“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”
-H.G.Wells, The War Of The Worlds
“The following is a contributor post by The Hopeful Handheld Mage.”
After completing my analysis of the Golden Axe series (for now!), I wasn’t too sure where to go next. Then I remembered another beat-em-up developed by Golden Axe creator Makoto Uchida in 1990… Alien Storm was a game that I fixated on in my youth, but seems to have been forgotten about today. It’s a game that Sega has never revisited. I sometimes wonder why… is it because Sega saw Alien Storm as a weak sister to Golden Axe?
“The idea behind Alien Storm comes from the movie Ghostbusters – there is even a poster that says “Alien Busters” in the game.”
-Interview with Makoto Uchida from joypad.fr, 19 November 2015
There is no doubting the influence of Golden Axe on Alien Storm. As he did with Golden Axe, Uchida took the inspiration for Alien Storm from a classic 80’s film and then he applied the successful Golden Axe formula to it. Our three heroes (Garth, Karen and robot Scooter) are the Alien Busters, burger van owners who also protect Earth from aliens on the side. As with Golden Axe, all three Alien Busters have different weapons and special attacks, though in the arcade you could play as all three Alien Busters at the same time.
Uchida added some variation to the Golden Axe formula in order to keep the player’s attention. Two different levels, a side-on run-and-gun section and an Operation Wolf-style shooting gallery, are interspersed throughout the game, which was something different in 1990. The two genres would have formed two individual games back then, so it is unusual to see the two genres mixed together.
“The other reason that pushed us to use this universe is that the project designer was responsible (for) Alien Syndrome and he was very good at drawing all kinds of cool and scary creatures.”
-Interview with Makoto Uchida from joypad.fr, 19 November 2015
The other change from Golden Axe was the setting and enemies. The aliens in Alien Storm weren’t the usual blobs – they were slimy, gory creatures that wouldn’t look out of place of a B-Movie sci-fi film. I imagine that was one of the selling points of the Alien Storm arcade game – though the beat-em-up market was getting crowded in 1990, the focus was mainly on street gangs, not space monsters. From all accounts, Uchida enjoyed designing the alien monsters and the variety of aliens were a testament to his enthusiasm for the project.
When Sega made the decision to port Alien Storm to the Mega Drive, the three player mode was lost and the game was restructured in order to ease the frustrations of the arcade game and to fit the game onto a Mega Drive cart. The port was sold on the familar Sega premise that it was like playing the arcade machine in your home, yet despite the arcade pedigree, Alien Storm never caught the imagination in the same way Golden Axe did. Maybe people thought it was too similar to Golden Axe, maybe people didn’t like the changes made to the formula.
But is Alien Storm just a Golden Axe clone that is best forgotten or does it have merits of its own?
The 8-Bit Review
Visually, Alien Storm falls into the same boat as Golden Axe – it’s a good interpretation of the arcade game, but there have been a lot of sacrifices made. The backgrounds have been simplified and the animation has taken a hit too. However, much like Golden Axe, unless you had regular exposure to the Alien Storm arcade cabinet, you’re not going to let the graphical differences affect your enjoyment of the game. As a home port of an arcade game, Alien Storm satisfies, though I personally think Golden Axe is the better looking game due to its more inspired settings.
I have to admit my bias here – I’m very fond of Alien Storm’s music. It’s grungy techno with lots of wailing melodies over the top of pounding rhythms. I’ve played a lot of Alien Storm and have got some of the music absolutely tattooed into my brain. However, as I went through the sound test (remember those?) I realised that there was a lot of weaker tracks amongst the soundtrack too. There are some cuts I really like but others that I find repetitive and limited. I think a newcomer to Alien Storm could appreciate it’s music – it suits the game and has some catchy numbers – but overall, I’d have to admit the Mega Drive has better music elsewhere.
The sound effects are pretty much par for the course. Ask someone to make sound effects for a 16-Bit alien-blasting video game and you pretty much have the Alien Storm effects down. Lots of beeps, buzzes and booms here, all of which are serviceable.
It’s taken me twenty five years to realise it, but Alien Storm actually plays differently from Golden Axe. For a start, the Alien Busters can’t jump (bar a fancy flying special attack) – movement is created by a defensive roll that takes the player across the screen. This gives Alien Storm a claustrophobic feel to combat as you can’t simply jump to safety or spam a flying kick to clear bad guys. You need to time your rolls so you don’t end up trapped in the corner of the screen by aliens. The only problem I find is that the gameplay becomes a case of spamming the rolling attack, flying from side to side of the screen hoping to hit the enemy.
Alien Storm is quicker than Golden Axe too, but it feels more dependent on button bashing. There is no variety in attacks and combat seems primitive compared to Streets of Rage. That said, Alien Storm is still fun. The levels never outstay their welcome and the game mode changes add to the game. The running levels are far too easy and infrequent to really make an impression, though I do enjoy them when they come up. I always found the shooting gallery levels to be quite tense as a kid and they are an abiding memory of Alien Storm for me. Nowdays, I think they are a bit unfair (you seem to take much more damage in this section than the others), but they do complement the beat-em-up action pretty well.
The story is nothing special, but it’s enough – the wacky idea of a group called the Alien Busters taking on aliens is fine. Sadly, the presentation from the arcade mode didn’t make it to the Mega Drive port, so less detail is given on the story. The arcade version had some nice intro sequences of the Alien Busters’ burger van for example. but this element of Alien Storm didn’t make it to the Mega Drive port, which is a shame. Plot adds personality to a game and personality is something that Alien Storm could do more with.
On the surface, Alien Storm may look like a generic beat-em-up, but its gameplay marks it out from the pack. The variety in levels and the lack of jumping really stand out from Double Dragon and its ilk. The setting helps a great deal too – fighting aliens was a big change from the usual street gang (see: Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Renegade, etc.).
Unfortunately, the one thing that Alien Storm shares with Golden Axe is a lack of depth. Even the addition of a ‘Duel’ mode doesn’t really add much. It’s harder than Golden Axe, due to sharing the same tactics as Golden Axe III – AKA throw lots of enemies at the player in quick succession. However Alien Storm is a fairly short game and while it can be a struggle to slog through the legions of aliens, it won’t be long before you learn how to beat the game. Also, I’ve replayed Golden Axe many times over the years, but I don’t think Alien Storm holds the same appeal. Unlike Golden Axe, it lacks the same strong sense of nostalgia. Whilst I’ve played through Golden Axe with friends, I can’t imagine Alien Storm having the same pull.
Despite it’s differences from Golden Axe, Alien Storm is fairly easy to get into. It’s got a familiar template and once you get used to not being able to jump, the gameplay is second nature.
Alien Storm is a relatively easy game to find too. As with many ‘first party’ Sega games, it’s on Steam (often reduced) and on most Sega compilations. It’s not hard to grab a Mega Drive cartridge of Alien Storm either – it’s not a rare game and was part of Mega Games 3 and a Mega Games 6-in-1 compilation, so you should be able to locate a copy.
My Personal Grade: 6/10
Alien Storm is a game I have fond memories of and certainly not one that I think of as a weak Golden Axe clone, due to its intriguing premise and gameplay. However, despite these individual merits the series went no further. It’s a shame – I think a franchise could have been fun, with further games improving on the variety and depth of the gameplay. Yet, in hindsight I’m glad that Sega focused their energies on other franchises such as Streets of Rage, Shinobi and Sonic. While Alien Storm is a decent game that could have gone further, those aforementioned franchises blew it out of the water from the off. Not every game can be successful – some make it while others get lost in the shuffle. Alien Storm was lost in the shuffle…
Aggregated Score: 5.4
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Categories: Game Review