Released: January 1990
The Alien franchise (Various, 1979 to present) has a long and complicated history with videogame adaptations; from pixelated garbage to first-person shooters, real-time strategies and crossover titles, to survival/horror experiences, the decade-spanning sci-fi/horror franchise has seemingly done it all, including its fair share of arcade titles. In 1986, director James Cameron took on the unenviable task of following up on Ridley Scott’s financially successful and highly influential Alien (ibid, 1976) and more than met the challenge, producing an incredibly profitable and well-regarded follow-up that served as ample inspiration for both Alien videogames other videogame franchises as well. Naturally, considering how popular the arcade scene was at the time, Aliens made the jump from the silver screen to the familiar trappings of a sidescrolling run-and-gun courtesy of Konami, one of the most prominent developers in the industry at the time. Although it never received a home port, Aliens was an extremely popular arcade title when it released; its visuals and action were highly praised and, decades later, it is still regarded as one of the best games in the franchise.
Vicious, parasitic alien lifeforms have overrun Weyland-Yutani’s colony on the desolate world of LV-426 and only Lieutenant Ellen Ripley and Corporal Dwayne Hicks are left to battle through the hordes of acid-blooded Xenomorphs and confront the ghastly Xenomorph Queen!
Aliens is a 2D, sidescrolling run-and-gun title in which players take on the iconic roles of either Ripley or Hicks to blast through a number of environments ripped straight from the blockbuster sci-fi/horror classic. The game allows for simultaneously two-player co-op, but players are locked into a specific character: player one is always Ripley, and player two is always Hicks. Additionally, there is absolutely no different between the two characters except for a different sprite and a different name above the life bar; both characters can move in any direction across each stage and fire while standing and walking or while ducking and crouching walking to blast at smaller enemies. There is no jump button to worry about, no health-draining special attack, and no time limit but Aliens will spawn in and swarm over you if you stand still for too long.
Players are armed with the awesome M56 Smartgun, which has unlimited ammo and allows for continuous fire if you simply hold down the fire button. This default weapon has a high rate of fire and will shred the game’s basic enemies in just a few shots, though you can’t fire in any direction except straight ahead of the direction you’re facing from either a standing or a crouching position. There are instances where you can climb up or down ladders, however, in order to take a higher or lower path and, when playing in co-op, this is highly advised in order to better clear out the enemies in your path. Quite often, you’ll also be forced to crawl into an air vent to progress and have to watch out for blasts of steam, Facehuggers, and some of the game’s new Xenomorph variants.
Aliens is the very definition of a coin-muncher; enemies will run at you and explode, taking a chunk off your health bar, and you get a couple of lives per credit. If you run out of credits, you can simply input some more and continue from where you left off, which is great news when you’re emulating the game as you can just plough ahead until you reach the ending. Its not all mindless sidescrolling shooting, however; the game always switches to a vertical shooter for some bosses and there’s a couple of bonus stages where you need to mow down Xenomorphs from the M577 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) in a desperate attempt to rack up points and rescue Rebecca “Newt” Jorden. Other tried-and-tested sidescrolling mechanics are here to help mix things up as well, including acid hazards dropping from above, sudden drops to sewers, explosive barrels, and, of course, a moving elevator stage where you need to fend off waves of enemies while travelling further down into the bowels of LV-426.
Graphics and Sound:
If you’ve seen the movie on which Aliens is based, the environments will be immediately familiar to you; you begin the game in the living quarters of the LV-426 colony, and blast your way through the metallic hallways, dingy sewers, and enflamed landing pad shredding any enemies that you come across and grabbing power-ups. The game does a fantastic job of rendering the movie’s locations in a high level of detailed sprite work and locations, and even includes the motion tracker when you’re in the air vents; while the player sprites aren’t incredibly detailed and are lacking in animations, you do get to see them from different perspectives when the game switches to the vents or a vertical perspective, and all of the enemy sprites are quite varied and detailed (though the purple colouring of the Xenomorph drones is a little odd; I suppose it helps them stand out from the environment, though).
There’s a decent amount of attention to detail placed into the game, despite how short a lot of its stages are; Facehuggers are held in glass capsules in the backgrounds, Xenomorphs crawl over the walls, up from the floor, and drop down across the screen, and you’ll spot a number of colonists left helpless victims to the Facehuggers. Seeing Chestbursters explode out of their chests in a bloody burst and the Alien’s biomechanical gunk corrupt the environment really helps add to the atmosphere and the fidelity to the source material, and the game is punctuated by some limited voice acting (mostly grunts and cries), though the memorable Alien squeal is sadly absent. The game’s story is related through some out on context pixelated recreations of shots from the film, onscreen text, and using some limited sprite animation; the most impressive of these is saved for the finale, where you can force the Xenomorph Queen out of an airlock and be treated to a sprite-based recreation of her being flush out into space. Although James Horner’s iconic score is absent, the game’s action is punctuated by some rocking beats that incorporate a siren effect, and a blaring alarm in the finale stage helps to add to the tension created from the blazing sky and flaming walkways.
