Christmas served as a most effective Scrooge training course this year. Best one yet, I’d say. But it’s time to put that training behind us and get on to the old games of the New Year. So to that end, let’s meet Alien Hominid.
Alien Hominid is not simply inspired by Metal Slug, it basically is a Metal Slug sequel in all but name: add a few new moves and tweaks, change the art style, and hey presto, Metal Slug: Alien.
So we’re not dealing with a thrillingly original game then. Still, given the formidable material that is the Metal Slug franchise, it’s probably no surprise then for fans of 2D run ‘n’ guns that Alien Hominid is top-tier in everything but looks. If there’s one quibble with the game it’s that Alien Hominid’s Flash roots show in the graphics. It’s sort of intangible, I’m not really sure how to describe it, but it has that Flash look. The animations however, just like its Metal Slug predecessors, are great. Anyway, needless to say, when your competition is Metal Slug with its gorgeous sprites and delightful animation you’re going to get a hard time about graphics. (Incidentally, this is the first and hopefully the last time you will ever hear me complain about graphics in any game.)
As you can probably gather, it is actually easier to list the differences between Metal Slug and Alien Hominid than it is to describe the shamelessly borrowed mechanics in any detail. If you’re not familiar with Metal Slug, why are you reading this? Get out of my sight and familiarise yourself with arguably the best run ‘n’ gunner series in existence, and if not the best certainly the coolest.
So let me briefly list the differences between the two franchises, graphics aside: the civilians from Metal Slug have been replaced in Alien Hominid by a Fat Kid who dispenses weapons. You don’t collect Fat Kid as you do civilians, Kid just gives you stuff. Shooting down in mid-air suspends you off the ground for longer than usual. Weapons give you a one-hit shield, ala the 2D Sonic series. There are 3 Alien-exclusive moves: you can charge your main weapon, jump on enemies to bite off their heads, and, last but not least, you can enter an interdimensional space under the ground, from which you can grab enemies who walk by and pull them in. These may sound like some major differences to Metal Slug but in actuality all of these moves are totally non-integral and eminently forgettable. The latter two in particular seem to have been put in more as vehicles for extra humorous animation than anything else. So, now, that’s it, everything else is 100% Metal Slug. Let’s see, have I missed out any other additions…? Well yeah, dude, duh! There’s only a ton of frikkin’ new Metal Slug levels here!
Like its source material, this is a tricky game. Enemy bullets are speedy and tough to dodge. Like Metal Slug, you die in a single hit, unless you’re in a vehicle. Due to the high difficulty (I’m playing on normal difficulty) you will likely have to play each level more than once to get through it alive. You are given a measly 3 credits with 2 lives each in a playthrough (this number increases if you play on easy mode so rest assured, twitch beggars). Lose all of your credits and you return to the start of the stage. Each stage is around 10 minutes long, so it doesn’t get frustrating when you lose on the boss and are sent back to the start of the level. Stages usually consist, like Metal Slug stages, of killing grunts, mini-boss, killing grunts, big boss. And like Metal Slug there are helicopters and mini-forts up the wazoo who deserve blowing up. Bosses are well done, and can be quite difficult. This is where the game excels: there is often a great deal of skill required learning boss patterns and working out how to damage them without getting yourself killed. The game very admirably walks a fine line in this respect, forcing you to learn boss attack patterns and improve your twitch skills to proceed.
As I alluded to earlier, death results in repeating the stage. The game saves after every stage, and when booting up the game you are presented with a level select screen. This is one of the key differences between Metal Slug and Alien Hominid – saving between levels and level select, those dastardly console innovations. When SNK compiled the Metal Slug games to release the essential Metal Slug Anthology on the PS2, Wii, and PSP, they opted for a very traditional arcade route when it came to difficulty and continues. Their (in my opinion poor) decision not to customise Metal Slug for consoles is one reason to recommend Alien Hominid over Metal Slug Anthology. To put it simply, because Metal Slug does not save between levels, if you opt to play with limited credits – the only way of creating a credible challenge – death forces you to restart the game from the beginning. In effect, Metal Slug Anthology forces players down a hopelessly easy, tourist route (die as much as you like) or a nerve wracking and frustratingly hardcore one (die and restart the entire game). I know the latter option suits some players, namely the diehard fans who will try and play through an entire game on a single credit. And a middle finger to you too, sir. But without the option to repeat Stage 5 without suffering the preceding stages, practice and memorising a particularly tricky boss pattern in Metal Slug Anthology is an extremely daunting and time consuming task.
Quirks of arcade/console conversion aside, the level design of Alien Hominid is about as fresh and interesting as a new Metal Slug entry. So far there’ve been been standard run ‘n’ gun levels, some more standard than others, one-off vehicular levels, but perhaps the best I’ve experienced so far is a highly original hybrid of the two. In this level, Hominid walks on moving traffic. You can take control of any of the cars or vans you’re hopping between, but with helicopters dropping constant bombs on cars you won’t likely last long. At the same time, grunts are coming at you from all sides, walking over the traffic too while helicopter hell rains down above on you and the commuters. The only thing like it I’ve experienced is some of the F-Zero levels in the Super Smash Bros. series, where you fight on moving cars and perish if you touch the road. Alien Hominid really justifies its existence here, elevating it well beyond derivative rip-off territory.
Finally, as well as the main game there are a series of minigames that gradually become accessible from the main menu. These are a combination of decent Flash-ish games and special Alien Hominid challenges, such as football and a timed score attack with a sweetie-dispensing pinata boss. Every minigame (and the main game) can be played in two-player co-operative mode, which I’m tragically yet to try.
All bodes well with Alien Hominid so far, and I doubt it’ll merit a second post, but it’s a fine experience indeed. I couldn’t ask for much more as an arcade balance to supplement my current obsession with Persona 4. It’s also very cheaply and widely available. I’m playing the PS2 version (which can be had from Amazon for a penny plus £2 shipping) but the game was also released on *deep breath* GC, Xbox, XBLA, GBA… and Newgrounds.