Alien Soldier looks like a typical side-scrolling shooter for the 16-bit era. All similarities end there though, because this game is tough as hell.
This Genesis title was made to slaughter all the best Contra players with complicated controls and some of the toughest boss battles ever.
The true beauty lies in the brutal difficulty of this game. There are only two modes–SuperEasy and SuperHard. By default, the game is set on SuperHard. I really have no choice but to leave the difficulty on SuperEasy, because it has the unlimited continues and the password system. There is absolutely no way to survive without setting it on SuperEasy.
It took me numerous tries before I could even pass through the first stage. The controls are cumbersome for amateurs to even touch. I had to cycle through guns so that they didn't run out of ammunition. When I started, the main character's only decent dodge move was a dash to pass through bullets and enemies.
Once I figured the system out, it became one of the most complex shooters I've ever played. The main character has a unique hover ability that allows him to stay stuck in the air in one place until the player hits the jump button. This allows him to pull off some clever stunts. He can double-jump onto the ceiling. He can dash out of the hover move. A pro could write an entire book on Alien Soldier tactics, because of how the constantly changing environments affect the control styles.
The character designs in Alien Soldier are amazing. Treasure is the company that developed the game, so there are plenty of fun bosses inspired by old enemies in previous Treasure games. For instance, there's an walking ant in stage two that can lunge and backflip in the same manner as Curry and Rice in Gunstar Heroes. The infamous Melon Bread face even appears out of nowhere to taunt people in the later levels.
In fact, Alien Soldier is pretty much an epic boss marathon. Rather than setting up long stretches of enemies and pitfalls, most of the stages are short stretches of baddies and obstacles with a boss at the end. Once the stage finishes, the main character just continues on the same background to find the next boss. The real challenge is to survive through all 25 levels.
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My favorite boss fight is the epic, multi-stage battle against Seven Force. It literally opens with a mysterious girl transforming in a giant bipedal robot. As the battle rages on, each transformation becomes progressively more difficult. If that wasn't enough, the backdrop constantly changes with each new form.
The fifth form, Sirene Force, has some of the most frustrating controls. This part of the battle takes place in a swirling underwater whirlpool with bombs circling around to hit the main character. I hate this section. I can't control my character for the life of me, even though I can still attack some of the bombs at close range. It took me about 25 tries to defeat Seven Force. And I still have four more stages to go.
I'm glad that each challenge is exciting, because the entire story is a mess. It has something to do with Epsilon-Eagle, an former alien gang leader who is trying to overthrow the rule of Xi-Tiger. For some reason, Epsilon is a parasite who can infect humans to turn them into an eagle human thing. Supposedly the boy is avenging a girl who was killed by Xi-Tiger.
However, even this short rundown of the plot doesn't make any sense. Epsilon kills Xi-Tiger in the ninth stage, so there shouldn't be any reason to continue the game. Yet, it presses onward for 50 stages, without ever explaining itself. For such a shooter, I would have liked at least some sort of explanation that made sense.
Thankfully, no one needs to understand the story to enjoy the game. Alien Soldier is a brilliant mash-up of some of the most punishing bosses ever created. Retro shooter fans will definitely have to try it out for themselves on the Wii Virtual Console. Then they will soon discover how super-hardcore they really are.
What other games push the limits of the hard difficulty setting? How do other Treasure games compare to this run-and-gun survival game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.