Retro Rewind: Aliens Arcade
With the upcoming and impending release of the new “Alien: Isolation” game, which seems to be a sort of futuristic Slenderman game at first glance from the videos displayed on the net and has a titular character’s daughter shoe-horned into the plot for the sake of tenuous grasps on the source material, I thought it’d be an idea to review the Aliens arcade game from 1990 by Konami.
Surprisingly, it follows the film rather closely, even the introduction showing rather pixelated stills from the film, including where the woman’s chest is ripped open from the inside when Hicks, Hudson and Co. are running around unwittingly inside the alien’s nesting area at the start of the film. You’re actually treated to a bit of back story where upon playing the game, you get a nice screens worth of text which basically sums up to, kill everything and get out again alive.
Ripley and Hicks (in 2-player mode) are given the infamous “Smart Guns” from the movie as a standard weapon with the option to go for rocket launchers, triple front shots, triple multi-direction shots and a flame thrower, while progressing through the game. Just get the flame thrower, it really is overpowered, to fend off all manner of Xenomorphs, Aliens, Face-huggers and a few extra creatures thrown in for the sake of freshness and coming up with something that could resemble a boss monster.
Seriously, the largest deviation from the source material is like when the designers thought “Hmm… Alien, Big Alien, Face-hugger, Queen but we want that for a last boss deal… shit we’ve only got 3 enemies… right then Art Dept, start getting creative.” And they certainly did, as nothing looks entirely out of place with regards to the design of the extra monsters but for any fan of the films you’ll know straight off that most of the enemies don’t belong in the franchise at all. spider aliens, chestburster launching aliens, zombies (yeah… even zombies), full size alien eggs (what?), psychic powered aliens (what?!), lightning aliens (oh come on…) and the infamous lift level…
With regards to tropes, this game has one of those “Fatal Elevator Levels” where you slow descend on an open lift/elevator, bigger aliens jumping onto it will put added stress onto the cables and if all 3 snap, you fall to the bottom and die. It’s faster, but costs a life and you lose any weapon you had at the time. This will kill you even if you’re falling half a foot in distance from the point of snap to landing. Don’t you just love those little oversights of physics?
Graphically, the game is amazing; aside from most of the aliens looking pink… yet the Queen looks how you’d think she’d look. Maybe it’s a legal thing, maybe it’s a lazy thing, and maybe it’s someone’s idea of getting back to knowing they were being fired shortly after the game was complete. God knows.
Backgrounds of the game look like someone has really studied the film and locations within the game marry up almost perfectly with places in the films. Running down those hexagonal shaped corridors, the cargo lifts near the end of the film tying in with the end of the game’s penultimate level. The APC looking like it does from the film, as does for that matter, the drop ship too. The Power Loader featuring several times through the game, especially in the final climactic battle where you go hand-to-hand with the Queen Alien (or shoot it a while first before jumping into the ‘Loader). The background detail is above and beyond in standards for a game’s recognition of a film-source material, especially at the time of being made. Even the backgrounds for the alien-infested areas look organic, especially in contrast to the sterile looking, right-angled backgrounds of the medical bay (including aliens that jump out of the windows instead of Hicks jumping in)
There’s plenty of focus, plenty of respect and dare I say, love gone into the making of this game, which shows how a film-to-game can be done and can be done right. Don’t go converting something like Inception though, you’re just asking for trouble. Find a simple formula within a film, replicate how it looks and the sounds too, give it a basic control system and use it as a base to throw back homage after homage.
That said, the controls are simple enough, the joystick is the 8-way directional affair for movement and you have 2 shoot buttons, an upper shot and lower/crouching shot for the smaller enemies. The mechanics change slightly in the pseudo-First Person points of the game where you only shoot into the screen regardless of the button you choose, as well as the air-vent levels where you cannot move into the background/foreground and must navigate the air vents while dispensing death to alien critters left, right and centre.
The music is a fairly upbeat affair, fast tempos for most of the levels to keep in flow with the pumping adrenaline while boss music is a lot more impact-sounding save for the fights against the Queen Alien where we get a sort of synthetic orchestral accompaniment, making securely significant the fact that this is a key boss. In this particular case, one of the hardest on account of the sheer number of enemies thrown at you and the directions from which that attack the player(s).
There are however, some stark contrasts between different versions of the arcade game. Some versions will have packs of meat to pick up which boost your health a few points, increasing it to the maximum and above will give you an extra life with very little health points, so taking a hit there, will kill and lose your new life AND your weapon. I can see why that was nerfed out. There’s less one-ups depending upon the version you’re playing and the Smart Gun can be on burst fire rather than full-auto, requiring you to steadily press the button to attack. Various enemies can turn up in places you were not expecting and some entirely new enemies not seen in other versions can make an appearance. In some versions, whole LEVELs are removed, such as the APC levels with the first pseudo First Person Shooting sections (I like those! The interfering little bastards!) And some bosses will have tanked their health through the roof while others are slaughtered within moments. Note: This is before tweaking the dipswitches for other difficulties and bonus settings.
This isn’t just a Jap/Euro/USA thing either, different versions of the game for the same region fall into this category and there’s no way of knowing which you are playing until you get into the game itself and realise “Hold up, this isn’t what should be happening!” by then you’re financially invested in the game and may end up losing your credit far sooner than you had anticipated.
But at 10p a throw, who gives a fuck when it’s still fun and cheap to play.