30/09/2012

THE NES GAME DIFFICULTY CHALLENGE

Okay then, a confession: I'm not especially good at videogames. I have my moments, and there are some games that I would say I'm "good" at, but on the whole I'm a lot worse at videogames than you might expect for someone who spends so much of his time playing the damn things. Things used to be different, though. I used to be better. I completed Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, once upon a memory. I've beaten Salamander without letting my ship blow up once. I did things I can't do now, and that's because I've gotten soft. Modern games are easier than retro games - everyone knows that. Games back then treated the player with nothing but scorn and contempt, and the NES in particular has a reputation as the home of some famously brutal titles.
So, a challenge. I'm going to play some NES games - all of which I've played before, but not recently - and see how fast I die. I'll try to get through them quickly but not recklessly, and in a pretty inaccurate and totally unscientific way I'll time how long it takes for me to lose my first life and to reach the Game Over or Continue screen. In the end, I might even figure out which NES game wants me dead the most. Now, where to start...

Super Mario Bros., Nintendo, 1985


Think of this one as the control sample, the baseline, the warm introduction to a world of pain. Everyone's played Super Mario Bros., or at least nearly everyone and certainly most people who would be likely to read this, so it should provide a decent idea about the kind of difficulty level I'm starting out at.
SMB is an easy game, or at least that's what Nintendo want you to believe - it actually gets pretty tough towards the end, but the difficulty curve is so perfectly judged that you barely even notice the gradually increasing challenge.
First Death: 9 minutes, 9 seconds.


The first two worlds flew by as the knowledge of innumerable hours I spent playing this game as a child came flooding back. It helps that SMB's controls are precise and finely-tuned, meaning you can always tell what's going to happen when you press the buttons. Well, almost always. This screenshot from World 3-1 doesn't show Mario, but it does show the thing that killed him. Yep, I misjudged the springboard platform and instead of soaring up to the top of the screen I did a feeble little sproing and fell down a hole. Whoops.
Game Over: 18 minutes, 29 seconds.


I made it all the way to World 5-2 before cockiness, over-familiarity and the business end of an evil turtle's hammer put an end to my mushroom-stomping rampage. I could have made it a lot further if I'd taken more time to collect some extra lives, and further still if I'd been concentrating properly. Notably, of the five or so times I died, this Hammer Bro was the only enemy that managed to kill me - every other death was the result of Mario falling into one of the many bottomless pits that litter the Mushroom Kingdom. It really is a terrifying place.

Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo, 1989


Ninja Gaiden is often mentioned whenever people discuss the NES' most difficult games, and with good reason - after a relatively simple first level, it tries to kick you in the metaphorical balls every time you try to jump over a hole. I'm not too worried, though, because aside from SMB this is the game on this list that I've played the most. I reached the final boss, once. That won't be happening today, and before I've even started playing I'm remembering all the most deadly sections. There will be birds.
First Death: 5 minutes, 25 seconds.


I bloody knew it. After the gentle first stage, Ninja Gaiden's sadistic tendencies kick in by placing enemies on the tiny platforms you need to jump to. Not pictured: the American Football player / camo-wearing soldier who was charging in from the right and forcing me to hurry up. I bounced off the enemy and fell to my death. Dammit Hayabusa, aren't ninjas supposed to have grappling hooks and whatnot?
Game Over: 9 minutes, 16 seconds.


After traversing stage 2 and defeating its surprisingly easy boss, the yawning pits of doom once again proved too much for our ninja hero to handle. You'll notice that he's been clobbered by a hawk, some kind of mountain cat and the same dude with the sword who knocked me down the last hole, all at once.
Ninja Gaiden is difficult, and its difficulty is almost entirely down to one factor: enemies that are specifically placed to knock you down holes. Every hole, every gorge, every chasm, rift and canyon is patrolled by a foe with only one objective: get that ninja down that hole. It's usually a bird. Those goddamn birds.

Gradius, Konami, 1986


I know I say this every time I talk about a scrolling shooter in the Gradius style, but it's still true: I'm really, really bad at scrolling shoot-em-ups. This should be interesting!
First Death: 4 minutes, 59 seconds.


