Genre: Run-’N-Gun Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
The year is 1991. Throughout the land of 16-bit consoles, the Sega Genesis was starting to pick up steam and catch up on Nintendo. Sonic The Hedgehog had been released that year and taken the gaming market by storm. Streets of Rage began its momentous trilogy. Of course, there was also the other beat-’em-up that hit the Genesis players. That game was the arcade conversion of Alien Storm.
The plot, which was not explained in the game, is thus: Aliens from the far end of the universe have attacked the Earth and are trying to take it over. Apparently, being the ”mean and wicked” aliens that they are, nobody is able to stop them in their onslaught, until three people who have dubbed themselves “The Alien Busters” decide to take on the aliens all by themselves. Now, the plot has never often made an impact in this genre of game, since what people are mainly concerned with is the gameplay and how many aliens/demons/beasts/hired goons they are allowed to destroy in the process. With Alien Storm, players are in for an unusual ride.
The three characters available were the three members of the Alien Busters: Gordon, Karla, and Scooter the robot (Slammer was his name in the Mega Drive version). Each character had a unique look and used a variety of different weapons, yet all of them functioned the same – not necessarily a bad thing, as it stopped people from arguing over their favorite players when it came to playing two-player mode. All could either attack with their weapons, use their special weapon (a large blast that heavily damages all enemies on the screen), jump over a foe, or run; both of the latter allowing an attack to be combined with it. Also added onto the C button was a defensive roll that not only allowed you to evade attacks but also move quickly across the screen, providing a powerful tactical maneuver that, when mastered, made the game a lot easier to play. The attacks used up energy which you had to recoup during the game lest you got stuck with your weapons being reduced to clubs. The special attack took up a lot more energy then the normal one and thus injected some strategy into the game. The energy was a nice touch, adding an element of play that had not yet been introduced into other releases from that same year.
The levels where what made Alien Storm stand out, however, because of the sheer variety of different modes of play that they had. First off, there were the shooter parts of certain levels. Often, you had to enter a building and shoot all the aliens inside, while blasting everything within the building in the hope of finding more energy or even med packs to restore your health. These parts of the game were a welcome break and provided a challenge, especially testing your quick reflexes and hand-to-eye coordination. There were two run-’n-gun stages that had you running at amazing speeds down streets, gunning down aliens as they ran away. Also of note was the dueling game mode that, like Golden Axe before it, tested your endurance by placing you up against increasingly harder battles without restoring energy and health. Lastly, there was the player vs. player mode, where you were placed in a single screen and forced to duke it out in a “best of three” contest.
The gameplay itself was decent and challenging, pitting you up against ever harder aliens and shooter levels; however, a few problems emerged at this point. The A.I. of the aliens was quite nasty, and they tended to attack you en masse and in a large clump, preventing you from fighting back, while constantly taking damage, hence making the later stages a place rife with occasionally nasty bouts of cheap shots when you were simply swamped with lesser foes. Also, the shooter stages, while fun, got rather repetitive over time, being that the only things that changed between each one were the backgrounds and the volume of aliens sent after you thanks to the lack of variety among foes. The run-’n-gun stages were far too easy, and it was very unlikely you would even take much damage on them, let alone lose a continue. Working more on these two parts of the game and making them more defined would have really made Alien Storm shine but, as they are, they were still nice additions that kept the gaming experience from falling into the same old formula.
Both the duel and the player vs. player were fun if you got bored of the main game but again, not enough to catch your attention for long. Also, there was a significant lack of bosses within the game (only three bosses, and one of them was simply another shooter section) which hurt the gameplay, meaning that you simply had to fight more hoards of repetitive aliens. Even with that, it was not too hard to notice, since there were only eight levels, all of them being rather short, with the exception of the last one. Longer levels would have tested the players more, as it was possible to storm through any of them within minutes.
The characters in question, as well as the monsters, were well animated and moved smoothly; their actions unique between each other. All three Alien Busters toted unique attack combinations, about which I wish I could say the same of the monsters. They came in a few generic types, with the only difference between them being a change of color. This was not uncommon at the time of the game’s release, however, so it is not something for which it can be overly criticized. On a similar note, the characters and monsters – as well as the other sprites – were large and well defined, yet the backgrounds and graphics in general appeared rather bland, especially compared to the arcade version of the game, which had far richer backgrounds and more detailed monsters and characters. The colors were there and well defined, but they didn’t have the subtleties that Streets of Rage had, instead opting for powerful colours of subtle tones.
The music was rather good. Some pieces were re-used in certain stages, especially in the shooter ones. It was easy on the ears and didn’t overpower the sounds, nor did it mumble away quietly in the background, but it didn’t strike out at you as being amazing and riveting either. All the pieces were worth a listen to on the sound test, as they had the tendency to stick in your head after playing a while. There were a lot of sounds in the game, none of them too loud, but what was unusual was how every single alien exploded. The sound for that actually didn’t sound much like an explosion, and it wasn’t loud enough for an explosion either. It wouldn’t be an important issue if you weren’t hearing it every time you killed something and believe me, you were killing a lot of things in this game.
Overall, Alien Storm was a strong game, allowing a player to play a variety of game types all in one sitting. It was a fun, alien-ridden session of blasting everything that moved that wasn’t humanoid (and even that rule was stretched sometimes), making it a very worthwhile purchase for its versatility and how fun it was for a quick session. While it could have been improved with more bosses, slightly tuned up graphics, and more work on the additional playing modes; it is still very much worthy of your attention. Copies of it are all over the place and so you have little excuse not to purchase one. There is really no reason to not become an Alien Buster yourself.