#49: Alien Syndrome (1988 Sega)

049aliensyndrome

Once again the Master System is ‘blessed’ with another port from Sega’s arcade stable, only this time it’s Alien Syndrome, an overhead run-n-gun shooter which is clearly inspired by the classic sci-fi horror flick Aliens (if the box art already didn’t make it obvious enough). The game centers around a pair of space commandoes named Ricky and Mary who are on a rescue mission to a series of space colonies that have been overrun by hostile xenomorphs and they need to save the human crews that have been captured while exterminating as many aliens as possible. The arcade original is considered a minor classic so it’s no surprise Sega would port it to the SMS. But those who have fond memories of the coin-op won’t be as enamored with this home version, especially since Sega felt the need to make a few changes in the translation.

Sorry, dudes, Ripley wasn't available, you got me instead.

Sorry, dudes, Ripley wasn’t available, you got me instead.

Our heroes’ mission is simple, board each station and rescue your friends while exterminating any aliens that cross your path. The core gameplay of this port is just like the arcade original; you view the action from above as you explore each station trying to locate the hostages while blasting the otherworldly invaders which are coming after you. But as mentioned above there are a number of differences between this port and the original. For starters the arcade game offered two-payer simultaneous action, but here Ricky and Mary are force to take turns. Also instead of one large scrolling area, each stage is a series of interconnected rooms that you move through screen-by-screen a’la The Legend Zelda. Each room starts out empty before the aliens slowly materialize onto the screen and you can kill most of them with your standard gun but more will appear to take their place within a few seconds, so you’re better off trying to get through the room as quickly as possible. Power-ups can be obtained by touching certain panels on the wall, including two types of special weapons, a flame thrower and a laser rifle. Once you rescue all the humans the exit will open, after which you must defeat a large boss alien before moving on to the next colony. However each station has a self-destruct mechanism that has been activated so you’re racing the clock to rescue the humans and slay the boss before the station explodes.

A little fire will take care of these killer pillbugs.

A little fire will take care of these killer pillbugs.

So the game doesn’t quite follow the arcade original, but doesn’t fare any better on its own merits either. The controls are easy to understand as you only need the d-pad and one fire button (the other one cues up a status screen) but still manages to feel slightly awkward and sluggish. The real turnoff is the game’s brutal and borderline unfair difficulty. Your character dies after one hit and moves too slowly across the screen, plus it’s way too easy to accidentally have an enemy appear beneath you, resulting in more than a few unavoidable cheap deaths. It also doesn’t help that the hit detection is quite sloppy and your weapon doesn’t have a good firing rate, often leaving you vulnerable. You especially don’t want to lose your special weapon since your normal gun is essentially useless, especially during the boss encounters. In addition, while you can access the status screen to see how many hostages are left, this version is missing the coin-op’s map feature that shows you where they actually are which makes finding everyone with time ticking down more of a problem than it should be. Finally there are no continues, not even any secret codes.

Step into mu parlor, said the alien to the .... human.

Step into my parlor, said the alien to the …. human.

The graphics and audio also leave a little bit to be desired. While plenty of color is used for the visuals, the stages are made up with an mostly unappealing mix of hues and they all look similar except for their color scenes. The sprites aren’t bad but their animation is slightly stiff, while the aliens look more cute than threatening which doesn’t quite fit with the theme of the game. At least the bosses are well done with great grotesque designs, though their battles take place on a boring black background. The droning background music tries to add some tension and suspense to the atmosphere but doesn’t succeed in that aspect, plus the sounds are undermined by the dorky sound effects. You do get some cool high-pitched screams when your character dies, though.

Those aliens can't get me here.

Those aliens can’t get me here.

So once again we’re left with an underwhelming entry in the SMS library as Alien Syndrome fails to measure up, whether as an arcade port or an action title. You’d figure Sega could have at least brought out a presentable port of the game, especially since a decent version appears on the NES courtesy of Tengen. You’re better off with that version, or go one better and play the emulated arcade version which can be found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360. Either way the only cure for this syndrome is to avoid it.

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