I don't know what gaming gods were smiling down on me, but I managed to get past the first stage's volcano section without dying. I... I don't think I've ever managed that before. If there was someone around who was weird enough to take the bet, I would have wagered a lot of money on the volcano providing my first death, but it wasn't to be and I reached stage two with a full complement of power-ups. Then I got to the repeatedly-spawning square robots and promptly flew into one.
Game Over: 7 minutes, 42 seconds.


Normally dying in Gradius is the beginning of the rapidly-approaching end, because you lose all your power-ups. That section that just killed you? Do it again, but with your firepower reduced to that of the Luxembourgian Navy. Somehow I managed to break past the square ships, only to let the Big Core fill me full of missiles.

Mega Man, Capcom, 1987


Mega Man? Pssh, I can do this. Easy. Piece of cake.
First Death: 22 seconds.


I missed the platform at the start of Gutsman's stage and once more fell to my death. Never mind, it's easily done. I'll just try it again...
Game Over: 1 minute, 51 seconds.


I didn't make it past those first three platforms, with their flipping and the holes in the track and arrggh man it was frustrating. If only this was Mega Man 3, then I'd show you all! In fact, I'm going to give myself another chance and try Mega Man again, this time selecting Iceman as the first stage instead of Gutsman.
First Death 2: 4 minutes, 50 seconds.


That's more like it - I actually got to Iceman! Sure, he annihilated me within seconds of the fight starting, but it still beats my humiliating attempt to reach Gutsman.
Game Over 2: 10 minutes, 34 seconds.


I even managed to defeat Iceman, steal his weapon and head for Fireman's stage. Unfortunately I only had one life left and Dr. Wily's plan to take some robotic floor waxing machines and cover them in spikes turns out to be much more effective than it sounds. Megaman's ankles are diced, causing him to explode. He should wear leg-warmers or something.

Contra, Konami, 1988


Okay, now we're getting into the tough stuff. Konami's run-and-gun classic is probably more famous for its difficulty than any other single factor, and I'm really bad at keeping track of all the tiny projectiles floating around the screen. Still, at least I know that picking up the Spread Gun is the best thing to do, so I'm not totally in the dark.
First Death: 2 minutes, 9 seconds.


Well, I made it to the boss. Did the boss kill me? Of course not, it was that turret lurking underneath me that I completely failed to notice. I've heard of the fog of war, but that's ridiculous. I think I was distracted by the way that wall was launching tomatoes at me, but whatever the reason a stray bullet grazed his foot and Bill Rizer dropped dead.
Game Over: 3 minutes, 24 seconds.


I never could do these pseudo-3D sections when I was a kid, and I haven't improved any with age. I just don't have the required depth perception, plus I kept accidentally making Bill walk into the electric barrier. He was probably glad for it to all be over, really, although I am a bit aggrieved that the wall seemed to kill me after I'd blown it up.

Dragon's Lair, CSG Imagesoft, 1990


Ah, and here I hoped I'd never have to play Dragon's Lair again, but if I'm talking about gruellingly difficult NES games that can kill you at the drop of a hat I couldn't really leave it out. This is probably my most hated videogame of all time; I've written about it at length, I've played through the entire game and just remembering the experience is making me angry. One of the many reason it inspires such vast oceans of bile within me is that trying to control Dirk the Daring, the sluggish dullard that Dragon's Lair dares to call a "hero," is an arduous and painful task that calls to mind trying to navigate a supertanker through the dairy aisle of a small supermarket.
First Death: 11 seconds.


On the very first screen, I managed to fall through the drawbridge because Dirk jumps when Dirk wants to jump, never mind what button I'm pressing. I'd like to point out that I've done this screen before. A lot. Many, many times during a childhood in which receiving any new game meant said game had to be played for weeks on end. I've even finished the whole game. I knew when, what and how everything on this screen was going to happen and I still died because this game has some truly abysmal controls. My only regret is that Dirk has more than one life, so I have to do it again.
Game Over: 2 minutes, 4 seconds.




