Konami's Aliens

      If you were to ask a few gamers to list the ten greatest video game companies ever, it's a pretty safe bet that their lists would all include Konami. How could they not? After all, Konami has given us three of the most popular franchises of all-time: Castlevania, Contra, and Metal Gear. When you factor in legendary arcade classics like Frogger and Gradius and the huge crossover success of the quirky Dance Dance Revolution, it quickly becomes clear that Konami is a company that you damn well better respect. Between 1989 and 1991, Konami released two of the greatest arcade games of that era: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons. These classic beat 'em ups featured wildly popular characters squaring off against their archenemies in colorful environments. Back in the day, these two machines were everywhere: arcades, roller rinks, movie theaters, Chuck E. Cheese's, and every hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with an empty corner. In between these two huge releases, Konami gave us Aliens in 1990. Aliens was similar to the other two titles in many aspects, but since you were given a gun as your primary weapon, it cannot be considered a true beat 'em up. Instead, Aliens plays more like a cross between Contra and Double Dragon. The Aliens game never came anywhere close to the widespread success of The Simpsons and Ninja Turtles games and it's not hard to see why. While the other two were based off of kid-friendly cartoons, Aliens was based off an R-rated movie. Not only that, but the movie it was based on was four years old when the game was released. And while Aliens is one of the greatest movies ever made, you want to strike while the iron is still hot; these days movie-based games usually predate the theatrical release of the films they're licensed from. Of course, Konami's Aliens could have overcome these obstacles if it were an engaging game. Unfortunately, it's not.


      As you can see, Aliens takes place 57 years later. This begs the question: 57 years later than what? Well, as any good sci-fi would know, 57 years is the amount of time that Ellen Ripley spends in cryostasis between Alien and Aliens. And while continuity is certainly a beautiful thing, there's one slight problem: Konami never made a game based on Alien. So what we have here is a game that treats itself as a sequel to a movie that assumes you've seen. This is somewhat problematic. Ridley Scott's futuristic horror movie was a huge hit, but it came out two years before I was born. When I first played the Aliens arcade game, I was only eleven and had yet to see an R-rated movie. This is perhaps the biggest problem with Aliens; it assumes that you are already intimately familiar with the characters and storyline from Aliens, so it makes no attempt to develop the plot. OK, that's not true. It does make a minimal attempt...


      Dear God, I haven't seen that many ellipses and semicolons since... Well, since the last time I wrote an article. I managed to use them properly though. The problem with Konami's Aliens isn't that so much that it has minimal plot; plenty of video games from the 80s and 90s had this problem and many of them managed to be great in spite of it. No, the problem with Aliens is that it implicates itself as a sequel to a game that doesn't exist as well as a movie that many arcadegoers were too young to see. And unfortunately, the sword cuts both ways. If you've actually seen James Cameron's Aliens, you will likely be quite annoyed by the great liberties taken with the plot. There wasn't a whole lot of enemy diversity in Aliens, so Konami decided to pad out the number of different foes you fight by making shit up. As a result, Aliens feels a lot like Caffeine-Free Diet Contra.


      Konami's Aliens leaves the basic plot of the movie intact, communications with colonists on Planet LV-426 suddenly cease and a team of space marines is sent in to investigate. The marines find only one survivor, a young girl named Newt. They also encounter an unspeakable horror: giant vicious buglike aliens known as Xenomorphs. The game features the three main characters from Aliens: Ellen Ripley (Player One), Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Player Two), and Newt. Along with the droid Bishop, these are the only three characters who survive in the movie. I realize that's kind of a spoiler, but come on. If you haven't seen Aliens yet, you deserve to have it spoiled for you. If you're old enough to have found this website, you're old enough to have seen the fucking movie. But if you haven't seen it, Konami's game will probably seem slightly more fun. If you haven't seen the movie, you wouldn't know that there are only two real types of adult aliens, standard Xenomorphs and the Queen. Typical Xenomorphs resemble the pink aliens shown above, but they are black. As for the purple dog aliens, those never existed in the movie. Konami couldn't even make it through one fucking level without breaking canon. Way to go, guys.


      The boss of Stage One is a big alien thing that walks on four legs and attacks you with its retractable neck. There was nothing like this in the movie, but there's about a billion other generic bosses like it in other video games. After you shoot the damn thing enough times, its head flies off. Decapitation would stop most hostile creatures dead in their tracks, but most hostile creatures aren't ill-conceived Konami stage bosses. As it turns out, blowing up this alien's head only makes it madder. With its brain and bitey things gone, the alien resorts to chucking giant glowing balls of energy at you in predicable patterns. Aim for its neck hole and send it back to Hell.


      After completing level one, you're taken to a side level where you shoot at colorful aliens while your car autoscrolls forward. The purpose of this excursion? To rescue Newt, who fell down a ventilation shaft in the previous stage. This sequence is very short and rather easy, but if you really suck you can buy your way through it for a credit. Yes, it's that short.


