Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe just how many side-scrolling brawlers the Mega Drive had on offer back in the 90’s. The Mega Drive was the first system I ever played (at least the first console I remember playing) and there was one game which, when I talk to people about now, always presents me with the same looks of confusion. That game was Alien Storm which has become a sort of forgotten gem. To many it might look like a re-skin of Golden Axe with aliens and robots but you’ll soon find it’s a little deeper than that. In fact this title went further introducing a couple of neat features to switch up the gameplay.
Alien Storm’s story is a simple one, to quell the alien invasion of earth and save mankind. The invading visitors are a troublesome race causing havoc wherever they go with their ability to morph into whatever they want. Multi-faced pink blobs, mean green goblins, bin dwelling creatures, giant winged worms and worst of all humans. Taking on this gargantuan task are three unlikely heroes known as the Alien Busters. Jump in, select your character and repel the alien menace from suburbia and the cities before taking the fight to them aboard their mothership. Of course you don’t have to take on this menace alone. As is the case with most brawlers, a friend can jump in to aid you in your mission.
So just who are these elite Alien Busters? For starters there is Karla armed with a sizzling Fire Blaster, Gordon with an almighty Thunder Bazooka (love this weapons name!) and mechanised man Scooter with his energy whip. While this ragtag team may look like a varied selection they’re really only cosmetic changes as all characters play in exactly the same way. Characters all move at the same pace, have synchronised recovery and grapple times, cover the same distance with each attack reach etc. This even extends to special attacks which all conform to the same timings and results; they’re just dressed up differently. For example take Karla’s missile strike which falls and damages everything on screen, the result is no different from Scooters suicidal self-destruct.
Each mission begins with an objective usually along the lines of “Save the people” or “Expel the aliens” before letting you proceed to kick the slime out of every blob and gremlin in sight. The actual gameplay plays very similarly to that of Golden Axe. Controls consist of only three elements, a dodge roll, an attack and a special. You have access to some very simple combos by combining movement with the attack and dodge commands, plus there are also automatic attacks such as grapples and finishers. Combat is very fast paced with each attack feeling nice and fluid and there are a decent number of combos at your disposal to fuel your brawler needs. However there is a catch to unlocking your full potential and that lies within your energy bar. You can use up this meter for your specials but in doing so reduces your weapons to only physical attacks, no fire, no thunder and no pulsating green whip. The main bulk of the game plays out in this side-scrolling beat-em’-up style but the end of each level presents an interesting scenario which switches up the format.
The game features FPS gameplay that has you clearing out buildings of enemies in a shooting gallery like mini-game. One location includes a department store with creatures ducking and weaving between televisions and all manners of electrical equipment. These sections mostly help to fill up your energy bar as destroying everything in sight can offer some neat hidden bonuses. Visually these sections are very impressive as practically everything is breakable. In terms of adding to the overall gameplay they are rather entertaining and because these sections are well spaced out over the course of the game they aren’t overly repetitive. Another feature implemented is a side-scrolling shooter which has you running at full pelt through suburbs and cities blasting speedy alien mutations. As with the shooting gallery sections these aren’t particularly long, they’re more to just to show the transition between locations and break up the monotony of the brawler.
Unfortunately the main issue with this game comes down to its length and its challenge. The game is only made of eight levels in total and the actual levels don’t take very long to beat. As with most brawlers it follows the pattern of walk a bit, stop, defeat multiple enemies and repeat but because of the short levels the stop and start sections are too close together making the pattern very obvious to the player. As for Challenge you are given 4 lives to complete the game with. With this figure you can easily reach the end of the game and with relative ease. There’s only two boss fights on offer and the enemies aren’t very varied (they change colour and gain some extra health as you progress) so it’ easy to pick up there fighting styles.
Alien Storm was developed by the same team that created Golden Axe which explains the gameplay similarities but another aspect in which they’re similar is their appearance. The enemy roster may be on the short side but they all have that great monstrous look to them and the animations look superb. Just check out the creature attacks from the one that lifts you up and drops you on your head, the pink blobs leaping through the air to munch your face off and from the main cast how about Scooter ripping his leg of and beating enemies to death with it. It’s been nearly 15 years since I last played this game and the one thing that I have always remembered clearest is the music. The soundtrack can be a bit of a love/hate mix with some pieces like CybernateQ being done to a nice high standard whereas others (That’s G.G) just give you earache.
Alien storm stands out because of its sci-fi themes and varieties in gameplay, the fixed shooting gallery and run-and-gun sections are a nice welcome change. There’s an enjoyable brawler here with a solid set of mechanics but it’s a shame there wasn’t more of a challenge to be had. If you’re a fan of the retro Sega classics then this game is worth a look, it might be on the short side but it’s no doubt fun while it lasts.
This Retrospective Review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down.