Alien Hominid / Alien Hominid HD - Web Browser, PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, PC, Gameboy Advance, XBLA, Mobile (2005)
Growing up, I would always find myself jamming my head into a tattered notebook. Within this notebook, I would draw out characters, write stories, and create levels for my own home-made video game. My game was going to be very similar to Castlevania; you'd move from left to right, fight creatures, then finally face the bad guy. When you're three years old you tend to be as unoriginal as can be, but you still have that ambition to create a world that you, your friends, and your family (in my case, siblings) would enjoy.
Now, I'm usually sitting down in front of a computer, ranting and venting on the net for another gamer's enjoyment. Not only have times changed, but so has the gaming industry, and gamers with it. The days of 2D dominating the mainstream market have since disappeared, and those of us who played Street Fighter II are now serving pizza at the tiny restaurant across from where the arcade once stood, or thinking about which tie to wear to next weeks meeting.
But what about those of us adults who are still shoving their faces into a notebook? The image of a grown man rambling endlessly about fighting Dracula in a beat-up binder seems a little creepy, but I'm referring to the few who have made it into the industry and turned their childhood obsession into a full-blown career?
It's a thought that has popped into my mind after playing The Behemoth's Alien Hominid, a once browser-based Flash game turned retail release. Assuming the role of an earthbound alien, you must track down and locate your space shuttle so that you may return home. The FBI, however, have more on their agenda. Besides stealing your space shuttle, they have their goals set on destroying you and wiping out your existence. But even when you finally put the FBI down, it's not over. The Russian KGB steal your ship, taking the fight to the snowy alps of Russia before finally returning to America with a visit to the home of all conspiracy theories, Area 51.
Alien Hominid plays just like many of the 16-bit classics we grew up with, with the player proceeding from left to right, shooting enemies with an upgradeable weapon, all while dodging bullets and other hazards. Alien Hominid might seem like a Metal Slug rip-off at some points, and it's obvious the developers were looking back to the earlier days of the action/shooter genre for inspiration, but decided to throw in a few modern-day ideas.
Alien Hominid offers more freedom to the player than most other 2D action games. He/she can burrow into the ground to hide and wait for an unsuspecting foe to walk right over them, then pull them under for an instant kill. Another attack exclusive to Alien Hominid is the ability to jump on your foes. From this position, you can either bite their heads right off, scaring and stunning their partners around you, or pick them up and toss them at another enemy. As standard for the shooter genre, included is the classic option of playing the entire game cooperatively. While most of the game plays the same, randomly placed vehicles throughout the levels can be driven, with your friend standing on top to take out foes with their weapon. There's also level where you get to ride a Yeti and smash/eat everything in your path.
The bright and vibrant graphics, while crude in their conception, are very childish and cute. The style alone has since become synonymous with the name Alien Hominid throughout the industry. Dan Paladin, the artist behind Alien Hominid, is well-known for his style of blocky, chubby characters with a wide variety of expressions, displaying a great range of emotion within their simplicity. The graphics are all higher resolution than Metal Slug, so it looks less antiquated. The music, while generic, compliments the graphics and their energetic vibe. The sound effects do well in making every shot not just sound great, but feel great, and brings out that little bit of comedic edge to the game that simply can not be done visually.
Although the game is chock-full of blood and gore, none of it is repulsive or offensive. Our hero gets stomped, crushed, burnt to a crisp, sliced in half, and can even suffocate beneath the ground while hiding. The enemies can be destroyed in similar ways, and depending on what weapon you're using, decapitated, torched, or sliced into a dozen pieces. The number of ways to die or kill adds to the fun of the game, and you're always excited to see the next death animation, whether it be you, a friend, or a foe at the wrong end of the stick. You can even turn off the gore, and cause the enemies to bleed pretty flowers.
Hidden in every level is a group of small, chubby kids offering upgrades and weapons to aid their extraterrestrial friend. Their placement also adds to the humor of the game, with them traveling all over the world with the alien, via helicopter or vehicle. The game features another reoccurring character, a mechanical eye, that evolves and challenges you as the game progresses.
Outside of the FBI the protagonist will also run into the Russian KGB, bent on stealing the Alien's ship for their own use. At this point in the game, you start to see that not all of the humor is based around visual slap-stick or crazy alien-on-human hijinks. The KGB are introduced through a cutscene where two Russian men are launching a nuke at the United States, only to accidentally hit the escaping Alien and his spaceship. When faced against the alien, they utilize a gigantic, red robot that attacks with a hammer and sickle. Their second option is a series of mechanical Russian nesting dolls that attack in numbers by slowly opening and unleashing a smaller doll upon being destroyed. Whether or not you find this blatant stereotyping to be funny depends on how you feel about stereotyping in general, but it's still a little interesting to see some theme of political commentary in a game like this.
As you progress through Alien Hominid's three levels and their five stages, you'll slowly unlock extra mini-games to play and 30 hats to deck out your alien with. The unlockable mini-games are, for the most part, minor additions and not something you'll want to spend any considerable amount of time with. One of the most hilarious is called "Super Soviet Missile Mastar", a would be Cold Era relic with Atari 2600 graphics, as you launch missiles against the evil USA. It's simple but amusing. From a gameplay standout, however, the PDA game is the only really noteworthy one, which throws you into a weird, gray world of white lines and squiggles. Playing as a stick figure, you must defeat all enemies on screen to open a gate, allowing you to proceed to the next stage. An added bonus is a level editor for the PDA game, allowing you to build and share your own stages with friends.
