Alien Soldier
  • Genre:
    • Run and Gun
  • Platform:
    • Mega Drive
  • Developer:
    • Treasure
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 02/24/1995
    • UK 06/01/1995
Score: 90%

This review was published on 08/04/2015.

Alien Soldier is a side-scrolling run and gun shooter video game published by Sega and developed by Treasure for the Sega Mega Drive. It was released in Japan on February 24, 1995, and Europe on June 1, 1995. The game was temporarily available in North America on the Sega Channel cable service, which was a revolutionary thing that allowed people to download games and demos online and was available from December 1994 to July 31, 1998. Games downloaded from the service got deleted once the system was powered off, though, so not many folk from North America got to experience Alien Soldier. If you're not familiar with Treasure's work, they're the ones that made Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy for the Sega Genesis; two excellent games and some of the best on the system. Alien Soldier is very similar to the vastly more popular Gunstar Heroes, both in style and in substance. While not as well known as Gunstar Heroes, Alien Soldier is just as excellent, though it's also ten times harder.

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In the incomprehensibly distant future of 2015, there was a planet called A-Earth, or Sierra, and it was inhabited by people called A-Humans, or Sierrans. These Sierrans genetically engineered a race of A-Humans capable of super strength and intelligence, in addition to being able to parasitically co-exist with machines, animals, and humans. Trouble struck when a few of the genetically enhanced A-Humans formed a terrorist organization known as Scarlet, which sought to enslave the remaining A-Humans by locking down A-Earth and preventing everyone from escaping. An assassination attempt was carried out by a special group with super powers on Scarlet's leader, Epsilon-Eagle, injuring and somehow tossing him somewhere in the space-time continuum. Upon Epsilon's absence, another Scarlet member named Xi-Tiger took over the organization, causing their acts of violence to increase. As a response, many within the group grew to hate Xi-Tiger and wished for Epsilon's return. Xi-Tiger then wanted to assassinate Epsilon and traveled to a research laboratory where children with special powers were kidnapped and experimented on. There, Xi-Tiger discovered that Epsilon had been hiding within the body of a boy. To oust Epsilon, Xi-Tiger took a girl hostage. At that point, the boy's body took the form of Epsilon, who resembled a birdman with steel wings. Fearing this sudden transformation, Xi-Tiger killed the girl and fled. Shortly thereafter, Epsilon split into two halves, a good side and a bad side, and the two pursued Xi-Tiger for different reasons. As you can see, the plot to this game is a complete mess; it's needlessly convoluted to the point of being laughably nonsensical.

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Controlling Alien Soldier takes some getting used to, as it's pretty complicated. Right before the game starts, you're thrown into a screen that tells you all the controls and lets you test them out. This is a neat method to allow players to familiarize themselves with controlling the game. Also, it's here where you can change the display of your life and ammo meters to numbers for more detailed info. Your most basic moves include running, jumping, and shooting in one of eight directions, but there are a multitude of other things you can do. When it comes to shooting, you can switch between two different aiming modes on the fly; one that lets you shoot while running, and another that has you remain stationary for more precise aiming. The rest of your moves are generally about mobility and defense, like you can hover indefinitely in one spot, literally walk on ceilings, destroy enemy shots with your fists, and teleport. Teleportation is by far the best move in your arsenal, as it lets you move from one side of the screen to the other in a split second and you're invulnerable while you do it, enabling you to dodge attacks and safely get behind bosses. Further, if you have full health, the teleport will become a fiery dash attack that can shave off half of a boss' life in one go! The fire attack does drain some of your health, though. Mastering the controls in Alien Soldier requires patience, but it's incredibly satisfying once you do, since they allow you to pull off some crazy stunts.

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Before you begin each life, you're prompted to pick four weapons, which you're able to freely switch between during stages. You can pick up different ones during the game, so you're not married to what you choose here. There are six weapons total, and they include a rapid fire shot, a spread shot similar to Contra, a flamethrower, a homing shot, a ranged laser shot, and a short ranged laser that does loads of damage. Each weapon has its advantages and disadvantages, with some being better suited for bosses, whereas others are better for mowing down enemies. However, there is a big catch: unlike other run and gun games of the time, like the aforementioned Contra and Gunstar Heroes, weapons in Alien Soldier have limited ammunition. Grabbing a weapon power-up you already have will replenish its ammo and also upgrade the weapon itself, but if you run out of ammo and there are no power-ups nearby, you're basically boned. Weapons that aren't currently selected will slowly regenerate ammo over time, but time is something you don't have during boss fights. As a result, you can't continuously hold down the fire button like you normally would in these games. Every shot counts, forcing you to be cautious with your aim, especially with powerful weapons like the flamethrower that have very little ammo. This level of resource management adds even more depth and challenge to the game without detracting from the action.