I made it a little further! A whole three screens further, where a snake suddenly appeared out of a solid rock wall and killed me instantly, completely ignoring Dirk's health bar. To be fair, almost all the enemies in this game ignore your health bar and kill you instantly. It's almost like the people who designed this game didn't have a clue what they were doing.
Doing well in any of the games on this list relies, to some extent, on memorisation. Die, come back to life, remember what killed you and avoid it the next time. It's an expected part of NES games. Dragon's Lair takes the concept of necessary memorisation and applies it to every single moment of the game. To stand any chance of getting anywhere, you need to remember not only the location of every single enemy, collapsing platform and booby trap but also what you need to do to avoid them, because you have zero chance of actually reacting to anything as it happens on the screen. Or you could cheat. Or, and here's the best solution, you could round up every copy of Dragon's Lair you can find, bulldoze them into the foundations of large building and cover them with concrete.

Transformers: Convoy no Nazo, ISCO / Takara, 1986


Speaking of terrible games made by people who didn't know what they were doing, here's one that often finds itself on "Worst NES game" ever lists. That's entirely understandable, because Transformers: Convoy no Nazo is a jerky mess of ugly graphics and frustrating gameplay. It's also a run-n-gun game with one hit kills, so it's kinda similar to Contra but without any of the presentation or finesse or fun.
First Death: 3 seconds.


So, I walked face-first into a Decepticon jet. In my defence, aeroplanes do not usually fly that low. I was pressing fire, but I seemed to time it just wrong enough so that the Deception could fly between my shots and smash into Optimus Prime's face. Or is that Ultra Magnus? I'm going with Ultra Magnus, Prime would have never been defeated so easily.
Game Over: 46 seconds.


I did eventually make it past the first couple of jets by transforming into a truck and shooting them from below. Unfortunately, I then encountered a villainous and decidedly ground-based tank. My truck form could only fire straight up. I couldn't figure out how to return to robot mode and regain my ability to shoot horizontally. The tank emerged from our head-on collision completely unscathed, while the fearless (deputy) leader of the Autobots was instantly disintegrated. At least I wasn't playing as Bumblebee.


Kakefu Kimi no Jump Tengoku: Speed Jigoku, Vic Tokai, 1988


Finally, here's an obscure game that might be more familiar under its Western release name of Kid Kool. That's a terrible and extremely early-nineties name, though, so let's see what we can glean from the Japanese title. Looks like this game has jumping and speed in it, okay, so far so predictable. I wonder what "Speed Jigoku" means? I imagine it's something like "Speed Adventure" or "Speed Challenge" or so...



Ah. Well, I can't die any more quickly than I did in that bloody Transformers game, right?
First Death: 1.45 seconds.


Yes, that's "1.45 seconds", as in "less than two seconds." They were not kidding about the speed hell - as soon as you press a direction, your character lurches forward at a ludicrous speed with all the control and grip of a formula one car driving over an ice rink. I didn't even have time to react when the first enemy popped into view, and so I slammed straight into it: that gif doesn't quite capture the speed I was travelling at, although the character's pained expression at least shows he feels bad about the whole ordeal.
Game Over: 37 Seconds.


On my second life I died in almost exactly the same manner, except this time I managed to jump. Sure, I jumped too early and still plowed right into that first little furball, but it was progress. The next life I got even further, until I hit a wall and couldn't leap to safety before some evil monster calmly sidled into me. Some kids, however kool they may think they are, are just not cut out for the hero business.


So, what have we learned from this inexpertly-staged romp though the gamut of NES difficulties? For one thing, it seems that the better a game is, the more likely you are to die from falling down a hole rather than from touching enemies. It also shows just how prevalent the coin-hungry, kill 'em fast mentality of arcade games still was, although there's more to it than that - it's just really hard to make a game with a decent difficulty curve. You also forget just how much almost every NES game forces the player to memorise as much of the game as possible in order to advance, resulting in trial-and-error gameplay that has largely been eradicated from modern titles. Despite the speed with which Transformers and Kakefu Kimi sent me to the digital hereafter, I still think Dragon's Lair is the most difficult game on this list simply because you have to remember everything, and even if you manage that you'll still frequently die because the main character handles like a shopping trolley with housebricks for wheels. I just... I just really hate Dragon's Lair, okay?
Of course, what we've actually learned here is that when I said I wasn't especially good at videogames, I was massively overselling myself.

