“They don’t make ‘em like they used to” is a phrase we hear bantered about all the time, but also occasionally in video gaming. Players fondly remember the “glory” years of 2D gaming, because that’s what they grew up playing. Our fuzzy memories remember the characters, the jumping, the shooting, Contra’s 30 guy code, but seldom remember how HARD games could be. Maybe as kids we had more patience, but if you revisit some of these games (like Mega Man or Contra) today, you may find you’ve lost a step. Alien Hominid, based off a Flash web game of the same name, harkens back to an age where 2D and merciless gameplay was king. This one is made “like they used to,” with all of the positive and negative things that connotes in gaming.
First, let’s hit the positive. Artist Dan Paladin’s character design and animation is some of the most creative and instantly pleasing work you can find in 2D gaming. You are likely to crack a devious grin at how effortlessly the Alien Hominid slices and dices his way through the hordes of oncoming FBI agents, which sport the traditional men-in-black suits and sunglasses. Obviously inspired by SNK’s Metal Slug series, the variety of death animations are pretty diverse. You can chop guys into meat slices, scorch them, freeze them, jump on their heads and bite them off, and more. You’ll also enjoy the creativity put into some of the level designs, both in things you’ll notice in the drawings and the level design itself. One level takes place in the middle of moving traffic, where the Alien Hominid must jump from car to car (and commandeering a few on the way) without ever touching the road. Sound hard? It is, but it sure is fun. The on-screen action is almost always intense as the enemies come in wave after wave, leaving you little room to breathe.
Also in the made “like they used to” vibe are some things that today’s gamers may find incredibly frustrating. Ages ago when arcade games were big, most games were designed to be very challenging to keep the player dying and plunking down more quarters to continue. While these early games were basically designed to suck quarters out of players, a lot of this also carried over into early console games. Games without coin slots designed to take your quarters. At the time, we thought little of itů these were just games. Now, however, a game with no mid-level saves or checkpoints is bound to seem foreign to a lot of people. If you finish an entire level, you can load at those points, but you’ll need to start it over if you use up all your “quarters” in a specific level. This is bound to be the biggest thing to divide players over this game. You’ll either get too frustrated to get far in the game, or you’ll rise to the challenge and tell the other people things like “if you don’t like this game, you just suck at it.”
Another frustrating feature that made a return from the quarter-munching days is the cheap death. There are many times in this game where you simply cannot escape death. There are plenty of ways to improve your skills, remember where things are coming from and so on. Often though, while things are exploding, a bullet you need to dodge will get hidden behind explosions and you’ll get killed by stuff you couldn’t have seen. Yup, this is the kind of thing that made us curse and throw controllers.
Also in the tradition of old-school shooters, Alien Hominid features a wide selection of boss battles that force players to learn patterns to damage the creature and stay alive. You’ll also need to have the patience to shoot the boss long enough to bring a large health bar down to zero. Again, your enjoyment of these will rely on your stance on pattern bosses, so I’m just putting the info on the table.
It’s great to see an independent team able to successfully create and publish a unique game in the midst of the giant franchises and big sequels, but there’s some also some areas that stick out as feeling more amateur. The sound effects and cut-scenes are probably the roughest part of the presentation, which may have been improved with a professional’s touch.
Overall, the game is quite a bit of fun. Alien Hominid offers up a serving of both what was great and frustrating about old-school gaming. This is likely to divide players, but me? I liked it.