Reviving long-lost franchises is something SEGA knows a thing or two about. Sonic the Hedgehog came back from the virtual dead speedier than ever. Arcade classics are invading next-gen download stores at a rapid rate. And in the latest example, the arcade shooter Alien Syndrome has been resurrected on the PSP and Nintendo Wii to the cautious delight of large-scale monster hunters everywhere.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Alien Syndrome on Wii gets off on the wrong foot by revealing it was ported from the PSP version and not the other way around. Static, barely PS2-quality storyboards with merely passable voiceovers setup a Hollywood-inspired (i.e. ripped off) storyline featuring a female heroine, Aileen, investigating a mysterious derelict spacecraft in the far corner of the Universe. The in-game visuals aren’t much better and certainly not indicative of the Wii’s capabilities, though to developer Totally Games’ credit, they are noticeably better than those found flipping through PSP screenshots.
Once dropped into the ship’s hangar bay, Ripley” err, Aileen, is passed plain vanilla mission objectives from her command ship. Aileen’s superiors are most interested in finding out what happened to the ship’s crew and what the mysterious biological growth on the ship’s hull, the Alien Syndrome, could be. And Aileen, in return, is quick to let them know she’s safely aboard and discovered the growth in the ship’s interior as well. Yet once Aileen makes first contact with a mutated beast, there’s no communication back to her superiors. Apparently the discovery of 15-foot long caterpillars or Ghostbusters-inspired globs that spit deadly green goop isn’t critical to the mission’s success.
So the narrative is, in a nutshell, meaningless and forgettable. Alien Syndrome is all about blasting hundreds, make that thousands of encroaching mutants with the collective goal of laying you to waste. You, or up to four friends playing co-operatively, enter an area, kill anything that moves in that area, and then search for the exit to move into the next area. You and your buddies can even choose unique character classes, helping balance your attacks between melee, guns and really big guns. Examining Alien Syndrome on these terms makes it no different than countless other monotonous exercises in alien extermination. Many impatient gamers will play through with this mentality until their tired minds convince them there’s an airlock escape that will put them out of their misery.
These same impatient gamers might overlook an RPG-lite design crammed into a small floating companion, the Scarab. This little metal guy hangs out behind Aileen and through a menu-selection screen, allows gamers to build Aileen and the Scarab’s attributes and weapons based on various items picked up throughout each area. The menus are a bit botchy to navigate and using the Wii’s IR control to highlight selections requires near pinpoint accuracy. The five or six available screens could easily have been condensed to half of that which would have simplified building attributes and sped up the pace for gamers interested in the RPG-elements without sacrificing huge chunks of time.
Totally Games made an admirable effort to fully upgrade the PSP controls to take advantage of the Wii Remote’s IR capabilities and Nunchuk motion-controls. Melee combat with select spear-like weapons is fairly intuitive via Nunchuk movements and firing with the IR Remote is mostly spot on. Gameplay can become frustrating during intense combat situations due to slight intolerable lag with some of the Nunchuk melee moves, and a completely ineffective solution for turning the camera by twisting the Nunchuk side-to-side. It’s nearly impossible to keep an eye on enemies and turn the camera successfully without over or under-shooting the desired angle. When there’s not much more to gameplay than killing aliens or the occasional frustrating IR mini-game, any control issues — minor or severe — are inexcusable.
Alien Syndrome is most likely to find a small audience amongst groups of gamers who can get together for some cooperative alien blasting with character attribute building set to automatic, given there’s no online play support. The camaraderie and a few alcoholic beverages might wash out the realization Alien Syndrome is nothing more than a formulaic “shoot the incoming alien” exercise with watered down RPG elements, a story failing to live up to RPG standards, and an overpriced $50 tag. Avoid boarding this ship altogether and aim for the horizon’s next bright star instead.
– Dan Bradley