Review by Ryan Harrison
"Eat laser whip, alien scum!"
Alien Storm on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive is one of a number of classic beat-'em-up video games developed by Sega and adapted from the arcade. Released in 1991, this game was one of the gems that stood out in a crowd of titles in a genre that was enjoying a tremendous degree of success in that timeframe, especially on the 16-bit home consoles. While beat-'em-ups are sadly a dying breed in the current gaming generation that now tends to be dominated by three-dimensional immersive adventures, first-person shooters and RPGs, it's still a great feeling of nostalgia to visit the past and replay a lot of these simpler side-scroller games like this one, whether in its original cartridge form, or an enhanced copy to download or purchase as part of a large compilation disc. Like similar titles such as Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Comix Zone and Final Fight, Alien Storm is a unique and well-made beat-'em-up that remains enjoyable to play to this day, whether alone or with a second player joining in.
Also like most of these other games, Alien Storm features eight different levels, each with mostly different settings. However, the main style of play throughout every level does pretty much remain the same throughout the whole game: you walk ahead, you kill a few aliens. You walk ahead, you kill a few more. There isn't really anything to set a lot of these out from each other, either; because of the basic gameplay style this game could take place in entirely new settings but would still play the same anyway, so looks don't bear all that much importance in terms of the settings. You do also tend to find yourself fighting the same enemies over and over again throughout the game too, but there is a reasonably good range of enemies that come in various shapes, sizes and strengths. They all have different attacks and fighting styles, as well as some challenging bosses, although there are very few of these.
To make up for what it lacks in its very linear beat-'em-up action mode, at the end of each stage your character goes inside a doorway or opening that leads to a new area, which is then played in a shooter-like mode in which you move your crosshairs around the screen and simply blast away everything in sight - enemies, props, items and scenery, picking up health and power-ups you find before the area finishes once you have completely demolished everything. A third, different type of gameplay style also seen in the game is a running-shooter style mode, in which you basically run non-stop through a long area, blasting away enemies that appear on the path and anything that appears on the opposite side of the screen. While Alien Storm is altogether a very straightforward and linear game, the key things to make a good beat-'em-up can be found here, and the game is fun for the sheer enjoyment you get from beating up all your enemies mindlessly, and will take a good hour or so off your hands if you are looking to get as much as you can out of the main game and all the extra modes, too.
By looking at the title and gameplay of Alien Storm, it won't be too difficult to figure out the story to this game - aliens from the faraway reaches of the universe have invaded the planet Earth. As they mutilate human civilians and wreak havoc throughout the cities, it's up to the three-piece team known as the 'Alien Busters' to vanquish the aliens, storm the mother ship and send them packing. The team consists of April O'Neil look-alike Karen, the tin cyborg Scooter, and dead-ringer-for-Ghostbusters Garth. You (and a second player) take control of an Alien Buster of your choosing and set out to defeat the alien race, which is where things begin.
So, you have the three characters to choose from in Karen, Scooter and Garth. Much like other three-character Sega beat-'em-up games, while control and fighting style remains the same between all three, their weapons, special attacks and effectiveness differ, and all three are suited to gamers depending on their skill and experience with the game. The flamethrower-wielding Karen's attack range and power are both average, so she makes a good choice for beginners or experts, but best for moderately-skilled players. Scooter's attack range and many combo moves he can pull off with the various parts of his anatomy make him an ideal choice for beginners, as well as my personal favourite. Finally, Garth, while powerful, is slightly tougher to control the aim of his short-range electrical gun weapon, making him more ideal for Alien Storm experts. While a decent range of characters, more backstory and personality to each of them would have also been nice.
Throughout the eight stages (also referred to as missions) of the game, they take place in many different settings and locales, from country housing estates, industrial city centres, convenience stores, a laboratory and in outer space. While the backgrounds and scenery do look nice, they are, however mostly just there for decoration as you simply just head straight ahead from left to right before entering an opening at the end of the stage to switch to the shooting mode, as mentioned before. For all these basic and linear levels, it is great that with the shooting and running modes, you get more variety and challenge in the gameplay to make up for it.
Each level is filled with all kinds of enemies, although in every one you'll be encountering the same creatures time and again, mostly the snail-like things that hide inside cans and mailboxes, and the Fatto and Creeper grunts. In typical Sega beat-'em-up style, they also come in a range of different colours to denote their strength and toughness, and the further you get into the game, the more numbers you'll be taking on at a single time. You must also keep a close eye on your energy meter, as the more you use your weapons and special attacks, the more this gets drained.
