Alien Syndrome

Alien Syndrome (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 96,400
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Like many game companies in the mid-to-late 80’s, it seems almost certain that Sega were also bitten by the ‘Alien’ bug, so to speak. That is to say, they drew inspiration from the Alien movies for one (or some) of their games. The fact that this release came the year after the super-successful sequel to the classic 1979 film would tend to back up that theory as it’s a game that may seem familiar to some fans. Rather than a gound-based colony, however, it takes place in a series of seven spacecraft. These were presumably craft operated by humans but they have become overrun by hideous alien creatures of various descriptions and their human crew taken prisoner. It therefore falls to Ricky and Mary, two suspiciously Space Marine-like soldiers, to liberate each ship in succession and eradicate the alien scum that now dwells within.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot
The interior of each craft is viewed from an angled overhead perspective and usually consists of a maze-like series of corridors, rooms, or open areas linked by walkways. The human captives, or ‘comrades’, are dotted around the scrolling stages and a set number of them must be rescued (by touching them) within a pretty strict time-limit before the exit is unlocked. This inevitably leads to a much larger and more dangerous alien boss who you must shoot the crap out of before moving onto the next ship. Each stage has unique enemies, usually two different kinds, and from the second stage onwards an infinite number of them are produced by Gauntlet-like generators. Destroying these will finally stem the flow of alien filth and allow you to cleanse the stage. If you want to, that is, as the only actual requirement is to rescue those pesky comrades.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Blasting the idiotic aliens does take up valuable time of course, but it also makes the game a lot more fun! Each new alien encountered looks and acts differently to the last. Some can spontaneously reproduce, others chase you, but most of them are able to shoot at you. A single touch from any alien or one of their projectiles is enough to take a life from Ricky or Mary but surprisingly the aliens are just as fragile – from the first stage to the last, a single shot is all that’s required to take them out. Except for the bosses, obviously. Typically, you start the game with a pea-shooter gun which just about does the job, but its range and rate of fire is somewhat limited. There are four other weapons available, however – laser, flamethrower, napalm, and a rapid-fire cannon – which, impressively, not only have unlimited ammo but also last forever as long as you don’t lose a life.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshotIt’s also possible to collect up to two small guns that follow you around and shoot backwards every time you shoot your normal weapon which can be shot in eight directions but only forward. These, and all the other weapons, can be collected from panels on the walls where you can also find bonus points and maps that show the basic layout of the stage as well as the location of the remaining comrades. Points are awarded at the end of each stage for any remaining time and for any comrades rescued beyond the quota but, if you’re like me, you probably won’t see too many of them! I usually tend to play games in a very meticulous way, trying to do everything and see everything, so I found the time limits to be quite tight. Aside from that though, Alien Syndrome isn’t an overly tough game and is actually, dare I say it, even pretty fair.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Part of the reason for this it that the aliens are defeated by a single shot from whichever gun you’re carrying at the time (even the one you start with) but it also helps that their movement doesn’t seem to conform to any repeating patterns. Their appearances are apparently random and their movement is seemingly dependent on your own, so your progress is pretty much just down to your own ability. Accompanying you on your refreshingly-unfrustrating mission are some tunes and sound effects which aren’t too bad, although not especially memorable, but about the only thing I don’t really like about Alien Syndrome is its graphics. It’s running on Sega’s System 16 board which I`m not hugely fond of at the best of times and this means that most of the colours used are rather pale and drab and there`s some quite unpleasant patterns used for the stage floors. That aside though, there’s little to complain about, and some of the aliens look great!
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

This is particularly true of the big and imaginative bosses and there’s quite a few different normal sprites too. The two playable characters don’t look much different and are even less different to play as but they’re not there to provide a bit of variety – they’re there to facilitate a two-player game, and they do that well. A few differences between wouldn’t have hurt anyway though, I suppose! Oh well, it’s still an enjoyable game, for one or two players, and proves to be a very addictive one as well. The stages themselves get bigger and more complicated but are never overly large or complex – this is a game that’s about fast and frantic shooting and nothing more, and with the ever-increasing hordes of aliens in the later stages, you’ll need to be precise as well as fast! It’s a shame it doesn’t look a bit nicer but if you can handle the offensive patterns, this is a game that’s aged well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1jkQ-NM1UE[/youtube]

RKS Score: 7/10

Atomic Runner

Atomic Runner - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Atomic Runner a.k.a Chelnov (1992)
By: Data East Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: ???,???
Also Available For: Arcade, X68000
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Having recently looked at an ‘on foot’ vertical scrolling shmup in Elemental Master, this seems like a good opportunity to look at a horizontally scrolling game of the same type, and it’s a game that got off to a some- what dubious start. Originally released as an arcade game titled Chelnov in 1988, it seemed to take its inspiration from the Chernobyl nuclear incident! After surviving a catastrophic explosion at a nuclear power plant, Chelnov, a coal-miner, finds himself highly irradiated and the recipient of some new abilities. Seeking to harness his new abilities for their own questionable ends, an evil organisation attempts to capture him. In order to evade their clutches, Chelnov must fight, using his abilities to defeat the organisation. Needless to say, this story didn’t really go down too well, particularly in light of the game featuring Soviet iconography too!