The few flaws in the game are minor, but do stand out when they are found. The difficulty is fairly inconsistent in the later levels, where continues and lives have been drained. It doesn't help that it's occasionally hard to see enemy fire amidst all of the explosions anc chaos. You'll have no trouble getting past the first level of the game and thwarting the three bosses you face, but once you hit the second stage of Level 2 things begin to get a little too hectic. The Russian doll boss is almost impossible to beat without losing one life, and one boss in Level 3 shares this problem as well. During the Hard difficulty, enemies become amazingly fast, shooting randomly without a pulse or even a beat. In short, do not attempt this mode unless you don't mind random deaths. If it wasn't for Alien Hominid's forgiving continue system, the entire game could have been ruined by the difficulty alone.
Alien Hominid has been met with widespread acclaim since it's release on consoles back in 2004. After netting praise from the general press, Alien Hominid went on to clean up various independent game festivals around the globe. The XBLA version was met with good sales, and even scored a XBLA GOTY award from Kotaku's community. The success of Alien Hominid has lead to the development of The Behemoth's next game, Castle Crashers. While Alien Hominid was an excercise in the action/shooter genre, Castle Crashers focus is on beat'em-ups. The game is set to arrive on the Live Arcade late Summer 2008.
So what else can be said about Alien Hominid? It shows what a developer can do when they choose to create a game based around their inspirations, yet still have the ability to infuse their own style. Too many games these days are unoriginal derivatives of multi-million selling titles on the market, but Alien Hominid shows what you can do with a little bit of originality, and a load of imagination.
Alien Hominid was originally a browser-based game hosted up on Newgrounds, a website where visitors can showcase their Macromedia Flash creations. Not much has changed gameplay-wise between this one-stage-only Alpha version and the console release, but there are definitely some differences worth checking out. All art assets are different, and the ground/vehicle actions have yet to be added. Most importantly, you can actually kill one of the chubby kids that help you in the later versions. I really wish I could be more in-depth about the Alpha, but to be honest, I can't even beat it. The keyboard-only controls are unintuitive for a game of this type where you need to be able to control your character with more than just four fingers. Regardless, Alien Hominid stands out amongst the wide variety of typical stoner/sex-based games that commonly flood the Newgrounds portal, and is worth checking out if you got a couple of minutes to spare.
Both the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions were published in America by O-3, a very small publisher that commonly throws out B-grade PC and DS games (as well as obscure Japanese games). The print run for Alien Hominid didn't last very long, with copies originally appearing for 30 dollars, then disappearing altogether within months. The differences between each version are only cosmetic, with the GameCube version running more smoothly at a better frame rate than the PlayStation 2 version. Besides that, you're getting a quality game no matter which platform you choose.
Alien Hominid was published by Zoo Digital in the European market, and the GameCube version never saw the light of day. An additional Xbox port was released in its place, featuring leaderboard support and downloadable content for the PDA mini-game. A new mini-game was added in both the European PS2 and Xbox versions called "All You Can Eat". Playing as the chubby kids from Arcade mode, you must slap your buttons to devour a whole bowl of tasty treats, such as ice cream and squid legs. A replay feature was added, allowing you to record your games and save them to show off later, and a score-destroying glitch was fixed. A PC version was also released in PAL regions, and outside of being crazy obscure, it's mostly believed to be a direct port of the console versions.
Also released in Europe was a Gameboy Advance version of Alien Hominid, which was unfortunately passed on for a North American release. This conversion, coded by Tuna Fish, is probably one of the better console-to-GBA ports out there. The animation is near console-perfect, featuring the same bright colors and smooth animation of the original, just at a handheld resolution. Some of the music was altered or removed due to size constraints, and the animated cutscenes between levels have been modified into slide shows. At least one stage has been removed from each of the three levels, usually the ones which were most graphic-intensive (Stage 1-2 and 2-4). The last level of the game is completely revamped, removing one half of the boss fight completely. In addition, two smaller bosses were removed and replaced by palette swaps of earlier bosses. The biggest flaw with the hand-held port is the lack of difficulty. You'll have it beaten within an hour with over 10 continues remaining (roughly 90 lives). Another disappointment is the lack of mini-games. You'll unlock three of them with one being exclusive to the GBA (some chicken whacking crap), but once again, neither of them are worth playing.
The most recent version of Alien Hominid is the Xbox 360 version, titled Alien Hominid HD. A port of the sixth generation console version exclusively available for XBLA, HD is just what you should expect; Alien Hominid in HD on Xbox 360. Thankfully, The Behemoth went to extra mile to ensure that the game was worth picking up again. HD includes all of the features of the original North American release, adds in the All You Can Eat mini-game, 40 new PDA levels (but no level editor), leaderboard support for each mini-game and all three difficulties for the Arcade mode, and online-play for two of the included mini-games. While it is disappointing that the game lacks online cooperative play for the Arcade mode, you still have to give The Behemoth credit for going the extra mile with the port. Featuring no slow-down and high-resolution graphics, Alien Hominid HD is the best version available.
There's also a mobile phone version called Alien Hominid Redialed. It's just a bunch of minigames - in one, you take control of a car and need to dodge shots from a helicopter, before making it to the end of the stage where you can return fire. There's also a Track and Field style game where you aim a cannon and see how far you can shoot the alien. There's also simple PDA games and Soviet Missile Mastar. It's not great, but you can't expect from a cell phone game anyway?