Enemies and Bosses:
If you remember Kenner’s awesome toy line from back in the day, you’ll know that the Xenomorphs had some pretty funky variants outside of the movies. The most basic Alien drone will amble over to you, trying to swipe at you and exploding on contact, and you’ll need to crouch down to destroy the Alien eggs before they can spit out Facehuggers or to take out the titchy Chestbusters and spider-like Xenomorphs that scuttle around in the sewers. You’ll also encounter bat- and snake-like Xenomorph variants that flutter or slink about, Xenomorphs that ooze out of the floor or leap up from the foreground, and variants that spit acid at you from a distance. Easily the weirdest Xenomorph is a red, frog-like variant than hops around the screen and grows bigger as you shoot at it, but the most intriguing inclusion are the zombies. It seems in this version of the story that those infected by Chestbursters become gloopy, shambling ghouls that toss grenades, take shots at you, crawl their legless bodies across the floor, and spit out Chestbursters.
Each stage is finished by a boss battle against a particularly gruesome Xenomorph variant; the first of these is a quadrupedal monstrosity with a snapping mouth at the end of a long, elasticated neck. Joined by a cadre of Facehuggers and spitting projectiles at you when its head has been blasted off, this Alien isn’t too great a threat as you can easily dodge its vicious jaws and even destroy its attacks with your gun fire. While trying to track down Newt, you’ll be attacked by a large Alien that is impenetrable whilst curled into a ball; you’ll have to avoid its rolling attacks until it uncurls and then unload in it to bring it down, but this is merely a sub-boss before you battle an Alien that’s been partially absorbed into the environment. Though it remains completely stationary, it rains Alien eggs into the arena and stretches its limbs out at you while. You must keep moving left to right, blasting and destroying the limbs and hitting the head when it pops up, though beware as you’ll be literally bombard by eggs when it’s near death, which can whittle your health down in no time at all.
There’s also a particularly gruesome spider-like Xenomorph that you’ll have to contend with twice throughout the game; this brain-like monstrosity scuttles about the place surrounded by orb-like Alien embryos which it uses as a shield and throws out to hit you. After the first encounter, you’ll then battle two Xenomorph bosses at once; these two nasty critters channel the lightning bolts that rain down across the level and fire them at you as bolts of electricity, and when there’s only one left it will surround itself with and shoot out glowing spirals of electricity in a desperate bid to protect itself. After fighting your way through the Alien nest, you’ll encounter the Xenomorph Queen; at first, she’s unable to attack beyond spitting acid at you and summoning her drones to protect her, so you simply need to fend them off and destroy her egg sack a piece at a time. However, when her egg sack is destroyed, she’ll detach and go on a rampage; the final confrontation takes place aboard the Sulaco and sees her clawing, biting, and charging at you and swiping with her spear-like tail. Thankfully, there’s a Power Loader on hand to help smack her about and, after you’ve damaged her enough, you can either pour on the firepower to blow her to pieces or force her into the airlock by rapidly tapping the attack button to activate the Power Loader’s flame torch.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you wade through the parasitic alien scum that have overrun LV-426, you’ll occasionally find food that will replenish your health, but these are few and far between and usually placed right before a swarm of Xenomorphs and hazards. You’ll also find crates that will bestow you with another weapon that you’ll keep until you lose a life; these can be either a homing missile launcher, a three-way shot, a rocket launcher that fires three in the direction you’re facing, and a flamethrower that fires in bursts. You can’t just hold down the fire button with any of these additional weapons, sadly, but you can pick up bombs to toss into groups of enemies or a super smart bomb to clear out all onscreen enemies. There are also rare occasions, most notably the final boss, where you can hop into the Power Loader and use its big, pincer-like arms to splatter Aliens into acidic goo, destroy walls, and even the odds against the Xenomorph Queen.
There’s really not anything else on offer in Aliens except for about thirty minutes of frantic run-and-gun action. You can play with a friend, of course, to mix things up and this probably adds both player characters to the sprite-based cutscenes, and you can compete to get a higher score as well, but there aren’t any alternate paths or anything to that you won’t see on the first playthrough. You’ll notice some differences in the Japanese version of the game; stages now have titles beforehand, the colourings of the Aliens is closer to the movies, enemy placement is a little mixed up, and both Newt and the APC stages are missing.
I’ve played a lot of the Alien videogames, and my fair share of arcade titles, over the years and I have to say that adapting the property into a fun, action-packed, mindless shooter is generally one of the most tried-and-tested tactics for the franchise. If you can’t recreate the horror of the source material due to hardware restrictions or mass appeal, then why not lean into the action-orientated elements that James Cameron introduced so well in the sequel? Often, this is hit and miss, but I’m usually quite pleased with the results as I love a good run-and-gun arcade title and Aliens is certainly a lot of fun to blast through. The attention to detail is admirable, recreating the environments and bloody horror of Aliens to an astounding degree for the time, and I really enjoyed all the new Xenomorph variants peppered throughout the game. The game gets very cluttered with enemies at times, which limits the usefulness of the weapon power-ups, but it’s just the right length with some surprising variety with the vertical shooting and APC sections so it’s well worth setting aside a little bit of time to load this one up and give it a quick run through.
Have you ever played the Aliens arcade game? If so, where would you rank it against other Aliens videogames and arcade titles of the time? Which character did you play as and what did you think to the new Xenomorphs featured in the game? Did you enjoy the game’s bosses and what did you think to the final battle with the Xenomorph Queen? Which of the Alien movies or videogames is your favourite and why? Whatever your thoughts on Aliens’ arcade venture, feel free to sign up and drop them below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for my review of the film that inspired the game.
I don’t even know if I knew there were alien arcade/video games. But it probably wouldn’t have been my speed anyways so probably just didn’t gravitate towards them. I was more a mortal combat, punchout, Pac-Man, or pinball player.