Alien Hominid may be the best old-school action game in years.
If you grew up with Contra, Alien Hominid will immediately seem familiar. It’s a straightforward, hardcore platformer/shooter in which you can and will die in less than a moment’s notice. This game is all about shooting tons of bad guys, including legions of FBI agents and even Soviet soldiers who are chasing after the alien protagonist. These human hoodlums have stolen his UFO, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it back. It sounds like the premise of a typical NES game from the ‘80s, and aside from the excellent hand-drawn art, that’s exactly how Alien Hominid feels.
The game is frequently funny, with visual gags hidden throughout each level enhancing the sheer absurdity of the plot. The alien’s only friends are the “fat kids”, who pop up from time to time to offer special weapons and extra grenades. But the true appeal of Alien Hominid is how pure and yet consistently clever its gameplay proves to be. If you’ve played any Metal Slug game, you’ll know what I mean. Alien Hominid is constantly introducing new enemies, new obstacles, and new vehicles, so the simplistic “shoot everything” formula never gets old. In fact, it feels fresher and more compelling with each new level.
The game’s difficulty ramps up steadily as the levels progress, eventually forcing you to learn and then master all of the alien’s moves. He can jump and shoot, throw grenades, shoot downwards to slow his descent, roll left and right to avoid enemy fire, jump on enemies to bite their heads off or just get a boost upwards, and even dig underground to avoid attacks and grab at unsuspecting government agents. The game’s array of bosses, the number and variety of which would make Treasure proud, are particularly devious, requiring you to use every move in your arsenal to survive.
There are also several vehicles which can be mounted voluntarily (and why wouldn’t you?), as well as entire vehicular levels, some with automatic scrolling. All of this vehicular combat helps to keep the game fresh, and unlike in many other games, the effort to add variety works brilliantly. Most of the vehicles are challenging to control, viscerally satisfying to use, or both. You even spend a couple of stages controlling the alien’s UFO, which is equipped with a giant rocket engine, missiles, guns, etc. What’s not to like about that?
Being that Alien Hominid is an expanded adaptation of a popular online Flash game, and that it’s a side-scrolling 2D shooter, you might expect it to be short. You might be right. There are 16 levels in all, and once you get the hang of the controls and know how to beat the bosses, you can blow through the game in about an hour. It will take longer the first time though, and this is one game you will want to play through more than once. In fact, the first time I beat it, I immediately started over and ended up playing through the entire game again in the same sitting. It’s that much fun.
Being that Alien Hominid is so deliciously old-school, you might expect it to be impossible. You might be wrong. There are three difficulty levels, plus a “thumbsucker” mode which gives you essentially unlimited ammo and lives but ends after the first few levels. On the easy setting, you start each life with shields to absorb some types of damage, and you have plenty of lives and continues to make it through at least a few levels in each session. You’ll still die a lot, sometimes almost non-stop, but there are plenty of extra chances to push forward. Once you’re all out of continues, you can easily start a new game on the last level you played, which will let you get even farther, until you finally beat the game. So basically, anyone can get through the game and see every level with even a small amount of perseverance. Of course, there are harder difficulty settings for those who like a challenge.
A few other modes attempt to add more longevity to the title. These include some two-player mini-games, like alien basketball with knives or a piñata boss challenge in which you try to pick up the most candy. Then there are the “PDA games”, a mode that looks and plays like many first-generation Game Boy titles. There are hundreds of PDA levels, plus a level editor to create your own. It’s a nice diversion and almost a game unto itself. Probably the best way to extend Alien Hominid, however, is its cooperative two-player mode. Two players can go through the entire main game together, which makes the action far more chaotic and introduces some new strategic possibilities. It’s a lot of fun, even if some areas seem harder than when playing alone, due to the additional distraction of a second alien and his associated carnage on screen.
With its strictly 2D graphics and deceptively simple play mechanics, Alien Hominid will not appeal to everyone. But if you grew up with this kind of game on older systems, or if you just enjoy fast-paced action games in general, this is one of the best on GameCube.