There will always be a few common themes for video game titles. Medieval fantasy role-playing games, secret agent first-person shooters, cartoony platformers are among the most popular. Another brand of home console fun is the kill all the aliens action game. Many titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System tried to capitalize on this key idea, including Star Tropics and Contra. Another contestant in this field was Alien Syndrome, a top-down gunner for one or two players.
In Alien Syndrome, space marines must travel through expansive levels as they seek different guns and checkpoints. They have a limited amount of time before the ship explodes, and every area also has a big, scary-lookin’ boss. Each foreboding arena features a different color scheme, music, general appearance, alien species, and layout.
For the most part, this was a pretty slick-looking game for the ol’ NES. With vibrantly designed aliens, convincing sci-fi settings, and bosses reminiscent of Blaster Master-type baddies, Alien Syndrome was certainly no slouch. One weakness, though, was its overly ambitious sprite usage; consider some bosses used multiple offspring or projectile attacks, the experience did suffer from occasional blinking and frame-rate problems.
The music was atmospheric and effective, albeit a tad minimalist as well. The weaponry was perhaps the best use of sound, especially the pitiful pop noise of your first gun. The bosses had standard fare in their attacks, and overall, the tracks were average.
Playing like a Gauntlet dungeon writ large in a science-fiction setting, Alien Syndrome was not a truly original idea, but definitely worked as an innovator to make it an alien-blasting good time. Although the weapons were typical and predictable (laser, flamethrower, anyone?), the bosses were imaginative and gruesome.
Alien Syndrome is a quirky title that most gamers would hate but a few would love. Its time-limit feature seemed forced and unnecessary, serving only to heighten anxiety. Perhaps that served to intentionally heighten the tension, but considering that the aliens themselves were difficult enough to deal with, one can only wonder how much more fulfilling of an experience would this have been without the timer. Especially with later levels, the time constraint forced an emphasis on lay-out memorization and other unintuitive tactics, removing the improvisational, seat-of-your-pants element of an otherwise bug-blasting good time. For that glaring error in concept development, and the lack of any truly noteworthy features, Alien Syndrome earns two stars out of five, case closed.
Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.