Game On

Star Dreck

Stupid video-game logic, rule No. 154: When thousands of fugly, bloodthirsty aliens take over a spaceship, it's best to send in a lone woman with a flamethrower.

That's the entire plot of Alien Syndrome, a pseudo-sequel to Sega's 1987 "run 'n' gun" arcade game of the same name. And despite landing with little fanfare during the Wii's summer-release slump, this resurrected space franchise deserves sleeper-hit status.

The basic architecture of Alien Syndromelooks the same as it did more than 20 years ago. But despite the passing of decades, it still works. Similar to such recent favorites as X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Alien Syndrome once again employs a three-quarter overhead view as you dart from room to room, fragging slimeballs and grabbing power-ups.

I'll have mine medium-rare, please.
I'll have mine medium-rare, please.

At the start, you'll choose between four fighter classes, which is a fancy way of saying, "Do you want to use a laser gun or a grenade launcher?" Each weapon has pros and cons, but munitions strategy is a moot point. They all go "boom."

Scant role-playing elements are tossed into the mix, as you're only allowed to tote so much weight. This makes sense to anyone who's ever wondered how the hell Mario can carry 100 giant coins.

The weight restrictions force players to juggle inventory on the fly ("Should I ditch an ammo pack for a health pack?"). Sorting your gear and distributing experience points becomes a little tedious but adds a tactical element to an otherwise-basic-shooter game.

And that's what Alien Syndrome is at heart: a mindless shoot-'em-up with passable graphics and a dull design that features battles with endless waves of similar-looking creatures. So why is it so damn addictive?

Alien Syndrome is as enjoyable as similar, white-knuckle arcade games such as the long-running Gauntlet series. For many gamers, this tried-and-true genre still sparks an obsessive need to destroy every last inch of the landscape as they run through hordes of enemies. In this respect, Alien Syndrome delivers, but it won't win innovation points.

Even if you feel overhead shooter games are as played-out as plots involving evil aliens, the Wii controls are light-years ahead of the curve. Players run with the Wii nunchaku, and shooting is as simple as aiming the Wiimote and holding down a button. Likewise, melee attacks mean slashing the remote through the air. The controls are organic and unparalleled in their ease of use—a reason in itself to give this genre one more try. The PSP controls, however, are as fun as a French kiss from an alien face-hugger. Stick to the Wii.

Because you never can have too many friends join you for some old-fashioned carnage, Alien Syndrome includes a four-player mode. However, the screen becomes so crowded with monsters, explosions and players it soon becomes impossible to tell what's going on. Factor in the time players will need to organize their inventory, and you're actually looking at less action than the first hour of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While some will find this game as bland as astronaut ice cream, others will play it like Grand Theft Auto: "Sometimes it's just good to blow shit up." Alien Syndrome's old-school approach and Wii controls make this terror title worth spacing-out to—at least until Sigourney Weaver's lawyers come knocking.


Alien Syndrome from Sega for the Wii and PSP. Wii, $49.99; PSP, $39.99. ESRB Rating: T (for Teen). Score: 6 (out of 10).

 
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