The glory days of 2D side-scroller games with 16-bit graphics may be long over. Yet, every so often a game helps us to reminisce about the nostalgic games and consoles of our past. Sega’s Aliens Infestation for the Nintendo DS is one such game. The visual style and gameplay may be archaic by today’s standards. Rigid, boxy movements keep your characters locked into an invisible axis. However, the game’s inherent charm comes from living out one of the best science fiction franchises of the last millennium. Aliens Infestation keeps alive Ridley Scott’s Alien and subsequently James Cameron’s Aliens, starring Sigourney Weaver. Even some of the characters will remind you of actors in the feature films, such as Jenette Goldstein as the gritty Pvt. Vasquez. To top it off, the game’s underground exploration system finds success in its similarities to the Metroid franchise.
The game begins with a long-winded story about a group of marine teams that went missing. The text scrolls by so fast, you will probably not get a chance to read it in detail. All you need to know is that you need to hop aboard the infamous USS Sulaco, from the Aliens movie, heading for LV-426. There’s a lifeform on board, but nobody knows who (or what) it is. Can you sense a xenomorph coming?
You are a part of Fire Team Fox, tasked with finding the lifeform. There are four marines on your initial team. As far as personality goes, Samantha “Homewrecker” Johnson is almost a carbon copy of Pvt. Vasquez from the movie. Each of the marines has their own unique personality and dialogue, which shows up as text. This helps to make the game interesting to play. There may be 19 marines, but they die quickly especially during boss fights. The first time I lost Samantha (key words are “first time”), I was distressed. The other three characters didn’t have her “tough as nails” personality. By the time I got to the next board, I realized that Samantha wasn’t coming back. When you die in Aliens Infestation, it is final. So if there is a character you like, you will want to hold on to them just for the sake of good dialogue.
Visually, however, all of the characters look alike regardless of gender. The skinny rookie Buddy “Brando” Whistler looks just like the grizzled veteran John “Duke” Cameron or Samantha “Homewrecker” Johnson. The only difference may be in the shading.
Each level is set in an underground facility. There is a lot of exploration and backtracking in this game similar to Metroid. Right away, you may come to a block door or elevator that requires a level 5 or 6 access card. But, you won’t have that access card until much later in the game. Also, you won’t be able to get past certain environment roadblocks without tools that are found later on. You may see a wrench and then a steam pipe that needs to be closed by the wrench, but first you have to figure out how to actually get the wrench. This is the same for items like a welding gun, which helps you get past certain doors. In Metroid games, usually you get your bombs later in the game, but in Aliens Infestation, the bombs are your first tool in getting past blocked areas.
In the beginning of the game, you start off fighting sporadic robot enemies. If you leave the room and come back, they will reappear. It’s a little frustrating. The same thing happens with soldiers and crawling xenomorph. Your characters movements are even more frustrating. Players can fire in an up angle as well as move while crouching. However, performing either action feels extremely rigid. It makes seeing respawned enemies that much more of a nuisance. On the positive side, seeing xenomorphs hatch out of eggs and lunge at you keeps the action lively.
The weapons cache starts off unimpressively, but eventually takes off with the flame thrower and the infamous mech suit. Using the slower, more powerful shotgun over the assault rifle will often leave you open to attack against smarter enemies. When facing off against bosses, grenades become one of the most helpful tools. The large aliens are extremely difficult so its best to save bombs for these ugly beasts or they will make short work of your soldiers. You can roll away at times (limited by a stamina meter), but more often than not you will find yourself backed up against a wall. Save points are infrequent so it is always best to be careful. And, sadly, the game only allows only one save file. So don’t go to a save room if you your favorite character died.
Once you find the map, your campaign officer will point out objectives on it. Flashing blips will represent lifeforms. You may try to avoid the blips for fear that they may be xenomorphs, but you may end up losing a potential marine ally by doing so. Making it too late to save one of your comrades can result in an alien jumping out of your fellow marines’ body.
Aliens Infestation is a nice journey back to the classic side-scroller platformers. The visual design may lack a modern look, but the heart of the game is in its nostalgic presentation.