(P.S. Thanks to reader Joon Choi for sparking this one off.)

26/09/2012

ALIEN 3: THE GUN (ARC)

Is it really only a week since I wrote about OutRun? It feels like months have gone by, months mostly filled by playing OutRun 2006 Coast to Coast and Borderlands 2, both excellent games in their own rights. Anyway, a week has passed and today I'll be looking at another arcade title from Sega - one that couldn't be more distant from OutRun in tone if it was about kicking puppies off cliffs. It's 1993's battle-the-Xenomorphs lightgun shooter Alien 3: The Gun.


Just pretend that each time I write out the title of this game I've bothered to make the "3" superscript. It's a daft conceit anyway: this isn't Alien Cubed, after all, although there might be enough Xenomorphs included to make that title sort-of accurate.
You all know the basics when it comes to the Aliens franchise, right? It's the story of a race of nightmarish aliens who breed by having their babies jump out of your ribcage like Satan's own version of the "stripper in a cake" bit, aliens who have acid for blood and are remorseless killing machines and how they're still not as unpleasant as the human race and the unfathomable depths of our fuckbuckety nature.


This isn't the first time I've looked at a game set in the Alien universe, so if you're looking for more info on the subject then you can read the article about Alien Trilogy, a Doom-esque FPS developed by Probe. If you've already read that article, then you'll know that while Alien 3 (the movie) is generally not well-liked, I personally think it's an excellent film whose only real problem is existing in the shadow of it's two prequels, which is understandable because Alien and Aliens are the greatest examples of science-fiction horror and action respectively (and maybe outside the sci-fi genre).


So Alien 3: The Gun is a game based on a film I like a lot. This could go one of several different ways - it could be a travesty that doesn't match the themes and feel of its source material, or it could be a nice tribute that keeps the things that made Alien 3 memorable intact while still delivering an enjoyable gaming experience.


Sega, ever ones to go against the grain, decided on a different approach - they completely replaced the plot, characters and action of the movie with their own parallel-dimension version. Gone is Ripley's struggle against a lone Xenomorph on the prison planet Fiorina "Fury" 161, replaced by the story of two (as long as you play with two players) Colonial Marines who are sent to investigate an SOS call from the Sulaco, the Marine spaceship from the second movie. There's no Lt. Ellen Ripley at all in this one, folks, just a couple of nameless grunts on a mission to shoot the aliens. All the aliens. Aaaand... action!


The first stage takes place on the Sulaco itself, and even if I hadn't told you that this game was a lightgun shooter or the name Alien 3: The Gun hadn't clued you in, this screenshot should make it very obvious what's going on. You place your crosshair over the aliens and pull the trigger until they're dead. That's it. Happily, you don’t have to do this with a joystick or anything, because the original cabinet came with two whacking great guns attached for you to live out your fantasies of bug-hunting and staying frosty.


I've actually played the A3TG cabinet a couple of times, and the most memorable part of the experience is the guns themselves. They're big, heavy and they rattle. No, "rattle" is too gentle a word for it - with each squeeze of the trigger they erupt into a tendon-destroying frenzy of simulated recoil that leaves you feeling like you just shook hands with almighty Zeus himself. Imagine playing a carnival shooting gallery with a pneumatic drill and you're starting to get the picture. It's pretty good fun.


The only other additions to the aim-and-shoot gameplay are a button on the side of the gun that launches one of your limited number of screen-clearing grenades, and the fact that your gun's power decreases the longer you hold down the trigger. That's what the power bar at the bottom-left of the screen measures, and when I first starting playing I was worried that this mechanic would be like the similar-in-concept "repeated attacks do no damage" nightmare from The Astyanax, but thankfully the bar refills almost instantaneously when you release the trigger so as long as you remember to pull the trigger often instead of clamping it down the whole time, you'll be fine.