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After the furore of its Japanese arcade release, the game saw quite a few changes upon its MegaDrive release four years later. Now known by its original subtitle of Atomic Runner, the story was changed to a more formulaic alien invasion-type scenario which saw Earth’s major cities attacked and their residents mercilessly slaughter- ed. Hiding in an underground laboratory, Chelnov’s dying father explains that the aliens have been on Earth before and designed an ‘Atomic Suit’ for the Pharaoh’s. Using the design-schematics found in an ancient pyramid, he was able to build a suit which provides Chelnov with super- human strength, agility, and apparently the ability to throw various weapons out of his hands! Using these handy features he must do his best to rid the world of alien scum!

Atomic Runner - Gameplay Screenshot 3

Anyway, now that all that multi- story shenanigans is out of the way, onto the game! Whilst more of a run ‘n’ gunner than an out-and-out shoot ’em up, the focus of Atomic Runner is still very much on shooting, and unlike most run ‘n’ gunners, it uses forced-scrolling more akin to a traditional shmup. However, the seven levels do feature various platforms around which Chelnov can jump, and some parts even feature (admittedly limited) multiple routes. There are twenty different kinds of standard enemies populating the levels, including both mid-level and end-level bosses, and they must all be either avoided or eliminated in one of two ways – either by using Chelnov’s energy weapons or by jumping on their heads, Mario-style, believe it or not!

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It is however easier, not to mention far more entertaining, to blast the crap out of them with energy weapons, and there are six kinds: Laser (which you start the game with), Boomerang, Light Ring, Spiked Balls, Morning Star, and Homing Missiles. Each of them has differing rates of fire, range, and power, and you can only have one of them at a time. Each is more suited to certain parts of certain levels but they appear frequently so you can chop and change between then as often as you like. Each weapon can also be powered up, and in three different ways, by collecting ‘UP’ icons. These come in three colours – yellow increases shooting range and bullet speed, red increases bullet size and destructive power, and blue increases bullet count and rapid-fire ability. If you repeatedly die on the same part of a level, a super-power-up appears which increases all three of these attributes fully, in one go. Other power-ups include one which increases Chelnov’s jumping height, and two for bonus points – one for two thousand, and one for five thousand.

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These power-ups are usually found being carried by the flying skull/spider things, who drop them when shot, and the scenery features flaming torches which also release them. When Chelnov loses a life he will lose all power-ups collected so far, but luckily they are plentiful so it doesn’t take too long to power back up again, and each level has numerous restart points too. That doesn’t mean that this is an easy game however – given the forced-scrolling nature of the game, Chelnov’s movement around the landscape is a little limited. He can shoot in eight directions as he runs through the levels and you can marginally increase and decrease his speed as he goes by pushing forward or backward on the controller, and he can jump also straight up or forward, but that’s about it.

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The levels are set over a diverse range of landscapes and are one of the most appealing aspects of this game. They are titled Atomic Laboratory, Mutant Plant Zone, Mayan Jungle, Egyptian Desert, Treasure Room, Siberian Snowland, and New York, and all look fantastic – this is among the prettiest run ‘n’ gunners I’ve played with regards to the backgrounds and scenery graphics, and the sprites, weapons, etc, aren’t half bad either. The music is pretty decent too, with some tunes being more memorable than others, but it’s all very nice, presentation-wise. It does occasionally seem like the collision detection is a bit off and Chelnov sometimes seem a little sluggish to respond to a command, but there’s no major problems. Having said that, it is possible to get trapped behind an item of scenery and crushed by the scrolling! But that’s the key to this game – practise. Enemies often appear from behind you, so if you stay to the left of the screen you’re likely to die often, but play it enough, get used to controlling Chelnov, and learn the enemy patterns, and it proves to be a challenging and reasonably fair game. There’s not too much else like Atomic Runner around, and for that reason alone it’s interesting, but it’s a very playable, if sometimes frustrating game regardless, and well worth a try.

RKS Score: 7/10