Alien Syndrome: SMS
As a kid I always loved reading instruction manuals for games. Some of the back-stories written for games that didn’t really need them to begin with are amazing, like Life Force. *Spoiler alert* Seriously? I’m INSIDE an alien being? Wow. Some are amazingly bad, or if you think about the plot, it falls apart. Alien Syndrome is such a game. It takes place in the far-off-I’ll-be-dead-by-then-year of 2089. A random alien fleet has pulled up to Earth calling themselves, ‘Alien Syndrome’, sounding more like a heavy metal band than an invading empire. With aliens threatening to destroy Earth some ‘Earth Command Troopers’ have boarded the fleet but were captured. Now Earth Command has asked for volunteers to rescue the Troopers from the fleet. Save Earth? No, that’s later. We are saving the first wave guys who got caught.
Released by Sega in 1987 for the arcades and for most other home systems the following year, Alien Syndrome is played across seven different ships with each ship serving as a stage. These ships are huge! Think starship Enterprise, not X-Wing fighters. You play with a top down view similar to Commando or The Legend of Zelda. The arcade release has two players simultaneously, with each player controlling either Ricky or Mary the Earth Command volunteers, while the various home releases are either one player only or two players, taking turns. Our volunteers have been tasked with rescuing the captured soldiers scattered all around the ship. As if finding them isn’t trouble enough, you must deal with various aliens which spawn at random points in the ship. By deal with I mean kill them, we are past the point of diplomacy.
Scattered about are various power ups, in the form of weapons like flame throwers and lasers, temporary invincibility, or a warp which teleports you to a different section of a ship. Once all the hostages on the ship are rescued, you’ll need to make a mad dash out the exit located at the top of the map, since in true action sci-fi movie fashion you’ve activated a time bomb to destroy the ship. Alas! Every level’s exit is guarded by a boss you must dispatch.
The Master System port looks and feels like a Sega game, which it should.. The bosses are big and each is unique. The manual gives them alien-sounding names like Squime, Tacapy, and my favorite, Aargh! The ships are broken up into stationary rooms, again similar to The Legend of Zelda. The alien monsters are all varied in design, even though one looks like a blatant rip off from the movie Alien.
One downfall of the US Master System is the lack of the arcade-style “FM chip” for sounds. The video below features the chip, and it sounds amazing for a 25 year old console game. Alas.. I always found it odd that as you walked around a ship the enemies would blink into existence a second or two later. It does make it a little easier to dodge them. The aliens never really get smarter or faster, but the ships do become labyrinths with no maps (the arcade release did have a map.)
Once again, a downfall of the Master System is the control pad. Mainly the ‘square’ d-pad. Maybe it’s my NES bias. I just always had trouble hitting diagonal when I didn’t want to. The ‘Control Stick’ controller, which is basically a Sega NES Advantage does help immensely in this game, giving a true arcade like feel. The characters are responsive enough, even though the bullets don’t always seem to go where intended. First boss, don’t shoot his head, shoot his body. Go figure.
Alien Syndrome was a game I never had the pleasure of playing in arcades back in the day. I can’t specifically comment on the other ports of the game since I haven’t played them. I’m far more familiar with the Master System port, so I’ve covered it. My inner nine year old still laughs at the horrible screams and grunts that Ricky and Mary let out when they die. My cousin Derek did a fairly good impression of Mary’s death scream. This is still one of my favorite Master System games and did get semi-regular play back in the day. With my recent Master System re-purchase a year ago, this maze like run and gun game still holds up even with the blinking aliens. Holy crap? I covered another Sega game! It must be good, give it the Fair Shake.