Review by hangedman

Reviewed: 05/30/02 | Updated: 05/30/02

Sure he's an alien, but that's an awful Earth-centric view to take.

Gunstar Light.

Such would have been an appropriate title for Alien Soldier, Treasure’s 2d shooter for the Genesis. Though a great game in itself, it seems like this is the companion to Treasure’s other action extravaganza, the inimitable Gunstar Heroes. Treasure’s stamp is on this game, perhaps too much. If you’ve played Gunstar, you’ll notice that AS has the same feel. Whether that’s good or bad is your call.

The story is very, very long. The short of it is that you, a small boy, have been taken over by a bird-solider named Epsilon. Epsilon is using you for your psychic powers in order to destroy his arch-nemesis. Essentially, you’re birdman, but you have the conscience of a small kid. In light of all this, it’s time to whoop some ass, though I’m not entirely sure why. Should you be so inclined to figure this out, sit through the painfully slow-scrolling screen and translate the densely convoluted plot... you know, the one that doesn’t show up at all after that point.

Epsilon controls much less smoothly than either of the Gunstar kids; we can be sure this is one area that Alien Solider is going to distance itself. It’s staggering at first all the stuff that you can do: switch firing modes, teleport, counter-attack, hover, whatever. Truthfully, the first level usually is the hardest—you’ll get nailed by stuff attempting to try out your snazzy moves. While Epsilon handles like a cow on roller skates initially, you’ll soon be fighting like a precise machine.

The coolest thing Epsilon has going for him is the ability to zip from one side of the screen to the other via teleportation. Hit diagonally down and jump in the direction you want to go, and you’ll slide across the screen in a blur. Though you are invincible, you should make sure that there’s not something to kill you occupying the same space you’re attempting to teleport to. Oppositely, one would want to make sure that there’s a platform under your desired location. Teleporting into something can be just as bad as not teleporting to anything at all.

The other nifty thing is the option to switch back and forth between fire modes. You are both Gunstar kids rolled into one bird… thing. You can fire from a fixed position, or you can choose the moving attack option to backpedal while firing in a certain direction; hitting down and the weapon select button accomplishes this. Though awkward at first, it gets easier to go back and forth between the modes depending on the situation.

I fear no bullets.

Also a nifty effect is the mysterious “counter-force.” Any small projectile attack can be turned into life, a very welcome reward for deflecting bullets. If you’re running low on health, pray that your enemies have some sort of machine gun. Reversing attacks is a nice way to stay alive in dangerous situations, and all you have to do is double-tap the attack button.

Epsilon also has access to a cache of weapons. It seems pretty impressive at first: there are six different kinds of weapons and you’re able to choose four of them to carry with you. Buster force is a straight-firing machine gun, homing force shoots seeking projectiles, ranger force is a contra-like scatter shot, sword force is a thin beam, fire force is a short-range flame, and lancer force is a piercing laser beam. Some forces are more universally effective than others; some have their own use against certain enemies and stages. Some are altogether worthless.

Technically, Epsilon’s power is as good as your reaction time and control over him. Chances are, your first go at Alien Soldier will be a disaster. Epsilon will run back and forth with a 50% chance of shooting in the wrong direction. Struggling with the control more will cause him to whisk across the screen and into an enemy. The desire to continue playing won’t be very high, but stay with it. After a while, you’ll run backwards, shooting at an opponent; when he fires, you’ll either effortlessly deflect the attack or scurry behind him to counter-attack. The controls are intuitive assuming you know what it is you’re doing.

And there’s quite a reward for getting good at the system. If you have a full life-bar, you can perform a “pyro-port.” It’s much like your teleport, but you burst through your opponent in a fiery blaze. It takes a little bit of health, but replenish that health from countering an attack and you can use it again.

Like a Swiss army knife, only more frustrating.

Unfortunately, the control can be a downside. Epsilon’s four selected guns run out of ammunition, some faster than others. Having to switch between the weapons mid-fight is a clumsy action, and it usually results in you catching a bullet. Even worse is the fact that the weapon select can’t be done through the pause menu, so you’re struggling with a rotating menu in real-time. Each weapon also recharges at different speeds, so if you’re using four guns with extremely finite ammunition you’ll be fiddling with that menu more than you’re comfortable with.

The controls outside of the weapon selection are beautiful, simply put. However, the rest of the gameplay is great as well. Each level consists of a few enemies, followed swiftly by a massive boss battle. The stage itself is rather unspectacular as there are very few enemies; the few that show up are destroyed to give up health. Some stages can be blazed through holding down right and the fire button. Essentially, this game is one long boss fight with some pit stops in between.

As the lifeblood of any 2d game, Treasure has made some great boss battles. Each boss has a certain strategy in order to be defeated. Though blindly attacking and winging it might yield some satisfactory results, knowing the boss patterns and effective weapons is always a better choice. Some bosses need to be fought multiple times with different weapons before you can figure out their weaknesses. Though Gunstar’s bosses were nasty, these guys are tougher. Thankfully, in any case, trading hits with the boss will cause you to die: skill is ultimately needed to win.

It’s always Gunstar! Gunstar, Gunstar, Gunstar!

The problem is that AS shares too much in common with Gunstar, certain music tracks and sound effects are identical, graphics for explosions are also direct copies of GH, and even certain enemies are based around similar ideas: both games feature a boss that transforms into several other bosses, made from the same parts. I don’t know which came first, and frankly I don’t care: I’ve seen the same thing in both games, and that’s inexcusable. Thankfully, what effects and graphics that aren’t “shared” by the two games are also of the same caliber, and Gunstar Heroes was an excellent looking game. Audio and visual elements are first-rate, even if not entirely unique in certain cases.

The bottom line is that Alien Soldier is a pretty good game. It’s got excellent graphics, sound, control (once you learn the system), and challenge. The downside is that it’s totally overshadowed by Gunstar Heroes. The comparison to its sibling is unavoidable, but Alien Soldier brings it upon itself by using some of the same graphics, sounds, and gameplay elements. Though it loses in this one-sided association, AS’s mimicry of an excellent game allows it to leech much of GH’s charm and talent, so long as you don’t mind the pervasive sense of déjà vu that accompanies it.

OVERALL: 7.5 / 10
The Pepsi to Gunstar Heroes’ Coke.

*I like Coke better than Pepsi.

Rating: 8

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