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Alien Soldier - Sega/Treasure - Mega Drive - 1995

Treasure's releases for the Mega Drive have been, almost without exception, incredible. Gunstar Heroes, Treasure's first game as Treasure, is considered by many to be the epitomy of run-n-gun games, surpassing even the mighty Contra. Dynamite Headdy is a fantastic platformer, with a lot more depth and playability than most similar games released for the MD. Light Crusader was an interesting isometric-perspective RPG that was similar to Landstalker. There were a few other Treasure-created MD games too, but those in particular were a few of the standouts.

One of Treasure's only MD games that never made it to the U.S. was a run-n-gun entitled Alien Soldier. It did make it to Europe, but Sega of America declined to release it in the U.S. Unlike most run-n-guns, which featured a boss fight at the end of each level, Alien Soldier is almost nothing but boss fights! There'll be more on this later.

The story of Alien Soldier is presented in a somewhat detailed writeup (in fairly hilarious Japlish, although this was mostly fixed for the PAL release) that runs during the opening. A planet called A-Earth is apparently under siege from a terrorist group called Scarlet, who were created by people called A-Human. The members of Scarlet have special parasitic abilities that allow them to control other creatures and machinery. They are led by the evil Xi-Tiger, who had apparently usurped control of the group from its former leader Epsilon-Eagle, who was imprisoned by A-Human in some kind of rip in the space-time continuum. As it turns out, the attacks against A-Earth become more brutal under Xi-Tiger's control, and the members of Scarlet have decided they want Epsilon back in command. Xi-Tiger, of course, wants to stay in control, so he plots to open the rip himself and assassinate Epsilon. In order to do this, he leads an attack on an A-Human lab where kidnapped children with super powers had been taken. Incredibly, he senses the presence of Epsilon in one of the boys there. He takes a girl hostage and threatens Epsilon, who at that point takes over the boy's body, which he transforms into a powerful birdman. Xi-Tiger kills the girl and escapes, and is followed closely by Epsilon. At the same time, another birdman made an appearance, but this creature was completely evil. He also took off in pursuit of Xi-Tiger...

What this story has to do with the rest of the game is beyond me, as I haven't seen any cinema displays to speak of that have advanced the story at all. The game itself, though, is a masterpiece - in my opinion, it's Treasure's second best Mega Drive game.

As soon as you press start, you go to a screen where you can pick from six different types of weapons to help you on your quest. These weapons are: Buster Force (a standard blaster), Flame Force (a flamethrower), Sword Force (a powerful laser), Ranger Force (similar to the Spread Gun from Contra), Homing Force (a homing gun) and Lancer Force (an extremely powerful gun). You can take four of these with you; either four seperate ones or a combination of any of them. You can even choose to take the same weapon up to four times. Each weapon has a limited supply of ammo. Ammo can be recharged by picking up an ammo box onscreen. Simply shoot the box with the weapon you want recharged and it will change to ammo for that weapon. On a similar note, full energy refills are found scattered throughout the levels as well.

After choosing your weapons, you can now decide what kind of status display you want to see onscreen - bars, numbers, etc. After that, you're taken to a practice area which can be skipped if you desire to do so. This area does give you time to practice Epsilon's various moves, which are all listed onscreen along with the button combinations you use to perform them. Among those are Epsilon's hover jump (press the jump button again after jumping, then press jump again to move again). Then there's the extremely handy (and really sweet) Zero Teleport. This move (press down and jump to activate) will allow you to teleport from one side of the screen to the other without being damaged. If Epsilon's life is full, then he turns into a flaming phoenix and destroys or heavily damages anything in his path. From here, it's on to the game. Each level is broken up into several short scrolling sequences and (usually) three to four boss encounters. Blast the smaller creatures and take power from them, then fight the boss, rinse, repeat, etc. As you progress through the game, you can actually lose track of the number of bosses you've fought - like I said earlier, the game is almost nothing but boss fights. This isn't a bad thing at all, although there are some that would have preferred the game have more platforming action than boss fights.

Treasure really put a lot of time and imagination into Alien Soldier's graphics and animation, and it does show. Epsilon is large, extremely detailed and fluidly animated. The enemies are all very detailed (and quite imaginative) - some in particular, like Xi-Tiger, are huge. The backgrounds are also quite detailed, and in fact are some of the best I've ever seen on the Mega Drive. Treasure didn't slouch in the music and sfx department either - several extremely clear voices can be heard throughout the game (a feat thought to be near impossible due to the Genesis' dated soundchip), there are lots of meaty explosions and the music is on a par with Gunstar Heroes - that is to say excellent. In fact, one of the BGMs in the game, "7th Force", originally came from Gunstar Heroes. Control doesn't suffer much either - Epsilon responds almost perfectly to your commands, only occaisonally faltering. This isn't a major problem at all, as it doesn't really happen that often, but there are certain tight spots where any faltering can really hurt you. One nice touch that Treasure included was the ability to customize the game's speed. Is the action a little too hectic for you? Just pause the game and choose what level you'd like it slowed down to. Believe me, this feature comes in handy in several places.

Alien Soldier is absolutely recommended for run-n-gun fans. The game is import friendly as well, as almost all the text is in English. A word of warning - you will need a converter to run Alien Soldier on a Genesis system no matter which version you have, as it does contain Sega's territorial lockout program. Alien Soldier is definitely one of the more sought-after MD games... I've seen copies on eBay (both versions) go for some ridiculously high prices... not quite as high as I've seen Radiant Silvergun go, but fairly close to it. Still, if you can afford it, it's definitely recommended. Of course, the ROM is available for download online as well, which is definitely a lower-cost alternative then buying the game outright.

One final thing - the title screen of the Japanese version has one of the most truly bizarre things I've ever seen in a game - the phrase "VISUALSHOCK! SPEEDSHOCK! SOUNDSHOCK! NOW IS TIME TO THE 68000 HEART ON FIRE!" Just click on the title screen pic at the top of this review to see the original Japanese title screen. ^_^

- Rob

front cover

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