While there is a decent range of enemies, the same ones tend to pop up throughout every level, with only different colouring and larger group numbers being the main difference as you progress. There are also a couple of bosses to fight in regular mode with different looks and attack patterns, but the game could have perhaps done with more bosses to fight in the normal mode, as the ones that appear in the shooting mode are not very challenging.
Alien Storm has some pretty simple and standard controls for a game of its type. They are dead easy to pick up, understand and master only a few minutes into playing the game. With the four main directional buttons on the D-Pad, your character moves; with B, they attack with their weapon, and by pressing B multiple times while hitting an enemy, they can also perform combos finished off with a strong attack. Each character has different and cool-looking combos, and the main fighting is easy to pull off. With C, a character can do a lunge, during which they can also attack, but this move is great to evade attacks and get into open space if you find yourself getting swamped. By double-tapping Left or Right and a combination of other buttons, you can also do running and jumping attacks, although these take more precision and are a bit trickier to pull off. Finally, the A button also lets you use your character's own unique special attack to help you clear the board of enemies, provided you have sufficient energy with which to do it.
The control in this game is overall very smooth, quick and responsive, and compliments the quick and fast-flowing gameplay style very well. It also responds well for the running stages and first-person arcade-style shooting segments, and it is fun and satisfying to simply do your best to smash up everything in sight. Overall this game has some tremendous controls and a great range of ways you can fight your enemies, despite a simple control layout.
There are some neat-looking, bright-to-dark and colourful graphics thrown into Alien Storm. As I had already mentioned, level designs for this game are of a very basic standard for a beat-'em-up game, yet what is there is nicely done. There are a range of settings taking place in this sci-fi style story. Each mission begins with a brief cutscene of the action that takes place in that particular stage as you progress through the story. The backdrops and backgrounds seen in each level have a recognisable 'early Sega Genesis' look and feel to them, and the graphics are overall very smooth, colourful and moderately detailed. All the character and enemy designs are great, and animation is quick and fluent, and while there is the occasional bout of slowdown, it never tends to be often nor inconvenient.
Alien Storm also features a mostly high-pitched, upbeat and motivational soundtrack. Much like looking at the graphics, listening to the music also gives it a typical, distinct Genesis sound. The instruments and sounds you hear are trademark Genesis music, and it goes very well with the gameplay. A few background tracks are sometimes repeated, but overall every piece is solid and doesn't at all detract from the main gameplay experience; if anything, it actually enhances it. While it definitely isn't the most classic or outstanding music you'll get from a Genesis game, it is well-composed, suited where used, and easy on the ears. Sound effect-wise, these are pretty average but all done well and in place. You can't help but feel humoured upon hearing the muffled 16-bit voice sampling of civilians screeching 'HELP!'.
The main Arcade mode of the game itself is short and very linear for the most part, with only the final level's theme of choosing different paths to advance being the only notable exception. This isn't really too great a problem for a beat-'em-up game, but extra routes, optional or hidden side-areas to explore would have definitely helped add some longevity and replay value. The game does however provide two additional featured modes to give a little extra fun to get out of it. The Duel lets you test your skills against an increasing number of enemies of differing strengths in stages. If you have a second controller, 1P vs 2P lets both players determine the best Alien Storm fighter in a best-of-three-rounds face-off, won when one player has twice depleted the health meter of the other player.
Alien Storm is a fun game and perhaps one of the more challenging beat-'em-ups for the Sega Genesis. The game comes with different difficulty settings that can be chosen before starting the game. While there is a discernable change in challenge between each one, they do all give a test in challenge for your game-playing skills, but in a good way. With three credits to begin with, this should get you far enough into the game without too much trouble, but it may take one or two attempts to come to grips with the game and beat it altogether. Later levels do get crammed full of enemies, although with a second player this does also help to ease up on the challenge. You will get more fun out of this if you do play with a second player, whether co-operatively in the main game, or competitively in the 1P v 2P mode.
In conclusion, Alien Storm is a great game to play through once or twice if you pick it up. Obtaining a copy is not too difficult, and while an enjoyable experience, you won't find a whole lot to keep you coming back often when you've seen everything that it has to offer. If you aren't too put off by that, however, everything else about this game is solid and decent, so grab a copy and start zappin' some aliens.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 02/01/13
Game Release: Alien Storm (EU, 12/31/91)
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