Stupid video-game logic, rule no. 154: When thousands of fugly, bloodthirsty aliens take over a spaceship, it's best to send in a lone woman with a flamethrower.
That's the entire plot of Alien Syndrome, a pseudo sequel to Sega's 1987 "run 'n' gun" arcade game of the same name. And despite landing with little fanfare during the Wii's summer-release slump, this resurrected space franchise deserves sleeper-hit status, if it can find an audience.
The game play behind Alien Syndrome is the same as it was more than 20 years ago. But despite the passing of decades, it still works. Similar to recent favorites like X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Alien Syndrome once again uses a three-quarter overhead view as you dart from room to room, fragging slimeballs and grabbing power-ups.
At the game's start, you'll choose between four fighter classes, which is only a fancy way of saying, "Do you want to use a laser gun or a grenade launcher?" Each weapon has pros and cons, but munitions strategy is a moot point. They all go "boom."
Scant role-playing elements are tossed into the mix, as you're allowed to carry only so much weight on your person. This makes sense to anyone who's ever wondered how the hell Mario can carry 100 giant coins.
These weight restrictions force players to juggle inventory on the fly ("Should I ditch an ammo pack for a health pack?"). Sorting your gear and distributing experience points becomes a little tedious, but adds a tactical element to an otherwise basic shooter.
The truth behind Alien Syndrome is that it's a mindless shoot-'em-up with passable graphics and a dull design that features battles with endless waves of similar-looking creatures. So why is it so damn addictive?
The fact is that Alien Syndrome is as enjoyable as similar, white-knuckle arcade games such as the long-running Gauntlet series. For many gamers, this tried-and-true genre still sparks an obsessive need to destroy every last inch of the landscape as they run through hordes of enemies. In this respect, Alien Syndrome delivers, but it won't win any points for innovation.
Even if you feel overhead shooter games are as played out as plots involving evil aliens, the Wii controls are light-years ahead of the curve. Running is done with the Wii Nunchuk, while shooting is as simple as aiming the Wiimote and holding down a button. Likewise, melee attacks mean slashing the remote through the air. The controls are organic and unparalleled in their ease of use -- a reason in itself to give this genre one more try. The PSP controls, however, are as fun as a French kiss from an alien face-hugger. Stick to the Wii.
Because you can never have too many friends join you for some old-fashioned carnage, Alien Syndrome has a four-player mode. However, the muddied screen becomes so crowded with monsters, explosions, and players that it's impossible to tell what's going on. Factor in the time each player will need to organize their inventory, and you've actually got less action than the first hour of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
While some will find this game as bland as astronaut ice cream, others will play it the way they play Grand Theft Auto: "Sometimes it's just good to blow shit up." Alien Syndrome never boldly goes where no game has gone before, but the old-school approach and Wii controls make this alien-terror title worth spacing out to -- at least until Sigourney Weaver's lawyers come knocking, that is. l
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events