      At the end of this pointless excursion, you find Newt. But just as you're about to rescue her, a flying green alien swoops down and kidnaps her. This level was removed from the Japanese version of the game for being excessively stupid. No, seriously.


      The second proper stage introduces us to all sorts of bullshit new enemies, such as extraterrestrial bats and grenade-chucking zombies. That's right, zombies. I swear, this game keeps getting dumber and dumber. The first part of the level involves slowly crawling through air vents while dodging steam and aliens. Sound fun? If you answered no, you probably won't like the next part of this level either.


      Oh look, an elevator sequence. I fucking hate elevator sequences. In a beat 'em up game, an elevator sequence means you're going to fight a ridiculous amount of enemies, possibly including past bosses, in a small enclosed area where it's hard to dodge. In most games, the elevator sequence comes towards the end of the game so that they can throw lots of tougher baddies at you. In Aliens, it comes early into the second stage. Oh, but there's a twist: when aliens hit the elevator, they damage the cables. If all three cables snap, the elevator plummets to the bottom and you lose a life. Most games would make you retry this section of the game since you failed but Aliens lets you continue as though nothing happened. Through this programming decision, Aliens imparts an important life lesson: it doesn't matter how good you are, all that matters is how many quarters you have. Thank you Konami, for teaching us that money begets success.


      One of the most unforgettable scenes in Aliens was when Ripley had to battle the evil alien miniboss who shot giant dandelion spores at her then curled up into a ball and rolled around. That thing was fucking scary and it killed Gorman and Vasquez, so it was personal. Oh wait, that didn't happen. At any rate, this thing is simple enough to beat: shoot it when it's standing, dodge it when it's rolling about.


      Oh no, more zombies! For some reason, Aliens is pretty big on the whole zombie thing. In this section of Stage Two, we are introduced to gun-toting zombies as well as walking zombies. Chestbursters, the larval stage of the Xenomorphs, will periodically emerge from a walking zombie's torso. In the movies, only one larva would be implanted in a host. In the game, chestbursters pop out of walking zombies in groups of three and they will continue to do so at regular intervals until you kill their host. After a few more screens the zombies disappear. Unfortunately, so does the floor. Ripley falls to her death, the game ends abruptly, and I get to stop writing about it. At least, I think that's what happens...


      Fuck, she's still alive. After her near-fatal fall, Ripley ends up in a sewer. These are no ordinary sewers, however. No, these sewers are filled with giant spiders and floating corpses. If that doesn't pique your interest, don't worry; moments later you're in a power loader dodging giant wrecking balls. There's something for everyone in Aliens, it's just not enough of any of it to make an entertaining game.


      You only get to screw around with the power loader for a minute, then you end up in an alien hatchery. I'm not going to give you any actual screenshot of the hatchery, so try and imagine a bunch of eggs spawning miscolored facehuggers and some doomed space marines in the background. If you have a bad imagination or you're not quite sure what facehuggers are, then fine, here are some fucking screenshots. After you get past that part, you're at the second boss. This alien is stationary, but it has long arms that it will occasionally flail in your general direction. For this reason, I find it to be vaguely reminiscent of the third boss from the NES version of Contra. After you shoot it enough times, it will get angry. You can tell because it turns bright red. Once this happens, it will start spitting giant brown alien cocoons at you. Just keep shooting at its head and eventually you'll win.


      Hey remember that shitty driving level where Newt got kidnapped? Welcome to the second installment of it. This time, there's a mindblowing new twist: boxes! Yes, in addition to shooting at aliens, you now have to battle evil gray crates. After a minute of this, you'll rescue Newt and her lucky Poppin' Fresh doll. Oddly enough, you don't have to fight the flying green alien that took her away. Out of all the horribly unspeakable things that alien could have possibly done, dumping Newt at the end of a different corridor was definitely my #1 concern. You know, unless you count torture, rape, mutilation, and murder. The important thing is that she's ok... that is, until David Fincher gets his filthy fucking hands on her.


      Welcome to Stage Three. This is game's longest and most tedious level. This level opens with you squaring off against ridiculous amounts of enemies while dodging falling acid. As if that weren't annoying enough, a random alien jumps through the foreground for no discernible reason other than to briefly obfuscate your view. This would be an interesting tactic if the programmers explored in depth, but only one fucking alien in the entire game does it. As a result, it ends up coming off as retarded and pointless. As the level progresses, things only get more frustrating.


      Early in Stage 3, you encounter a miniboss. I have no idea what this things's official name is, but I know what it looks like. So for the sake of argument, let's call him Mister Scrotum. It doesn't take much damage to kill Mister Scrotum, but he has a magic shield of spinning alien fetuses that makes it difficult to hit him. Wait for an opening and blast away. Keeping shooting and you'll rip Mr. Scrotum apart faster than Lance Armstrong's oncologist.