And you know what? It's good fun. The action is fast-paced, difficult but survivable with some practice. Aliens swarm at you from all sides, and they don't stop coming even after you've blown their arms or legs off - it's not uncommon to see an armless Xenomorph, acid blood the colour of a '90's rave poster pouring from its shoulder-stumps, launch himself through the air and headbutt you right in the face.
Graphically, it's not one of Sega's finest efforts: the proto-3D effects are showing their age, especially when you turn corners, but the sprites and backgrounds themselves are solid and capture the feel of the movies while still being unmistakably "arcade-y". I've said before that the arcade games of the Nineties often have a sense of "largeness," a kind of balls-out grandioseness that the consoles of the time were unable to replicate, and Alien 3: The Gun is no exception. It definitely doesn't give you much time to catch your breath, and soon enough you'll be facing the first boss, assuming you haven't been killed by one of the thousands of facehuggers and limbless Xenomorph drones that have somehow populated the Sulaco. As far as I remember, there were only three people left on board at the end of Aliens who could have conceivably hosted a chestburster, so where did all these other aliens come from? My best guess is that this is the Xenomorph equivalent of a teen party where some dopey fourteen-year-old accidentally invites the entire population of Manchester to their birthday shindig.


Like I was saying, here's the first boss. It’s a Super Facehugger! To be fair to Sega, there actually was a Super Facehugger in Alien 3... sort of. A "Royal Facehugger" was originally intended to appear in the movie, but its scenes were cut from the theatrical release. It had webbing between its finger-legs and a bladed tail, unlike the Super Facehugger you fight in the game, which is just a facehugger but bigger. Not "more super," even, just bulkier. Takes a larger shirt size, occupies more vol... oh, you get the idea. Its increased dimensions only serve to make it a larger target, and I'm sure you won't have any trouble killing the scuttling monstrosity as long as you remember to let your gun recharge every once in a while.


Remember kids, every Super Facehugger come packed full of our delicious lemon-and-lime marshmallow filling! Ha ha, just kidding, that's deadly acid. I'm glad none of it is splashing toward me, but it's probably not a coincidence that as soon as the boss spills his caustic guts all over the place the ship decides to explode. Fortunately I'm right next to an escape pod, so I'm sure I'll be fine.


The rest of the game, like the movie, takes place on the prison planet Fiorina 161. That's just about the only thing it's got in common with the movie, though - from here on out Sega are taking us on a completely new adventure, a Bizarro-world version of Alien 3 that shares little more than backgrounds with the movie it's based on. This is the big draw of Alien 3: The Gun for me: seeing an alternate take on the movie, with Sega showing us what might have been if Alien 3 had continued in the alien-infested action vein of Aliens instead of returning to the "unkillable monster stalks the dark" horror of the first movie. Oh, and completely doing away with Ripley. It's weird not having her around, and I suppose we're just meant to assume that she died in her cryo-tube when the Sulaco exploded at the end of stage one. Jesus, that's grim, I kinda wish I hadn't thought of that.


The stage starts off on the planet's barren surface, and so far it's all in accordance with what you see in Alien 3: the movie. Then you stumble across the minefield.


Yup. I'm pretty sure this wasn't in the film - after all, the prisoners made it clear that there were no weapons on the planet. The obvious solution to this discrepancy is that having taken one look at the sinister grace of the Xenomorph, the prisoners knew that the land mines would be useless against the aliens' delicate tread, and so it proves as they tip-toe through the minefield as though the anti-personnel weaponry were nothing more dangerous than a meadow of wild flowers. Your marine is rather more cumbersome, however, and you need to shoot the mines ahead of you before you step on them and take damage.
So, I managed to rationalise the sudden appearance of a minefield, but immediately after that I'm truly stumped by something I cannot explain away. You see, Fiorina 161 has a junkyard, and that junkyard is home to a small army of killer robots.


