Alpha Mission II (NeoGeo) review
"Plagued by atrocious graphics, sluggish gameplay, a poorly-construed power-up system, unimaginative enemies and bosses and countless other flaws, the original Alpha Mission (at least the NES port) set a standard for poor play in a shooter that may never be beat. That dog of a game did for the shooting genre what Hydlide did for the adventure genre. "
Plagued by atrocious graphics, sluggish gameplay, a poorly-construed power-up system, unimaginative enemies and bosses and countless other flaws, the original Alpha Mission (at least the NES port) set a standard for poor play in a shooter that may never be beat. That dog of a game did for the shooting genre what Hydlide did for the adventure genre.
However, Alpha Mission shares something else with Hydlide besides the ability to arouse disgust in gamers, as both apparently had enough corporate support to justify the creation of sequels. While the spirit of Hydlide sadly lived on with the Genesis (Super Hydlide) and Saturn (Virtual Hydlide), the second vertically-scrolling space shooting expedition with the Alpha Mission name is a bit less accessible to the casual gamer.
Alpha Mission II was released by SNK during the short-lived Neo-Geo craze, meaning that if you played this game, it was through emulation, in the arcade, or as a very expensive home Neo-Geo port. While this sequel is dramatically better than the original game, I would still definitely feel sorry for anyone who spent more than...say...$15-20 on it, as being dramatically better than the first Alpha Mission doesn’t necessarily make it all that good of a game.
Oh, Alpha Mission II isn’t a horrible shooter by any stretch of the imagination — it just doesn't stand out as having any truly special qualities that would cause it to rise above mediocre. Graphically, it doesn’t stack up to other (and better) Neo-Geo titles like Pulstar and Blazing Star, while the music is pretty bland with the exception of one of the boss fight tunes.
While the gameplay has a number of improvements over the original, there also are a number of facets of Alpha Mission II that could be described as questionable or worse. While your ship is more maneuverable and you aren’t all that likely to get stuck watching much quicker enemies dart into you from unexpected angles, there are a number of problems with this game that will be apparent after a few minutes of play.
The most obvious of those problems involves the game’s power-up system. Initially, this very important aspect seems to be well-done. Blast a certain sort of enemy and a tile with the letter “S” on it is revealed. If you collect this tile, your speed will be increased. If you shoot the tile, it will turn into an “L”, which (if collected) will improve your ship’s gun. Blast it again and you’ll get to improve your ship’s missile attack. It’s simple and easy to quickly advance either your gun or missiles to their maximum level of proficiency, making that way of powering up your ship seem well-executed.
However, there is a dark side to adding to your ship’s destructiveness. SNK also decided that it would be nice to give your ship a number of bonus weapons. While bonus weapons are always a wonderful concept in shooters, this game was able to find a way to ruin that idea. Let’s say you’re flying along and you waste a series of ground-bound guns. One of them may leave behind a rectangle with a word like “FIRE” on it. Fly over this icon to start constructing a new and supposedly better weapon. You see, just running over a “FIRE” icon (or any of the several others) isn’t good enough to get you this new weapon. You have to unearth and run over no fewer than three “FIRE” icons to get this new weapon. And don’t be accidentally running over a different weapon icon during this time, or you’ll simply be swapping out your nearly completed “FIRE” weapon to start over again with something else, like “BUBL” or “SIDE”.
You might think that since it can be a bit difficult to obtain these special weapons, as you have to run over the same icon three times in a row to unlock it, that they must be pretty darn special. After all, the greater the risk, the greater the reward, right? Sorry, regardless of how much it’s improved over its predecessor, this still is an Alpha Mission game. That means quality is NOT guaranteed.
First off, these new weapons have a life meter. As you fire them, the meter slowly goes down. Get hit by an enemy and instead of dying, you’ll watch your weapon’s meter quickly diminish. After the meter runs out, you lose the weapon and are back to relying on your ship’s main weapon. If you’ve been able to put any amount of time into building up that weapon, going back to your main weapon may actually be a change for the better. Sadly, many of these special weapons are quite mundane. While “BUBL” is pretty nice, as the bubbles you fire off can cause very damaging bomb-like explosions when they hit enemies, and the “SIDE” guns allow you to shoot in multiple directions, for the most part these new weapons seem to operate much like a slightly stronger version of your basic gun. A version that likely will be gone just when you get accustomed to it — forcing you to set off on the path to creating a new bonus weapon.
So to sum things up, you usually have to do a lot of work to get these new weapons that you usually only have for a brief period of time AND the quality of these weapons generally does very little to justify that work. The only easy way to get one of these weapons is in between levels, as you'll have the option to purchase one of them (assuming you've collected enough ''K'' icons for what you want).
To make matters worse, whenever one of your ships gets blasted out of the sky, there is a good chance you will soon find yourself overwhelmed because your new ship will not be brimming with power. In fact, you'll have to start from scratch and start working towards regaining your deceased ship's offensive capacity. Of course, if you're fighting a boss or in one of the game's tougher areas or levels, you may suffer through a long string of deaths before the opportunity to start collecting power-ups presents itself again.
While this game is much more attractive than the original Alpha Mission, many of the levels are plagued by a definite lack of creativity. Three of the six stages appear to be graphically-enhanced versions of the generic enemy bases of the first game. In fact, the second stage was the only one that I was truly impressed with. Flying over the moon, you are soon accosted by weapons that eventually attach themselves to a huge tank-like mobile base. As you destroy sections of this base, you'll move on to face tougher and more numerous guns and other weapons. Finally, after an eternity of pumping a seemingly endless stream of bullets into the base, it will grind to a stop, allowing your plane entry. From there, the second half of the level is pretty mundane, with you flying through the same general sort of surroundings that you'll spend much of your playing time in — but for a brief period, you can see the potential this game had to be something special.
Sadly, that potential is only illustrated at a scant few points over the final levels. The fourth level opens with a nice scrolling effect, while the final cyborg boss is portrayed well. However, much of the game reeks of the mundane and average, with nothing to make gamers ''oooh'' and ''ahhh'' with delight. Of course, after playing the original Alpha Mission, being able to say I was able to play its sequel without feeling a strong urge to put my fist through the screen may be praise enough.
Community review by overdrive (May 01, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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