      After you defeat Mister Scrotum, you'll wander past into a medical lab where aliens random burst through the windows, then you'll wander into more of those super fun air vents from Stage Two. Are you having fun yet? I'm not. Hold on though, it gets better.


      Oh boy, a second miniboss. Towards the end of the third level, you will encounter four small red aliens that turn into big fucking monsters when you shoot then and then back again. These motherfuckers are annoying as hell, they jump around erratically and the alternating sizes don't help matters at all. Fortunately, you can cheat. If one of the aliens gets too close to the right side of the screen, it will hop away. It's hard to fully abuse this trick, but you should be able to get at least or two of the bastards to die more quickly this way.


      Once you've dealt with the second miniboss, you climb to the roof of some random building where flying aliens and stray lightning bolts will attempt to do you in. If you make it past these distractions, you will finally square off against the Stage Three boss...


      Did I say boss? I meant bosses. Yes, Konami has decided to bring up a classic beat 'em up boss: the twin bosses. In this case, the twin bosses are a pair of fast purple aliens who can channel lightning. When you finally kill one of them, the other one gets pissed and invents a new attack that's more powerful and more lightningy than anything he did in tandem with his brother. If you are able to defeat the second alien, Odin will come down from the heavens to challenge you. If you are able to beat the powerful Norse god, Rydia will be able to use him as a summon spell. Fuck, wrong game.


      Aside from the bullshit driving levels, Stage Four is easily the shortest level in the game. After you fight your way through a few quick screens of bats, Xenomorphs, and facehugger eggs, you will find yourself at the boss. And unlike the previous bosses, this one actually appeared in the movie...


      Holy shit, it's the Queen! If you're like me, your first instinct would be to take out the eggs before attacking the Queen - don't do it. If you manage to destroy an egg, an alien will walk onscreen with a replacement. Instead, just shoot at the Queen's egg sac and defend yourself from facehuggers when necessary. Once the egg sac is totally destroyed, you win.


      The Queen of the Xenomorphs has been "defeated", so there's nothing left for you to do but escape to your ship. Unfortunately, the surviving aliens don't seem to be deterred by the apparent death of their beloved leader and they continue to blunder into you with the same halfhearted resolve that they did in previous levels. To make matters worse, Mister Scrotum and his flying fetus friends are back. Fortunately, things aren't all bad; this time around Mister Scrotum uses his bubble buddies as a weapon instead of shield. As a result, he's much easier to beat. Once you do, the game is almost over.


      After defeating the final miniboss, you board your ship, the Sulaco, and leave the planet. This would have been a good place for Konami to incorporate Bishop into the game. After all, spaceships don't fly themselves and it would be nice to know who's flying the ship. It wouldn't have been too hard for the programmers to put Bishop waiting outside the ship, tell the player(s) that it's time to leave, and then get on the ship. But they didn't. I can think of only one possible explanation: the people who worked on this game are total douchebags. After the ship takes off, everyone lives happily ever after. Game over. Article over.


      Oh wait, there's another boss battle. It turns out the Queen is still alive and somehow she's gotten onto your escape ship. Then, in one of the few scenes that stays true to the movie, Ripley battles it using the power loader. If you play this part with two players, there's still only ONE power loader. I don't really think that's fair but I'm not a highly paid Japanese programmer, so what do I know? After you've done enough damage to the Queen, the ship's cargo hatch will open up and you'll be invited to push the Queen out of it. When you succeed, the game is over. I promise I'm not lying this time.


      After you send the Queen down the cargo hatch, you get a nice little cut scene that shows her flying off into space, never to be seen again. You also get a cheesy little message that lets you know that you have indeed won. If you're patient enough to sit through the credits, you'll be given the opportunity to restart the game without putting another quarter in. I'm not quite sure why you'd *want* to play through the game again, but I appreciate the gesture.

      In my entire life, I have only ever encountered one Aliens arcade machine. Since I've seen more than one Revolution X machine in the same DAY, I'd think that speaks volumes about just how horrible the Aliens machine is. For a game that came out such a long time after its source movie, Aliens still feels like it was hastily thrown together. The game not only lacks respects for the work it is based on, it also lacks any sort of real cohesion. The game is also shockingly brief, almost as though the programmers themselves became bored with the game while they were making it. Konami's Simpsons and Ninja Turtles games each have eight levels, but Aliens has only five. If you count the driving missions as full levels, you could argue that the game has seven levels. However, since those missions play more like minigames and since they were removed from the Japanese version of the game entirely, I do feel that is a fair assessment. Even if it were, it doesn't change the fact that the game is a pile of crap. If you ever come across one of these arcade machines, do the world a favor and destroy it. This is one Konami game better left forgotten.


Posted by: Syd Lexia