I've got nothing. What's especially puzzling is that these robots seem to have been assembled from scrap materials. If they were just your regular, run-of-the-mill androids then sure, they'd be something sent by Weyland-Yutani to capture alien samples for their bio-weapon research department - a department which, it must be said, is sorely lacking in results. These aren't Company 'droids, though: they're scrap-bots, Junkions, a race of hostile bipedal armour that has somehow evolved out of the primordial ooze of the prison's garbage. They have guns. Guns that I can only surmise they found in the junkyard - of course the prisoners don't have any weapons, because they threw them all in the rubbish.
No, there's no explanation for this besides some at Sega really wanting to put killer junk-bots in a game and by God it doesn't matter which game. Right, what has the rest of this stage got for me?


Oh come on. A tank!? Fine, whatever. Let's rumble, Mr. Tank. Oh, what's that? You have a name? And your name is Iron Tortoise? Of course it is. Beautiful.
At least he's a fairly helpful tank, and whatever part of him you're supposed to be shooting lights up so you know exactly where to send your bullets. No wonder the Iron Tortoise has been abandoned on this desolate rock.


The next stage - for some reason called "Stage 2.2" when "Stage 3" would have done just fine - starts off much like the last one, shooting aliens amongst the rocky outcroppings of the planet's surface. Once you get closer to the prison, though, a couple of things happen. Firstly, the amount of aliens seems to increase dramatically, like they were all just loitering outside the prison and waiting for someone with a key to go in so they could tailgate in behind him.
The other thing is that your view switches to infrared mode.


All this does is tint the screen red. If you're wondering why I bothered making this screenshot into an animated gif, that's because it was an attempt to capture Alien 3: The Gun's method of displaying on-screen information. Things like your HUD, the message from Weyland-Yutani in the intro and this infrared mode border all flash very rapidly between a few colours spaced slightly apart. The gif doesn't really show it, but in-game it results in a curious blurring effect that gives these things the look of something being displayed on an old cathode-ray tube monitor - sort of fuzzy and undefined, a style that somehow manages to look futuristic whilst also looking like it's from the 80's. I really like the outcome, too: it could easily have been an unbearable, flickery mess but it ends up adding just the right amount of visual flair to the interface.


Before you can get into the prison proper, there's a boss hanging out on whatever correctional facilities have instead of porches. Weyland-Yutani don't seem very confident in identifying it, as it's labelled both an "unidentified creature" and an alien. That little info box also says "Type: HUMAN," further proof that you should never trust the Company to do any science ever.
"So, the boss is just an alien," I hear you scoff. You just don't understand, this alien has a secret power - the power of being really tall.


My eye level is right at groin height, so this alien must be about thirteen feet tall. He is, however, just as easy to kill as the ordinary aliens, and his giant size gives him the same disadvantage as the Super Facehugger in that he's too bloody big to miss. All he does is scuttle around in the background and occasionally wander over to claw at you, but that's enough about my dating techniques, cue rimshot, I'll be here all week. Really, though, this alien is a pushover and once it's dead you can head into the prison.


The chestbursters seem most pleased to see you, throwing themselves into your arms. Or your face, it's hard to tell from this vantage point. After a short trip through the prisons corridors, you reach an elevator.


Seriously, through the years I've been writing VGJunk I must have typed the words "elevator," "lift" and any others that describe a box that transports people or goods through vertical movement thousands of times. They’re the second most common feature of retro videogames, just behind ludicrous yet generic stories.
So, a lift. I assumed I was going to be attacked while the elevator travelled slowly to its destination, but it turns out to be a way of choosing my path through the next area. Branching paths! Good going Sega, I knew you wouldn't let me down of the replayability front.


Choosing floor B1 takes you through the abattoir, where chestbusters burst from the hanging carcasses and judging by this screenshot facehuggers try a novel approach to oesophageal penetration by coming at you upside-down.


Route B2 cuts through the cafeteria, a cunning ploy on the aliens' part as the dense forest of upturned chairs gives them plenty to hide behind. You're also introduced to the prisoners here, as well as a unique alien attack where they reach down from the ceiling and grab the prisoners by the head. You're not supposed to shoot the inmates, although there's not much punishment if you do - they are supposedly the galaxy's most hardened human scum, after all.


