| |

Alien Syndrome Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Tonka
Release Date: 1988 Also On: Master System and NES

One of the classic maneuvers of nearly any video game system, at least in the early years, was to release ports of arcade titles. This was simply because it made it easy to dish out new games with little thought involved, but, of course, there was an element of logic to this because said titles tended to be good. The NES had legends like Donkey Kong released in the early days, so it was inevitable that Sega, while pushing the Master System, would use some of their arcade titles in an attempt to boost sales with classic games. Right in your own home! What an idea!

Disclosure: We may earn a commission from links on this page

Alien Syndrome is one of several arcade ports Sega released, as obvious from the nice “SEGA Arcade Hit!” on the upper right of the insert. However, as you’ll find with most of their arcade-to-home titles, there’s a reason it doesn’t specify “hit” for the actual system on the front of the box. The attempt was made, but it didn’t happen. Okay, I shouldn’t be that hard on it, it’s not as bad as After Burner per se, but it’s definitely lacking.

As far as the graphics are concerned, I’m going to rate fairly high here because a clear attempt was made to match this closely to the arcade. However, it doesn’t get a perfect because this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Take Rygar for instance. Decent in the arcade, awesome on the NES, and awful on the SMS. For good reason. The system could simply not reproduce the same effect of its counterpart and thus failed miserably.

Here we find a similar situation, though much better than the example I gave. There’s a good usage of color throughout, a nice amount of detail (especially on the bosses) and decent level layouts. But, as in the arcade, the characters have this “childish,” frumpy look to them that really ruins the sense of “turmoil in outer space.” It feels like a children’s show or something. Furthermore, they didn’t do a good job of reproducing the arcade feel, childish though it originally was. Your characters have these teeny legs that scurry about like an insect and it just looks silly. They appear to be trotting to a carnival instead of saving hostages and blasting aliens.

Speaking of which, they’re not very terrifying either. Most of them seem to be just hanging out lazily, I scarcely get a sense of “dread” while I watch these teeny, cutsy red midget beasts slumping about. It just really isn’t frightening. The bosses, however, are quite gruesome for the most part, so they really saved this game in the graphics department. No perfect though.

And now we come to the sound. Low marks here, it’s awful. The theme is a nice attempt at producing the tension of the original, but with the Master System’s poor sound chip, it comes off as awful. Best to think of it as some sort of lame, poorly done “Halloween (the holiday)” song you’d hear coming out of some cheap little toy you’d buy at a dollar store. It just doesn’t do a good job of reproducing the “metallic,” incessant thumping of the real thing. The sound effects are no better. Your main weapon sounds like a bird chirping with some bit of variation for the laser and fireball.

Not enough to make you excited, however. The fireball sounds almost like a short slap of sorts, very awkward. In addition, the bosses and all of the aliens make the same whistle call when they fire, sounding almost like a cute flute you’d win at a fish pond. Hardly menacing. I could go on and on with the sound, but that’s enough of an idea I believe.

The gameplay is rather simple. All you have to do is save a number of hostages in each level while killing aliens and then you exit to fight the level boss. That’s it. There are a few power-ups, not enough for my tastes, but I won’t score lower for that since they made a port of the original. It would have been nice to add some things though. I think I’d have rather paid a quarter or twenty to beat the game instead of buying a poor copy of it for home for around fifty dollars. It actually isn’t that bad at first, but there are several problems with it that become serious issues later on.

First, after you kill the aliens in each room, they will appear again if you stay for long enough. It’s only a few seconds and sometimes they tend to appear right where you’re walking, thus killing you. There is no way to avoid it if it happens. And with faster aliens later on, even if you manage to move a bit out of the way, they run into you regardless. With only three lives and no continues to speak of, accidental deaths get very annoying very quickly.

Second, the weapons you carry are just terrible. The front cover of the box is a good indication of what you’re in for. Freckle-faced geek aside (should have mentioned that in the graphics section), you’ll notice he’s firing directly into an alien’s chest, point blank. That’s because it’s pretty much what happens in the game. Your initial weapon has almost no distance, requiring you to get annoying close to the aliens. The two upgrades fare no better.

The laser goes the distance of the screen and through aliens, so it works very well. Unfortunately, it’s not as powerful as the fireball on bosses, but it’s definitely the best of the three. The fireball is the most powerful weapon, but like your first gun, it doesn’t go very far. It can deal quick death on bosses, but you have to get right up to them to do it so you’re better off using the laser in the long run, not to mention the fact that you can take out an infinite number of regular aliens in a row with it.

Third, the controls are pretty awkward. I really can’t explain it, suffice to say you don’t seem to move right. It just doesn’t feel properly programmed to me for some reason. It’s really hard to explain this and feels somewhat mute without an explanation. I unfortunately just don’t have one, it’s simply one of those things you need to experience. Not like you’d want to.

As we come to the creativity I have to drop the score yet again. I can’t really consider a game creative if it’s simply an arcade port. Heck, if this was Donkey Kong I wouldn’t score it high because it’s straight from the arcade. Just an opinion I’ve always had with arcade titles being transferred to other formats. Take the time to change something, seriously, give us a good reason to play it at home instead of using a quarter here and there. Rygar for the NES is a perfect example of this, it’s even better than the arcade version. Considering Alien Syndrome even, try the NES version, it’s not entirely different, but enough that I’d rather play it than either the SMS or arcade version. There’s simply nothing new here, you get just what you find in the arcade, but severely stripped down.

I had to beat this game using a cheat device. It’s incredibly difficult to complete raw, mainly because of poor programming and design, not actual skill requirements. The ending is awful, so even cheating I doubt I’d want to play it again. There’s nothing here to really make me want to come back and too many flaws to hinder the possibility of it even occurring to me.

Yet again we find another reason for the demise of the SMS in America and Canada. They chose their stock titles without importing the better releases and when they finally did it was way too late. Sometimes a game can survive on graphics alone, but it’s quite rare. Off hand I can’t even think of one. So even though this is graphically a bit more presentable than the NES version, it’s just not worth the time in comparison. The stupid alien on the cover (which looks better than anything in the game) isn’t even present anywhere at any time. This whole game is a lie. Don’t even bother.

Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 3
Gameplay: 2.5
Creativity: 0
Replay Value/Game Length: 2
Final: 3
Written by Stan Review Guide