Monday, February 25, 2013

NES Replay: Alien3

Developer: Probe Entertainment
Publisher: LJN
Released: 1992
Can Anyone Hear You Scream?: Yes, because
you're not in space so please stop screaming
In NES Replay, we play every Nintendo game from A-Z and see if they're any good. This week: Alien3.

Alien3 could have been so much better. That goes for both the movie and the game.

Quick history lesson: Alien3's original teaser trailer made it look like it was going to be about an alien invasion of Earth. The script went through various rewrites and studio retooling, and then after the movie was finished they recut it without the director's permission, making the movie a giant mishmash of garbage.

What relevance does this have with the game? None, really. In Alien3, you're infiltrating various installations and rescuing crew members while gunning down xenomorphs. There are a few things that conspire to make the game kind of dull. They're all things that developers have mostly figured out by now, but at the time this was about the best they could have done.
We've talked before about how gaming began in the arcades, and a lot of games made for consoles still kept the same principles that were laid down by the arcades. For example, restraint wasn't a key of arcade games. There were no arcade game makers saying, "Let's amp up the tension by reducing the amount of enemies but increasing their deadliness" or "Let's remove a time limit in order to give the player more time to explore." Arcades were all about getting your money by any means necessary.

Alien3 would have benefited from less of an arcade mindset. In Alien3, the xenomorphs are everywhere. They're running around, hiding in ceilings, holding bar mitzvahs, playing poker, starting impromptu dance parties and taking family photos. You would think that having so many around waiting to eat your throat would be scary, but even if they attack you and knock you over, they take away just a tiny sliver from your large life bar. They've turned one of the scarier enemies around into cannon fodder.

Next, you have a time limit on each of the levels. Time limits aren't bad in and of themselves, but for this particular game, it's the wrong choice. Alien3 would have been better served by having the player move slowly and carefully through the installations, but with the time limit on the levels that's not a possibility.

The time limit combined with your enormous health bar leads to some hilarious moments. For example, there are some times where you have to go down long shafts while landing on platforms in the shaft. Your character takes fall damage, but not much. Why carefully jump down the platforms and waste all that time when you can just fall from the top, land face-first, lose a tiny bit off of your health bar and keep going? Every time I made my grizzled space marine belly-flop on the floor, I giggled. That's probably not the mood that the developers were aiming for.

Now, I know that lighting effects and other mood-enhancing effects were unavailable to developers on the NES. I get that. However, Metroid created a mood of isolation and fear several years before Alien3, and that was with lesser technology. If the developers would have really applied themselves, they could maybe have made a game worthy of the brand. As we know, though, licensed games were never really made with a high level of quality in mind.

Alien3 plays decent, though, assuming you're looking for a run-and-gun shooter and not a game that feels like, you know, "Alien." It's just sad to play, because you wonder what might have been with an application of a few more modern design techniques.

Final Rating:

Next Week: All-Pro Basketball

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