ISSUE #8 FEB 06

Will

Alien Hominid

1st July 2005
reviewer: Will
rating: 3 out of 5
developed by: The Behemoth
published by: Zoo Digital
released: 27th May 2005
rrp: 24.99
formats: PS2, Xbox

Retro gaming never seems to die down. No matter what incredible experiences the current consoles offer us, or what innovations the developers come up with, there are always a vocal few pining for the "golden age" of gaming - usually the 8- or 16-bit eras. We even have whole magazines dedicated to this nostalgia for retro games - and yet somehow 2D gaming is on the brink of extinction. 2D platformers, scrolling shooters, the long-lost scrolling beat-em-up; all genres that have been discarded or hybridised in the move to 3D. The GameBoy Advance has been the last, best hope for these genres, but the new crop of 3D handhelds looks set to turn 2D gaming into a purely hobbyist pursuit. Which is why it's both gratifying and saddening to see games like Alien Hominid on the shelves of Game and HMV.

Domo arigato Mr. Roboto
Domo arigato Mr. Roboto

AH is a homage to the great platform/shoot-em-ups of the 90s, from Contra III to Gunstar Heroes. Originally released as a free download on Newgrounds, it proved so popular that the creators (both of them) signed a deal to develop versions for the home consoles. These new super-powered versions share the same charming hand-drawn visual style as the original, but everything's been re-drawn, freshened up and turbo-charged.

Taking control of the lovable yellow alien of the title, it's your job to get revenge on those nasty FBI types who shot down and stole your UFO. You do this by A) shooting them, B) throwing grenades at them, C) slicing them in half with a natty close-range attack, D) jumping on their shoulders and biting their heads off, E) jumping on their shoulders, then picking them up and hurling them at other enemies, F) hiding underground and pulling them down with you, or G) running them over in a truck. There are seven flavours of laser gun, all of which feature a charge-shot, plus a couple of UFO-based flying levels (reminiscent of arcade classic Sinistar) thrown in for good measure. So quite violent, then.

Of course, it's all cartoon violence, so don't expect anything too horrifying. Do expect, however, frantic action from the word go. Just like Contra and Gunstar Heroes, AH has the player dodging bullets from all sides, and giving as good as they get. It's ten times as hectic as the games that inspired it, and a couple of hours' play will leave you with seriously blistered thumbs, even on Easy mode (and "Hard mode" has to be the understatement of the year I still haven't beaten it, after a month).

Cute fluffy destruction
Cute fluffy destruction

The problem and this was perhaps to be expected from a game which wears its old-skool heritage so proudly is that it's all over so quickly. I whipped through Easy mode in two days (a dedicated gamer could do it in an afternoon), and while there's a multiplayer mode plus a handful of minigames, is that enough these days? I'll have none of the Prince Of Persia "short and sweet" argument here, thankyouverymuch; while I'm all in favour of shorter, more focused games such as Sands Of Time, AH was never going to be as classy as that. Indie developers The Behemoth obviously didn't have the resources to truly compete with the big boys, and as such their game never quite reaches a level of quality to justify its brief lifespan.

The controls are tight, the destruction satisfying, the visuals cute (with amusingly OTT soundtrack to contrast), and overall it's great fun in quick blasts. But unless you're a fan of old-skool shooters, Alien Hominid won't hold your attention for long. It'll end up in the bargain bins soon enough, which is a pity as it may well be the last hurrah for 2D games on the home consoles. A bullet-dodging, head-biting sugar rush of a game then, but one that you'll probably want to rent rather than buy.