Life On Mars eradicates Life On Earth
Despite playing games for a majority of my life, the tightly knitted clique of so-called hardcore gamers still remains a terrifying mystery to me. The ones who have practically developed arthritis at 13, their fingers tattooed with circles, triangles and crosses from where their controllers have faded from overuse. The ones who declare that if they got £1 for every point on their Gamerscore, they’d be billionaires. The ones who laughed at me because I used my Xbox to play DVDs as well as games. Nothing could come between them and 100% completion of anything. Maybe my school contained a bizarre hybrid of super nerds, but if I should ever meet them again, I can shove Alien Hominid in their smug faces.
Alien Hominid started life as a simple Flash game and since then has evolved as a shiny HD spectacle on the Xbox Live Arcade, with many bonuses attached. The game might have grown and altered with time, but the premise is still the same. A cute yet deadly alien resembling a biologically mutated Pikachu crashes into Earth and has to blast his way through the planets curious inhabitants in a last-ditch attempt to get back home. Like with Castle Crashers, The Behemoth have put old school gameplay first whilst dynamic story telling has taken a back seat, and it works out a bloody treat.
From the very beginning, Alien Hominid is a challenging monstrosity.
‘Stay Calm! A crazed alien is a dead alien!’ screams one of the in-game hints, and in the same instant you’re likely to scream “Easier said than done!”. Jump straight into Alien Hominid with a cocky grin and an instant ‘Game Over’ will quickly wipe it off your face. It takes only one bullet to take you out and mistakes are easy to come by. Levels would be an incredibly simple side-scrolling affair if it wasn’t for the infinite swarms of enemies that block your path (and no, infinite is not an exaggeration). If a player is too cautious, they’re likely to get overwhelmed by enemies. If they’re too gutsy, they’re likely to miss bullets coming their way. Alien Hominid doesn’t so much ask you to focus hard as it does hold your whole attention span at knife point. The smallest of distractions that leads you away from the screen will have the games’ fun, seemingly cutesy demeanour decapitate you in an instant. It’s like trying to baby-sit Child’s Play psycho-doll Chucky.
As if the endless amounts of minions weren’t enough, prepare to feel utterly helpless at the many boss battles that will come your way. Few bosses have clear weak points, and even if they do, they require a heavy stream of bullets to keep them away. It’s forgivable to quiver in fear at the sheer size of both your enemies and their stubborn health bars that simply refuse to go down, and in all the madness their attack patterns are incredibly difficult to detect. The only way the game is lenient is in giving you tons of lives, which only just manage to get you through levels by the skin on your teeth.
And that’s where we get to the crux of the matter in hand. Alien Hominid offers frustrating, diabolical, infuriating addictive fun. It’s a weird juxtaposition that takes a while to get your head around. The first few hours throw ridiculous impossibilities that seem like such mountainous obstacles to overcome, that it’s easy to throw the controller on the floor and simply call it quits. Yet after these initial fear quenching battles, players begin to ease into the frantic mess. The difficulty may increase in progression, but you begin to build up on tactics and techniques to push your way forward, and each victory is all the more sweeter because of it. Unfortunately because of this, a lot of patience is required on the players’ behalf, yet the rewards reaped are worth the time.
Dan Paladin makes a welcome return to provide his artistic touch to proceedings and give Alien Hominid a polished charm that’s unique to many games on the marketplace (even compared to his sister project Castle Crashers). Its cartoon exterior combined with the dry sense of humour enhances the mood of the whole game and manages to keep it visually interesting.
The XBLA version also tries to distance itself as far away as possible from its earlier predecessors across other platforms, especially its Macromedia Flash ancestor. Completion of levels gains…hats for you to wear…and perhaps more importantly, mini-games which are almost as addictive as the main-game, several of which offer multi-player support.
From the very beginning, Alien Hominid is a challenging monstrosity. No matter how good you get, it always finds someway to keep the sweat on your brow, and because of this proves to be one of the most rewarding experiences XBLA has to offer. On the surface, it’s a simple 2D side-scrolling shooter, yet provides a much deeper experience when challenged, and is definitely worth a purchase…if you have the time for it.
The Bad: Perhaps a little bit too hard…?, Requires a lot of patience to truly get into it