Tony Wilkins reviews “Alien Syndrome” on the Sega Master System
In space no one can hear you scream ‘Shoot diagonally you…grrrrrr’. “Alien Syndrome” is one of a number of arcade games that found itself ported onto the home console to make up the number of games available on the home console market in the late 80s. After the 1983 video game market crashed Sega and Nintendo really wanted to make you feel like buying their machines was the same as playing the games you saw in an arcade so it made sense to introduce home versions of those very games.
The plot of the game is an unashamed rip off of the “Aliens” movie franchise (in fact the Master System cover actually has what is very obviously a Xenomorph-esque creature on it). Basically the story follows two alien hunter types named Ricky and Mary and they have to battle through each level against fixed and mobile aliens, rescuing hostages before a time bomb counts down to zero. At the end of every stage there is a monstrous boss that has to be faced before continuing on to the next stage.
The main content of the game is a top view shooter format that pits your chosen character against a horde of aliens that often resemble pink, red and blue Xenomorphs. These aliens are not quick killers and are easy to outflank should you wish to simply rush in, get the hostage and rush out. As you progress you encounter other types but really they are no different. What they lack in mobility they make up for in numbers and their ability to just pop up in front of you from out of the ground gets really annoying after a while especially when you have just cleared a section of a large number of the blighters. They flash for several moments after they pop up which means they can’t kill you yet but by the same token you can’t hit them.
Your default weapon is close to useless and is worth ditching at the earliest opportunity. Flame throwers have the same range as the default weapon but have a wider kill radius meaning your accuracy can be just a touch off but still hit the aliens. One of the best weapons is the laser which has a range across the length of the screen and can kill more than one alien if they are in line. My biggest gripe about the weapons might seem trivial but until you play this game you won’t really understand how frustrating it is; shooting diagonally (hence my opening line). In order to shoot this way you have to hold down both of the directional buttons in the direction you want to aim. While this does shoot diagonally it also sends your character charging in the direction of the aliens. You can’t stand still and shoot diagonally and there are times when this proves a handicap. I don’t understand why the programmers did this when there were other similar games that could.
At this point you are probably thinking I don’t like this game. The truth is though I really enjoy it. It’s not good but it has an entertainment quality that I just can’t quite put my finger on. I have been playing it for at least two hours today alone and that’s longer than a married man with a three year old usually allocates to an 8-bit console. It’s a tough game but the challenge is enough to make me keep selecting CONTINUE after the words GAME OVER appear on the screen.
One final note however about the Master System that this game really brought to my attention. I mentioned the Xenomorph-type creature on the cover but other than that its just the squared white background. Master System cases were often unnecessarily uninteresting compared to NES and Atari cases of the day. Sega seemed to realize this with their cases for later games (often titled as Master System II games confusing some people as to whether they could play them on their original Master Systems) and the Mega Drive (Genesis) which were far more interesting and colourful.
Thanks for reading…