of the "saucer" by thrusting gently ^ and slightly > at the same time. Descend slowly towards the pad. See "Landing".
  9. The "2"

    • Relative difficulty: 4/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 21000
    • A nightmare level on Hard mode, even for very skilled players, mainly due to the shortage of fuel. Thrust directly > (not up at all) and descend carefully, thrusting ^ and < at the corner to move into the hole and start moving < along the passage. Stay at constant height through the corridor and thrust > and slightly ^ at the end to descend further, then thrust harder to pass along the next corridor. As you glide towards the end you'll be rapidly running out of fuel. Thrust < and ^ to counteract your horizontal motion and move carefully through the narrow area, then descend carefully. You now have 10% or less fuel remaining, so with all your skills you'll need a quick, efficient landing here. See "Landing".
  10. Large Intestine

    • Relative difficulty: 3/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 20000
    • Dead easy, though fuel may become a factor on Hard if you're not conservative. Thrust > and descend along as straight a line as possible towards the underside of the curve. Thrust ^ and > to navigate carefully along keeping as close to the ceiling as possible, then a long-ish thrust ^ and > should send you flying diagonally up and in a nice parabolic arc over the top of the next bend. You should need minimal course correction i.e. a single thrust < at the end to steer yourself into a descent down the final area. Descend carefully thrusting ^ and slightly < or > to stay as close to the rock as possible. See "Landing".
  11. Small Intestine

    • Relative difficulty: 4/4
    • Fuel Bonus awarded out of: 32000
    • Very, very unpleasant to look at, but only one bit is really tricky. Gently descend > and use minimal thrusts < and > to steer through the chicane bit. You can actually descend in a straight line from the last corner to the underside of the bend at the bottom of the first hole. Thrust ^ to decelerate and bob gently along the underside, then thrust vertically ^ along the inside of the wall, trying to take a short route towards the "thorn". Slow down almost to a crawl and navigate > and ^ over the thorn, then thrust gently ^ and > through the next bit. Thrust < to slow down at the corner and ^ to descend softly and vertically. At the bottom, thrust ^ and slightly < into the last bit. You need to take this bit slowly and with precision. Although the sawtoothed area is the narrowest part in all of AstroLander, you are advised to take it while pointing upwards, using the method you always use to navigate horizontally. Build up a small > motion, then bob gently > using gentle ^ thrusts through the chicane. Navigate with care towards the pad keeping an eye on your fuel gauge, although you should manage a stress-free landing. See "Landing".

Beat this

My (SamSim's) AstroLander records

Easy: 254,985

Medium: 218,611

Hard: 197,259

Fun stuff

You can go underneath the levels!!

On levels 2 and 3, if you head right from the start, instead of left, you'll eventually reach a point where the green line representing the rocks just stops. Between there and the physical edge of the level (beyond which the screen refuses to scroll) is a small gap through which it is possible to navigate down. Then you can fly around underneath the level!

Not only that, it's also possible to LAND from underneath the level! You need to be very careful. Gently approach the landing pad from underneath, and very carefully touch the nose of your craft against the underside of the top of the pad. If you touched it gently enough, it will register as a low-LAB landing and you can move onto the next level!

Four sound effects

In case you were curious, they are:

  1. "Pfffff" (thrust)
  2. "Tsssh!" (crash)
  3. "Blip" (score)
  4. "Boodlip!" (level complete!)

Not very interesting fact: sometimes, if the thrust effect is playing while you land, the score effects will not play while the first few scores are being added up.

Music

You can download the music track from AstroLander, along with all the other TS2 music, from this page.

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