In the midst of a rush of sequels, when the holiday spotlight was focused entirely on Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Metroid Prime 2, and Grand Theft Auto 5, the self-funded and independently developed Alien Hominid was unfortunately overlooked by anyone who doesn’t frequently peruse Newgrounds or IGN. To miss this gem, however, is a shame and a disservice to the game industry.
Not only is Alien Hominid an obscure title, it further goes against the odds by offering hand-drawn, 2D visuals when the “norm” has clearly become realistic 3D graphics. We are going to see 2D games become even more of a rarity now that handhelds can easily process 3D. Hand-drawn animation is also seeing a decline; Walt Disney isn’t even embracing it anymore. Given this paradigm shift, Alien Hominid is a very refreshing approach. It may look a little cartoony, but it is one of the most unique visual presentations I’ve seen in a long time. Watching a giant robot explode into a barrage of hand-drawn fire, smoke, and mechanical parts is really, really cool. My only complaint is the occasional drop in framerate. Alien Hominid can keep a lot of action going at once, but a particular level slowed down so much, it became almost unplayable.
Alien Hominid is a tribute to old-school 2D shooters, the kind many of us were gritting our teeth over when we were kids. As the alien hominid, your mission is simple: blast through anyone and everything in order to get your ship back, facing a slew of relentless FBI agents, giant robots, and tanks. The game plays out at a frantic, fast pace, always throwing something at you to do. It is easy to get suckered into mindlessly shooting everything, but shooting is not all this alien can do. He can dig underground and grab unsuspecting victims, roll from side to side, jump on enemy heads and bite them, grab enemies and throw them, toss grenades, or slice FBI agents in half at close range. As you progress through the game, the need to use these functions becomes greater and greater. By the time you’ve reached the end, you’ll be stringing them together just for the fun of it. The levels are broken down into three main themes: FBI-ridden city streets, snow-covered Russia, and the desert outside Area 51. Not every level is a run on the ground, start to finish. Some levels put the alien in a moving vehicle or momentarily give him his spaceship back and let the player fight in the sky. There are also moments of platforming and puzzle solving, though these are few and far between. In the end, all these variances are a nice change of pace, but their execution isn’t nearly as rewarding as the normal stages.
If you’ve played the Flash version to death, or if you’ve played a lot of 2D shooters in general, then Alien Hominid won’t be all that challenging. The rest of you may find yourselves feeling overwhelmed and cheated. Several reviews pointed out that Alien Hominid dishes a lot of “cheap deaths.” Admittedly, some areas can be quite tough and overbearing, but do you really expect to make it unscathed through the entire game your first try? I do have a problem, however, with what I deem to be invisible bullets. The bullets of the enemies are small, shimmering circles hard to notice and easily overlooked. The fact that they shimmer doesn’t really help; it only makes it easier for them to be mistaken for something in the background. They really needed to stand out more, because I died several times when I couldn’t even see what hit me. It only takes one hit to kill your alien, but considering you get five to seven lives per continue, it isn’t a big problem.
Another issue which some of you may find frustrating are some major (but inconsistent) glitches. I have heard numerous reports of bosses disappearing off the screen and not coming back on and the game actually locking up. The latter has only occurred for me once, but I have come across several FBI agents that became invulnerable but could still hit me. I’m sure the Behemoth didn’t have the resources to test the game as extensively as it should have been. None of these glitches are detrimental to the overall experience, but you should be aware that they exist.
Playing through all 16 levels only took about four hours on the Normal difficulty setting. There are two other difficulties, but they do not affect the actual levels. Instead, your shots may do less damage, or you may start with fewer grenades. Still, the game is so polished, it really is fun to play multiple times. And who can ignore the fact that you can play the entire game with a buddy? Each player can be on his/her own difficulty level, too. While it is certainly great to play the game again with a friend, many levels just aren’t that exciting a second time around, including the flight missions and a level that only consists of rabid wildlife. That still leaves you ten levels of frantic mayhem, but it’s a disappointing number. Of other worthy mention are the decorative hats. These are unlocked by performing special events in the campaign. While they do not affect how the alien plays, they are a lot of fun to mess with.
A few mini-games also make the list, but the inclusion is hardly novel. Though they can be played with a second person, the challenges are light and short-lived. The notorious PDA game, on the other hand, is truly delightful. It contains single-screen levels where the objective is to jump on all the enemies, collect any jewels for bonus points, then head to the exit. With 200 levels ready to go, a level-editor, and four-player support, this is just as good as the regular game. The balance of cooperation and competition makes for many hours of harmless fun.
In the audio department, the music is often overridden by the mesh of repeated gunfire, explosions, and cries of death, but that isn’t to say the soundtrack is easily forgettable. Each song blends a feeling of adventure with space alien action, and a subtle edge of wackiness sporadically manifests itself. The sound effects are appropriately chosen, as well. Because your character can pick up several different weapons along the way that all make different noises, the echo of gunfire doesn’t get very annoying. However, the effects do overpower the music, so I suggest turning them down. Unfortunately, the game never remembers your sound settings after being reset.
Final Comments: The great presentation, old-school style of play, and multiplayer goodness, mixed with a subtle humor, form one of the most refreshing games to come out this year. Alien Hominid isn’t without its flaws, but for an independent company’s first venture, I’d say this is a remarkable feat. If you care at all where the game industry is headed, you will buy this game. $30 sounds like a bit much for a relatively short experience, but this is $30 going towards the future of gaming. Supporting work like this encourages others to create new, fresh, original games, and we definitely need to see some more of that.