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This game looks absolutely gorgeous and sounds positively spectacular, with some of the best graphics and sound on the Mega Drive. All the sprites are large, incredibly detailed, and well animated, and the color palette is impressive. Almost all the bosses consist of multi-jointed sprites, which allow individual parts of their bodies to move independently from each other, giving the living creatures a more organic look. Plenty of parallax scrolling can be seen in the backgrounds, too. There are also countless special effects, like transformations, stretching, fog, and even some minor 3-D. This game is also a musical masterpiece, featuring one of the best soundtracks the console has to offer. The musical score is very reminiscent of Gunstar Heroes, in that it's very fast, very high energy, and very good. In fact, one of the best tracks from that game has been remixed here as an homage. Alien Soldier legitimately brings the Mega Drive to its knees.

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Treasure has always placed a great emphasis on boss battles in their games, but Alien Soldier takes that focus even further. Unlike most games, Alien Soldier doesn't beat around the bush: this whole game is a straight up boss rush. You encounter a never ending stream of bosses, from beginning to end. The stages themselves are really only there as salad dressing, merely giving you a means to refill your ammo and life in between bosses. As such, there's an overwhelming amount of bosses; 31, to be precise. Expect to see robotic martial artists, bipedal tanks, reptilian samurais, mutant helicopters, giant crabs, frogs that poop pellets that shoot bullets at you, and more. They're all very creatively creative and distinctively distinctive. An excellent example is this giant moth boss you fight while upside down, and after defeating it, the insect gets stuck to a big web, where you now face off against a large spider. Some stages also alter the dynamic of a boss battle, like how stage fourteen is totally pitch black, and things only light up when either you or the boss shoots; a nice touch here is how the color of the light generated changes depending on which weapons are used. Many other games would bore you with dull stages before getting to a cool boss, but Alien Soldier wastes no time in getting to the good stuff.

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Boss battles in Alien Soldier go well beyond simple pattern recognition. That's still a big part of it, of course, but there's a lot more going on. Most bosses have a weak point, which is shown to the player via a targeting symbol when certain weapons are equipped, and some bosses are weak to certain weapons. For example, mechanical foes hate lasers, but are sometimes immune to the flamethrower. Part of what makes the bosses hard is the tight time limit; while you'll probably never run out of time during stages, it's extremely easy to time out on a boss. The time limit prevents players from slowly whittling down a boss' life meter from a safe distance, encouraging a riskier play style. You'll either decimate or be decimated in seconds, depending on how well you know the boss and the game's mechanics. One advanced technique is to destroy a boss' bullets with your fist attack to reveal life power-ups that will restore your health. Combine this with the fire dash move and you'll make short work of some bosses. Being able to trivialize such ridiculously hard bosses is a succulent reward reserved for advanced players who have honed their skills. The fact that this can be done adds lots of replay value, because it makes you want to refight bosses until you can perfect them. And honestly, you'll need to perfect many of the bosses to beat the game.

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There are only two difficulty modes: Supereasy and Superhard. Alien Soldier has no middle ground; it's extreme in everything it does. Supereasy is a bit misleading, however, as even that mode is quite hard. Don't be too surprised if you die to the first boss in Supereasy. Realistically, Supereasy is the only way you'll complete the game on your first time through, and even then, you'll only just barely eke out a victory. The main difference between the two modes, besides obvious things like bosses dying quicker, is that you get unlimited continues and passwords in Supereasy, while Superhard has limited continues and no passwords. Additionally, Supereasy has a slowdown feature you can access by pressing start. In a way, Supereasy is like a training mode that prepares you for the real thing. It's a much appreciated mode, because without it, the game would be nearly impossible for newcomers to finish.

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Breathtaking is the word I'd use to describe Alien Soldier. This game literally took my breath away with its amazing graphics, fantastic music, intense boss fights, and ruthless difficulty. The complex mechanics have a near endless amount of depth, combat is tactical as well as packed with action, and everything rocks. This is pretty much the ultimate action game. It's hard not to get an adrenaline rush while gunning down a gigantic mutant boss to killer tunes. The extreme difficulty and highly technical nature of the game will deter many people from trying it, though. Alien Soldier might not be for everyone, but it's awesome all the same.

Word Count: 1,834

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