It’s not uncommon for those who follow gaming media to have heard the name “Cuphead” — an indie darling, inspired by run ’n gun classics such as “Gunstar Heroes,” “The Adventures of Batman & Robin,” “Metal Slug,” and the 16-bit Contra games. Despite “Cuphead”’s revival of demand for games of this genre and the numerous acclaimed titles created by Treasure, one fantastic run ‘n gun has remained under the radar to this very day, troubled by its lack of exposure and once-limited release. “Alien Soldier” was a game ahead of its time — and after more than two decades, it still stands head and shoulders above its competition.
“Alien Soldier” is a paradox in every sense of the word. It launched worldwide in 1995, but only received a digital release on the SEGA Channel service in America, nine years before Steam would revolutionize digital game distribution. The game touts a stout gauntlet of 26 bosses to defeat, but was originally going to contain 100, and was made from scratch in less than two years. Most impressive of all, the bulk of the game’s development was undertaken by one man at the now-dormant Treasure Video Games.
I’ll stop the history lesson and get down to the nitty-gritty: even for a jaded, industry-weary consumer like me, “Alien Soldier” was an experience unlike any other.
The gameplay is the perfect combination of action and strategy, a masterclass in mechanical depth, primarily because of the main character’s move set. The player can run, shoot and jump, as per the genre standards, but can additionally swap between four weapons, hover in mid-air, zip across the screen (dealing heavy damage if at full health or passing through objects if their health is lower), and stop some projectiles, turning them into small health pickups. The combination between the options these moves afford and the ammo system, which requires the player to aim accurately and make spur-of-the-moment decisions about whether to go on the offensive or defensive and turns every enemy encounter into a manageable, yet intense, and fulfilling challenge.
The visuals are impressive even by modern standards; complex graphical effects work in tandem with a cyberpunk aesthetic and Giger-esque boss designs to look like a fusion of “Masters of the Universe” and a Ridley Scott film. By that same token, the music and sound effects always fit the level being played, as mechanical synths and the occasional digitized voice clip amp up the atmosphere magnificently.
The wondrously cheesy story, told entirely through an opening text crawl in broken English (see the line “The sudden attack by the group using its super power seriously damaged Epsilon and successfully threw him into the space time continuum which had been liberated by using super power,” for example), adds the B-movie hilarity that games like “Deadly Premonition” and “Shenmue” are famous for without messing up the core game’s pacing.
I am honestly baffled as to how “Alien Soldier” hasn’t been selling like hotcakes since it was ported to Steam in 2011 (and for $1, no less). Given that I spent the whole review praising it nonstop, I think my opinion on this game is obvious. It’s a must-have for anyone who isn’t afraid of a challenge, a true hidden gem widely available at almost no cost.
If it seems like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. “Alien Soldier” is one of the best games ever made, and it’s just one of innumerable examples of innovative, brilliant games that never got the attention they deserved.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools and has developed and published three games, “BORINGCORRIDOR,” “Accelerant” and “HouseThatJackBuilt.” He is a neutral game reviewer.