The opening sequence of Alien Hominid shows a cute alien wrenching at the broken controls of his doomed flying saucer with accompanying amusing facial expressions. It’s actually funny, scoring instant empathy for the lead character, whose forebears have mostly been persecuted in videogames since Space Invaders. The game gives you a heavy dose of completely over-the-top side-scrolling shmup action in the style of Metal Slug, along with some added extras. Released at a bargain price, it’s the hand-drawn graphics that instantly differentiate this from anything else. The original version of Alien Hominid was a browser-based Flash game. The game's artist, Dan Paladin, was later working in a videogame development house where one of his co-workers, John Baez, a fan of the game, suggested that he and Dan form their own self-funded company (The Behemoth) to develop a new console-based version of the game. That such a small team can survive and compete in today's gaming industry is a triumph and their game, Alien Hominid, is a worthy first production. The short intro shows the FBI shooting down the alien’s craft, carting the debris off in a van, and sweeping up the remains, whilst holding a placard announcing “There’s nothing to see here!”. The art style looks fresh and the humour hits the right buttons – no mean feat indeed.
Up jumps the little blighter, grits his teeth and embarks on a quest to get the spaceship back. The first person you meet is a Fat Kid who conveniently hands you a power-up. After this there is a lot of shooting (everyone) and a lot of running, which would be fun enough in itself, but there’s a lot more on offer. Super-charge shots wind up with a great accompanying sound and a variety of different weapons become available, but only by walking through glowing orbs. Grenades are normally in short supply but can come in very handy. Your alien powers are equally as spectacular as they are bizarre. Jump on an FBI agent’s head, wrap your legs around their eyes and use them as a steed, avoiding low-level fire. Once bored of that, bite their head off with a satisfying crunch and watch the hilarious reactions of the other Feds nearby. Too much action going on for your liking? Leap into the ground for a few seconds’ valuable cover – if you are lucky, someone might walk past allowing you to drag them to their death – squelch! If it’s too late to jump or duck out of the way of a bullet, a quick dash into the screen might help dodge it. Luckily, flying saucer controls must work fairly similarly to cars, because our intrepid hero has no problem requisitioning vehicles, driving with one hand nonchalantly hanging out of the window shooting at anything in sight.
So after a frantic couple of minutes tagging everything that moves, a boss turns up to sort you out. The first encounter is just brutal, with no hope of surviving. It takes a while to learn the boss's moves but then it can be despatched every time. Not so for later bosses though. Give them half a chance, even when you know the system and they’ll flick you aside. Especially the boss whose beam weapon fills the entire screen - yes, all of it. The whole first level lulls you into a false sense of security – after that the game turns vicious and not just the boss battles. The attrition rate on some of the levels is so fierce that it’s quite fortunate that the game lets you start from any level reached previously. It is possible to survive using minimal lives/credits, but the concentration needed is intense.
Part of the problem lies with the excellent graphics. Whilst each frame of animation is a pleasure to look at, often there is just too much going on, especially if there are explosions. These can mask enemy bullets, which are a dull green colour – hardly making them easy to spot at the best of times. In these situations, it becomes necessary to guess when they will arrive by listening to the gunfire. Often successful, it’s unnecessarily frustrating when it goes wrong. This effect is compounded further when a second player joins in – it’s almost unplayable without dying regularly. The controls are overly complex as well, with the dodge buttons largely redundant, due to the difficulty in timing them correctly whilst hammering the fire button. However, don’t let this put you off buying the game. The single player is excellent fun, once you’ve worked out how to stay alive long enough – a hardcore challenge but very rewarding.
There are a large number of levels and although the background scenery is fairly light, the level content is fairly varied. As well as the running-style levels, there’re levels leaping from car-to-car or train-to-train and some completely different levels zipping around, Asteroids-style, in your flying saucer (once you’ve located it).
The main game is a funny, vibrant, hard-as-nails success, but the fun doesn’t stop there. There’s a variety of mini-games that unlock at various points through the main game. Selectable from the main menu, most are fairly unspectacular, but the “PDA games” are superb. Seemingly played on the alien’s own palmtop, up to four people control a stickman each and race to navigate stick levels to reach the exit. Several deathtraps such as water, spikes or stickmen with guns hamper progress, and puzzles need to be solved to give access to the exit door. Working together with your fellow stickpeople is a must, but that never happens in the race to be the first person to leap foolishly to their doom. The noises and graphics are simple and very effective, but beware the catchy music that soon makes you want to experiment with developer torture. Hundreds of levels are supplied, with the facility to make more. Usefully anyone can play this game, with the only controls being move, duck and jump.
Alien Hominid is a great package. A little quirky and rough around the edges, it survives on originality, genuinely funny content and an enormous challenge. The presentation and graphics style are like no other and the shooter gameplay is varied and different enough to maintain the interest in what’s coming next. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, though: Alien Hominid is double-ultra-mega hard.
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