Whichever route you chose, you'll end up facing the stage's boss - the Super Dogburster, which funnily enough was the name of a product I invented and tried to sell to QVC's pet care department. Suffice to say that after the test demonstration, the QVC studio was never quite the same and security quickly marched me off the premises.
The Dogburster fight goes much like the last one, although this young scamp is considerably more difficult because he has a projectile attack in the form of acid spit. The alien in Alien 3 could spit acid, as it happens, so I guess this is proof that at least one person at Sega actually sat down and watched the movie. Like all the bosses in this game, you just need to shoot it when you can and make sure your gun doesn't run out of juice.
Oh, and this whole selectable routes thing? I hope you weren't mad keen on it or anything, because that's the only time in the game that you get to choose your path. Half-hearted, wasn't it?


A group of prisoners are waiting for you at the start of the next stage, posing like they're part of some Broadway show about skinheads. That one leaning backwards has even started clicking his fingers like he's in West Side Story or something. A musical about a gang war between Fifties street punks and the implacable interstellar horror of the Xenomorphs - I'm sure we can all agree that would be fantastic, or at least superior to Alien Resurrection.


This stage is based around the scene in the movie where the inmates are trying to lure the alien into their metal foundry so they can drop molten lead on it to kill it. That might have worked against one alien, but when your prison's packed with more vicious, skeletal creatures than the fashion industry it's a bit of a non-starter, really. Still, it doesn't stop the prisoners from trying, and this ended up being my favourite part of the game. It's definitely the section that's most accurate to the movie, but beyond that the addition of the prisoners gives the gameplay a little more edge as you try not to blow them away and the hectic series of sprints and quick turns as you race down the tunnels makes the experience that bit more exciting, a little more visceral, without it becoming too ludicrously difficult.


Not that it's easy, though. This Xenomorph was so determined to kill me that not only is it trying to chew my face off, it's also got a facehugger in each hand. It doesn't care about the method, but it's going to make damn sure I get an egg implanted in me somewhere unless I shoot it first. That's what those blue orbs are, by the way - they're my bullets. The alien doesn't have a deadly breath attack or anything. No, I just fire bubbles. Between this and the fact my gun needs to cool down every few seconds I'm beginning to suspect that I wasn't given a standard-issue Colonial Marine Pulse Rifle at the start of this mission.


The boss is another alien. I'm not shocked, just a little disappointed. You know how this works, just launch your bubbles at it until it dies. Well, it doesn't die, it falls off a platform and the between-stage text informs you that it appears to be "gradually changing its form".


It also refers to this special alien as the "Boss" of all the other aliens, and now I can't imagine him as anything other than a Sopranos-style Mob Boss complete with New Jersey accent. We gonna take dese goombas down to the hive an' cocoon 'em, capisce?


The final stage is more of the same, thousands of Xenomorphs flinging themselves at you as you travel through the leadworks. If you've managed to build up a stock of screen-clearing bombs, now would be a good time to use them.
There's one last moment where you're offered the illusion of choice as our Marine passes by two doors and decides that he just has to shoot one of them. Opening door number one triggers a fight with (what a surprise) some aliens, but if you choose door number two you have to fight some androids.


Big, buff, blue androids, like idealised mechanical versions of Tobias F√ľnke. If the one on the right is anything to go by, androids are full of porridge. Is that the missing key that's preventing mankind from developing true artificial life? Breakfast oats?
The androids aren't any tougher than the aliens despite having guns, but the real kicker here is that our trusty Marine completely ignores the door he's just opened and instead keeps travelling to the left. Why did you even need to open one of these doors in the first place? Were you getting anxious because it'd been, ooh, four whole seconds since the last time you shot something? Soldier, I'm having trouble summoning any sympathy for your predicament when you just start randomly opening doors to alien encounters that could easily have been avoided.


Soon enough you'll catch up to the alien boss, (Don Goreleone? Vito Xenovese?) and it's conveniently decided to make its final stand right in front of the smelting apparatus that you were going to use to kill it in the first place. Now that's just downright thoughtful of the slavering star-beast. All you need to do is use the magical power of your bubble-bullets to push the alien backwards until it falls into the mould.


