Review: The port of Contra on the XBLA got you down? Alien Hominid HD will make you feel much better.
Alien Hominid has been around before on console and PC, but only now can users enjoy the game with ?enhanced? HD visuals, leaderboards, and some basic online functionality. While the game does lack online co-op for its main mode, there's still lots to like in this vibrantly colored slice of throwback game action.
The basic premise of AH: HD is that you, as a space-faring alien, have been blown out of the stars by some overzealous ?Men in Black.? After crash-landing, the little alien is left for dead on the sidewalk as the MIB dash off with his spaceship. At this point, you take control of the alien as he looks to dispose of many enemies and get his ship back. The general action in the game is comparable to games like Contra and Metal Slug, and you'll find yourself jumping around, firing upgradeable weapons, and piloting the occasional vehicle.
The alien will primarily be firing a little blaster gun, comparable to something like Earthworm Jim's ray gun from his various adventures. The gun can be fired in bursts or it can be charged up for more powerful shots. The gun can also be upgraded ? temporarily ? by picking up swirling power-ups that random kids are holding throughout the game's levels. Some of the weapons that you'll find are freeze rays, flamethrowers, rapid fire cannons and spread shots. The little alien will also be able to lob grenades at his foes, and these will subtly change based on what weapon is currently held, meaning you can lob ice grenades while holding a freezing ray and so on. In terms of non-lethal combat, the alien is able to bury into the ground and submarine enemies ? this is a good escape tactic, too. Additionally, the alien can pick up and chuck around baddies to mix things up a bit. Finally, there is a head-chomping maneuver that the alien can perform by jumping on top of enemies' heads; this is both comically brilliant and brutally effective.
Of course, if the action just played out with the above description, the game would be acceptable, but hardly all that different than many other action titles. The good news is that levels actually vary quite a bit, and you'll encounter multiple action scenarios that keep things fresh. The game starts you in a generic urban sprawl, but eventually you move onto snowy Russia, and then finally into Area 51. All through this journey, you'll have unique experiences such as a Matrix-esque highway battle where the alien battles helicopters, jetpack-wearing enemies and vans packed with MIB. Instances like this are great because they not only change up the pacing of the game, but they also force you to keep on your toes as you jump from one flaming car to the next, all the while avoiding baddies all around you. Another cool moment allows for the alien to pilot a UFO to take out various air-based targets. One of the real treats of the game is its copious use pattern-based boss battles. All of the bosses are quite challenging, and many of the villains have multiple layers to their offensive and defensive strategies. Ah, these battles definitely dig up the nostalgia factor of older games and the mean bosses that populated them.
Frankly speaking, though, the entire game is very challenging, and you'll often have to shoot and react extremely fast in order to survive the constant onslaught of bullets, baddies, and bosses. To the game's credit, the action remains fun, even in light of this challenge factor. Some players may be turned off by the overly punishing accuracy of the enemies and ferociousness of the bosses, but this is a game that rewards quick thinking, patience, and pattern recognition. The AI in the game is very good, and they will often anticipate the alien's landing spot and ambush you with a grab maneuver or a gun. The one boon for people who find this sort of game challenging is the bevy of lives issued to you for each level. Since one hit downs the alien, it's quite helpful to have multiple lives and continues.
Not all the action in AH: HD is of the solo variety, though, and you'll be able to take part in various online modes and minigames. The main game can be played through locally with one other player, which is definitely cool, but it is unfortunate that this can't be done online. There may be a download to enable online co-op, but to not have it from the outset is a bit of a letdown. Beyond the main game multiplayer, there's a challenge mode that puts you in a situation from the main game where you try and survive as long as you can. The two online-enabled minigames are the PDA games and All You Can Eat. The PDA games are a one-to-four player platformer experience where each player has to collect jewels and defeat enemies to advance. All You Can Eat requires gamers to smash away on the X and A buttons to pound various bowls of food ? definitely a throwback to button mashers of yesteryear, and it's totally bizarre this one is online. None of these extra games stand out as particularly memorable, but they are all welcome add-ins that provide even more value to this 800 MS point package.
The visual style of the game is really quite distinct, and the hand-drawn art style is not only vibrant and interesting, but also quite versatile at rendering detailed and varied environments all throughout the game. The artist of record ? Dan Paladin ? is even credited at the beginning of the game, and his simplistic color palette, hard edges, and wacky shapes all make the world come to life. The Men in Black come bouncing after you with lots of energy, but they will also cower in fear if you bite one of their comrades' heads off. Speaking of comrades, the Russians look distinctly goofy, with a hammer and sickle-wielding boss looking totally cool, and low-level baddies wearing sweet Russian furry hats. All of the frenetic actions ? including the great-looking weapons ? animate at a fluid clip, and everything plays buttery smooth. This is definitely one of the stronger XBLA games in terms of visual presentation.
The audio is also quite good, featuring some great sound effects and samples for the alien and all of the evildoers. The weapons in the game are aurally unique, with a crystal-like smashing of the ice cannon to the comical lobbing of the hand grenade. The music is appropriately fast-paced and sets the tone for much of the action, and it also picks up for the game's boss battles to good effect. The screams of the alien as he is blasted or when he pops off an enemy's head are quite memorable, to be sure.
There are a few supplemental features in Alien Hominid HD that are also worth mentioning. As per usual, the game features the requisite 200 Gamerscore points for you to unlock, and many of the Achievements will take some concentrated effort. You'll get points for beating the game on the various difficulties, chomping off a certain amount of enemy heads, beating multiplayer challenges, and so on. You'll also get Achievements points for unlocking the various hats found throughout the game. The hats are a fun way of encouraging multiple plays through the game, and you'll be able to find pirate hats, bandanas, fedoras and other headwear to outfit your alien with. On top of all this, there are online leaderboards so that you can compare your high scores to your friends and the world.
Alien Hominid HD is one of the better Xbox Live Arcade games to come along in some time, and it is quite a value at 800 MS points. The game presents itself extremely well, and the action is both intense and enjoyable. The only drawbacks are the lack of online co-op and the excessive challenge (this will only bother some), but even the co-op might be patched with a download in the future. If you enjoy action games (especially those of the side-scrolling variety), you should definitely download this title.