Sega brought the fast-action shooter Alien Syndrome
to U.S. arcades in 1987 riding the coattails of the mega-hit sci-fi movie classic Aliens
by James Cameron released the previous year. It was quickly ported to several home computer platforms and game systems in 1988, including Amiga.
The game’s premise is simple: find all of your alien-infected comrades across 5 different space environments while you avoid being killed by hordes of alien baddies. Although, come to think of it, if they are infected... why are we saving them?! Regardless, after finding everyone (and there are a lot) you then must defeat that level’s boss before continuing on to the next stage. Oh, and you're under a very short and strict time limit. If the clock hits zero, you die and have to start over.
In single-player mode you decide to be either a man (blue uniform) or woman (yellow uniform). I typically would pick the woman because I felt like she was a Japanese attempt at Ripley
, one of the coolest sci-fi characters ever created.
You are given a machine gun with decent range to start, but can find powerful weapon upgrades along the way. You can even find a small robot that will closely follow you and offer you a bit of extra cover from the rear, which is actually a huge help.
Like many games of the era, Alien Syndrome is brutally hard.
It is the kind of game that, over time, trains gamers to intimately memorize a level’s map to “beat the clock” as quickly as possible and get to the boss. The reason for this is the timer continues to run down
while trying to beat the boss! And the only way to succeed, frankly, is by playing the game countless times unless you happen to have been born with a photographic memory.
As soon as you’ve finally mastered level one and defeated the boss (which took me a few days) you get thrown into level two. You’re forced to start memorizing a new map all over again as well as how to fight new aliens and bosses. And yes, you almost instantly get killed, making veins pop onto your forehead as you refrain from throwing your joystick into the wall.
A sign of a good game.
This kind of train-by-pain can indeed be frustrating but isn’t completely unheard of for shooters. In 1988 when this game was ported (it was most likely a direct port from the Atari ST version) to the Amiga, this game would have looked and sounded really nice. To be sure, Amiga had the power to be a pure direct port, but the realities and economics of creating these games never matched the machine's potential. The graphics and UI are fun and intuitive and the sounds do their job, although the sound FX don't always seem to fire when they are supposed to (e.g. when you die, sometimes your character will scream and sometimes it won't).
And there are more problems.
When you walk your character to the left or right, he or she should stay in the center of the screen and the environment should scroll smoothly this way and that. This is exactly how the game works if you move your character north or south. But side to side, your character will walk 2/3 of the way across the screen and the horizontal scrolling will then jerk in short bursts creating a very difficult to navigate sideways screen bounce. As a result, you often don’t have much time to react when an alien appears right in front of you because you're too close to the edge of the screen. You soon realize you need to just hold the fire button down at all times will walking - talk about thumb cramps! - and walk blindly forward.
The collision detection is a little sketchy, too. If you’re trying to walk around a wall that is designed at a 45 degree angle, your character will get hung up on an invisible corner you can’t see, which you have to ultimately navigate around - hopefully when there isn’t an alien chasing you.
The AI has its issues as well. When your little robot helper is trailing behind you, if you aren’t careful it can get trapped in a room behind electronic doors - totally annoying when you’ve walked a few blocks away from that room and suddenly notice the piercing sounds of it firing at the door start to work their way behind your eyelids.
Regardless, for an arcade port Alien Syndrome is a good game. It is not a perfect port, nor is it a great game. But it is a good solid effort, and pretty fun for those willing to put in the effort and get into the zone.