Special feature: The Alien Soldier Intro!
One hardly ever comes across good bosses in video games. They always end up being too cheezily hard, too easy, or some ridiculous combination of the two (example: Metal Gear Solid's Psycho Mantis. How does changing your controller to port 2 make your mind any less readable?). However, one company has always made exceptions to this rule. Treasure, the makers of Gunstar Heroes, realized their god-like power over boss design decided to do something that only they could successfully: make a platform game that was 95% boss.
And so, the stage is set for Alien Soldier. Although you might not notice it much until the second boss, Alien Soldier's boss design is distinctly Treasure: each boss is made up of dozens of individual rotating sprites, forming an opponent whose appearance is similar to that of an Ultraman villain: ingenious in its stupidity. If anything else, this style makes for some really neat-o epileptic fits when the bosses explode. Treasure claims that the best part of the game is the graphics, in their bold statement at the beginning of the game, "NOW IS TIME TO THE 68000 HEART ON FIRE!" (referring to the Mega Drive processor, or so I'm told). As far as MegaDrive graphics go, Alien Soldier has some of the best (being one of the last games to be released for the console). It's nothing by today's standards, but as we've been shown by Pyro II, graphics mean nothing.
Gameplay in Alien Soldier lives up to, if not surpasses, that of Gunstar Heroes. There aren't as many weapons as Gunstar - the weapon combination feature has been removed - but you can hold up to 4 weapons at once. Which is useful, as the weapons all have very different properties. And not like in Megaman either: there aren't just 8 flavors of the same single-direction cannon. For example, the Homing Force doesn't take up much energy, but it's useless against metal enemies, while the Lancer Force only comes with about 6 or 7 shots, but it's more than powerful enough to kill many of the early bosses without having to recharge.
However, the most unique thing about Alien Soldier is the boss-oriented gameplay. Actually defeating the boss isn't the most important objective in the game - most projectiles can be deflected by tapping the attack button twice, revealing life refills, and you are invincible when sliding, making it very easy to stay alive - rather, most of the game is a race against the clock. Not that there are no exceptions: the hardest boss, a remake of Gunstar Heroes' Seven Force, gives you more than enough time to beat it, but staying alive is hard when fighting its last form.
There's not much to say about the platform levels themselves; they're just not long enough to be very interesting. The only reason I can think of why Treasure even included them was as a place to switch weapons and recharge life. Although some levels were much better than others (the boat ride through the alien infested swamp piloted by the teddy bear who doesn't fit in with the game at all, in particular), most of them had nothing special about them.
The two aptly named difficulty settings, SUPERHARD and SUPEREASY, leave no happy medium for the player to choose. SUPERHARD is indeed super hard, as there is little time on the clock, less platforms in the platform areas, less power ups, and limited continues (there are no lives). This is in stark contrast to SUPEREASY, which provides everything SUPERHARD takes away, and adds the option to completely change your weapons between continues. Also, SUPEREASY gives you the option of slowing down the game while you're playing it by pausing and pressing left or right to toggle a meter to change your speed. Surprisingly, even with this feature and a move list displayed after choosing weapons (which comes in quite handy at the beginning of the game: you can practice moves before you start playing), the learning curve might seem high at first. But as with anything, after playing a while, it becomes much easier (Mostly due to the fact that the game never tells you that you can stand on the ceiling, which is the only easy way to fight the first boss).
As most everybody who's enjoyed playing Metal Gear Solid will tell you, plot is important. Fortunately for Treasure, they're all wrong. Although it's kickass intro would have you believe otherwise, Alien Soldier doesn't regale you with hours upon hours of dialogue and full motion video sequences. Rather, it gives you an important event only every once in a while, like in Gunstar Heroes, and even then doesn't provide any dialogue. Of course, the important events don't really make much sense: the one in which the world explodes for no given reason is particularly confusing. The rest of the game's events are just thin excuses to blow stuff up. For example, after you rescue the aforementioned teddy bear by shooting a number of aliens, you shoot more aliens while the boat speeds through the swamp, which angers a large alien that must be shot at, and whose exploding carcass forces you to evacuate the boat onto dry land where there are more aliens to shoot. Isn't it great to have a game where defeating a boss doesn't cause your character to reminisce about his purpose in life?
Overall, Alien Soldier is a great game, and is able to stand on its own alongside Treasure's other releases. If you like Contra, Metal Slug, Gunstar Heroes, Serious Sam, or anything else that involves running around and shooting a lot, you'll like this.
Rating: 4.7 out of 5
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