Yes, the molten lead will surely kill the monster and it definitely won't have survived or anything, except of course that's exactly what happens. If you've seen Alien 3 you'll be expecting it, but if you haven't then the alien emerges from its relaxing lead jacuzzi and you need to douse it with water to finish the job.


The universe's most fearsome predator, destroyed by a light shower. Okay, so what actually happens is that the rapid cooling of the lead causes the alien to explode through thermal shock but let's just pretend that the Xenomorph was melted away by the water. It gives the whole adventure a lighthearted Wizard of Oz type vibe, don't you think?
So somehow the death of this one alien is extremely important and signals the end of the game, even though there are hundreds more of them running through the prison complex. You may also note that this is one of the very rare occasions that an Alien videogame doesn't end with a fight against an alien Queen - in Alien Trilogy, for example, you have to fight three of the bloody things. Nope, the last boss is just "an alien". Well, it's the "Alien Boss" but I didn't really see much evidence of any real leadership qualities, nor did I notice it supposedly "changing its form," unless... was this one Xenomorph all the bosses, from the Super Facehugger to this crispy lead-battered treat? Well, no: I'm pretty certain that the Iron Tortoise was not an alien. Giant battle-tanks aside, I suppose it's a possibility.


Alien 3: The Gun has one last trick up its sleeve, and just when you think your nightmare is over, a Weyland-Yutani representative shows up and asks you what you've done with the alien samples that he's here to collect for the bio-weapons division. You inform him that there are no samples because you have shot them all / coated them in liquid metal and blown them apart. The Company man deals with this news in a calm and professional manner.


No he doesn't, he tries to murder you. Never mind that you're a Space Marine who has just fought an onslaught of Xenomorph horrors and survived, this man in a trenchcoat still thinks he can take you in a fight. I'm guessing that he's not one of the Company's brightest sparks.


His health bar may label him as "An Unidentified Man," but this is clearly supposed to be an appearance by Bishop II, the is-he-an-android-or-not character played by Lance Henriksen who pops up at the end of Alien 3 to try to convince Ripley to give him the alien she's ferrying about in her chest cavity. Ripley doesn't appear in this game, so we can just get straight down to the gunfight. It's not difficult. In fact, none of the bosses in this game are much of a challenge - the stages themselves are where you'll lose most of your health as the endless tide of aliens slowly saps your energy.
Bishop II really, truly is the final boss, and once he's dead our heroic Colonial Marines can get off this godforsaken rock and go on to live long, fulfilling lives.


Ah. The game ends with the player being gunned down by a platoon of Weyland-Yutani troops. It's pretty depressing, but it's also nice to see the "everyone dies" ending in a videogame for a change and it definitely fits with the tone of the series. At least the Company won't get their hands on the alien, so your death was not in vain.


Yeah, I'm going with "dead."
I enjoyed Alien 3: The Gun, I honestly did. It's showing its age a little, but aren’t we all? The simplicity of the gameplay works in its favour, allowing the hectic waves of enemies to never become too overwhelming. As a half-hour blast of arcade action it's a lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of the Alien franchise. Of course it has flaws: the sound effects are weak and don't quite match the movies, giving the sound an odd bootleg quality. The branching paths are a tease that's never followed up on, which is a shame because the game would have greatly benefited from a little more choice. Some different weapons would have been nice, too - you can pick up a flamethrower every once in a while but it runs out of ammo almost instantly, and there's no Smart Gun at all.


My favourite thing about Alien 3: The Gun, however, is the bizarre alternate version of Alien 3 that is brings us, a version where Ripley sits this one out and two Marines fight their way through an infested prison that's guarded by a huge tank. It's certainly different, I'll give Sega that.
In summary, it's easy to recommend this game if you're a fan of the Aliens movies, or arcade lightgun games, or odd takes on existing franchises. If you come into it not expecting anything too amazing, you'll probably have a good time - and for a videogame based on a movie, that feels like more than enough.

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