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Alpha Mission (NES) artwork

Alpha Mission (NES) review

"One of the most popular genres of video game throughout time has been the shoot-em-up. From the all-time classic Space Invaders to Gradius to Einhander, many gaming systems have made the shmup a key part of their library. "

One of the most popular genres of video game throughout time has been the shoot-em-up. From the all-time classic Space Invaders to Gradius to Einhander, many gaming systems have made the shmup a key part of their library.

Unfortunately, not every one of these games can be a classic....or even a quality playing experience. Alpha Mission for the NES falls into this category.

On the surface, this game would seem to be an outer space version of Xevious. One button controls your ship's gun, while the other launches bombs in order to destroy targets on the ground. Some of those ground targets are enemy installations, while other conceal power-ups and other surprises for your ship. Unlike Xevious, this game has unique bosses for each level (as opposed to fighting the same mothership every time).

Sound good so far? Well, sorry to say, but the actual gameplay does NOT live up to that description. What are the problems of this game? Well, this might take a while, so be patient.

1. It's ugly. While the NES might not have been the most visually appealing system out there, it's not like the graphics were stuck at ''horrible'' with no way to move up. Look at shmups like Over Horizon, Guardian Legend (the arcade stages) and many others. Now, look at this game. The bland backgrounds and unimaginative enemy designs (for the most part) are sadly stale even by comparison of other games released in the same general time frame.

2. You're slow. Compared to enemies, your ship isn't exactly a speed demon. And after you've built up your speed by running into a few power-ups....well, you'll notice that some of the enemies will zip up from the bottom of the screen at the speed of light, ensuring a quick death for you unless you either are in the right place or you have memorized their pattern. A high degree of difficulty doesn't bother me --- dying repeatedly because a wave of enemies drilled me from behind because they sped across the screen too fast for me to get out of the way is a problem.

3. Cheap power-ups. You've spent a decent amount of effort bulking up your shot, improving your bombs and speeding up your ship so you at least have a fair shot of dodging most enemies. Then, you pick up a ''C'' or a backwards ''K'' and ---- BOOM! ---- you realize you've lost the effect of every single power-up you've collected over the course of the game. Yep, that's a great way to keep the player into the game. The ''R'' power-up also will grate on your nerves, as it sends you a decent way backwards in whatever level you are in. To be honest, after powering up my ship, the only icons I picked up were the ones marked ''W'', as they warped you farther into your current level, making the game go by a bit quicker.

4. Bosses aren't exactly bursting with imagination. Of the first four, they all have roughly the same attack. Wander around the screen shooting bullets in waves. If you don't kill them quickly, the bullets turn red and home in on you to a degree. Keep them alive longer and the bullets turn blue and stop your bullets, in effect helping to shield the monster from you. The fifth boss is only different in that it teleports around the screen. The sixth boss is different from the other five, but is more of a tedious task than anything actually memorable. After that, I believe the game loops over, but I'm not 100 percent sure (after seeing that the seventh level's boss is the same as the first level's, I stopped playing and vowed never to touch the game again). Oh, by the way, don't use your gun on the second boss. You can only hurt it with your bombs, but without being told that, there is no way to know. You see, this game gives no indication that you are damaging a boss other than it changing color right before death.

So, as you can see, this game is supremely loaded with flaws and poor gameplay. Really, it would take a great amount of effort to find anything positive in the experience that it provides.

Maybe the music? While it is quite generic, at least it's not as bad as the actual game (if it was, my ears would likely have bled profusely during the course of play).

Possibly the difficulty level? Well, this is a very tough game, but the challenge is due to the cheapness. A slow-moving ship combined with ''power-ups'' that actually destroy your ships ability to fight effectively and enemies that bombard you quickly from all angles is not exactly a fun challenge. Unless your idea of fun involves submitting to such acts as the Chinese Water Torture or having splinters of wood being driven under your fingernails.

Well, when the only nice things you can say about a game are that the music isn't as bad as the game and that it's hard --- and then you have to add that it's not challenging in a fun way --- it's just not possible to give it a quality rating. Off the top of my head, I just can't think of a single shmup I got less enjoyment from than this game and I'd be hard-pressed to think of any game (regardless of genre or system) that provided more negative memories.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (January 25, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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