I’ve discovered a new pastime: combing through the Wii section of second hand game shops for the cheapest titles I can find – in the hope that I can find hidden gems among the shovelware. I’ve found some games for £1-£2 that have been surprisingly good; excellent, even. Even when they aren’t, there’s usually enough of interest to justify playing the game – given the ridiculously low price of entry.
Alien Syndrome (released in 2007), coming in at £1 – and being a remake of one of the first games I owned on the Master System in the late 80s – was something that appealed to me straight away. Though the original is very, very basic by today’s standards (not to mention hugely copyright-baiting with its Aliens-esque cover and some of the creature design), having a modern action-RPG based on an excellent 8-bit arcade port from my earliest gaming days? Yes please! For just a quid too – what could go wrong?
Unfortunately, as it turns out – a lot. What should be a satisfying, fun and straightforward romp through spaceships and alien hives turns out to be a needlessly convoluted exercise in frustration with some absolutely atrocious flaws. It takes a lot for a game to actively annoy me – I can’t think of the last time that happened – but, sadly, Alien Syndrome manages to do so.
Things start off a little shakily, but not disastrously. The intro uses mostly static, 2D images with commentary and passable voice acting, but the art is nicely done and, though animation is limited, it works reasonably well. Character selection is decent enough, though it falls into the trap that so many RPG-style games do, in asking you to make selections in areas which you have zero familiarity before the game begins (should you use a flamethrower focused character? Melee specialist? Why ask you to do this before you’ve at least had a bit of experience with the mechanics?). Once chosen, you’re into the mission where you’re suddenly given a massive infodump on how the game works, via a variety of in-game, purple question mark tutorials.
There are a lot of these. The controls are relatively straightforward, with weapon aiming set to Wii remote – pointing and then shooting with A – and the moving of your character with the nunchuck stick. There’s a minor annoyance with having to pick up loot with Z (rather than just picking items up automatically, but this is perhaps understandable due to the fact that the game supports four players simultaneously – this does at least mean that players can fairly distribute the items they’ve discovered). Things get much more convoluted with a poorly explained character advancement and crafting system – and that’s just the beginning of the issues here.
There are stations dotted throughout the game which allow you to access your character’s DNA for a chance to upgrade your stats. There are viral, malignant infections here however – and you’ll need to fend these off or risk actually losing points on your stats. The minigame this involves is explained with another wall of text and far too many different types of icon, with a frankly ineffectual seeming set of mechanics. It’s nigh on unplayable and not worth the risk to your stats.
A similarly over-complicated minigame is present when trying to gain access to a chest that contains a rare item. Much like the DNA minigame, everything you do seems ineffectual and the concept is explained poorly, with the controls being another baffling element – it doesn’t seem as if these subgames were refined at all.
The main shooting is decent enough, but collecting loot – which should be enjoyable – is hampered by the encumbrance rules, which sees you spending a lot more time in the dull menus, dropping or scrapping items to make room for more.
Save points pulse when you walk over them, but don’t seem to actually save the game unless you pause and select ‘Save Game’. Another shocking design oversight.
There’s just too many elements here that feel undercooked and that actively remove any fun that’s present in the main run-and-gun gameplay. This is the first game I’ve bought for such a low price that I’ve actually thought was a waste of time – and that’s a real shame. The cover art and blurb promise so much, but unfortunately the game itself is atrocious. Given how much I enjoyed the original game back in the day, it’s a huge disappointment to me that so much potential was squandered with Alien Syndrome. I hope it gets another chance at some point; it deserves to have another shot – but this travesty may have killed the franchise completely.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this – or any of my other content – it’d be much appreciated if you’re able to share this article via social media. I’d also be forever grateful if you’re able to support me via: Ko-Fi.com/geekmid – which would assist me in writing even more content just like this. Above all else though, thanks for reading – I truly appreciate it!