Now this is what Xbox Live Arcade should be about: quirky, overlooked gems that give you RSI and let you bite the heads off FBI agents. And then rewards you with unlockable hats.
However tempting Alien Hominid's crazed cartoonish charms and old school Metal Slug gameplay seemed back in 2005, it wasn't a game many of you felt compelled to go out and buy at full price. As people were fond of pointing out repeatedly: "but it's a Flash game". Yes. Yes it was, but it was also a game with the kind of instant off-the-wall appeal that's sadly lacking in most of today's big budget epics. Sometimes all you want to do is move a little green man from left to right and make the fire button beg for mercy.
And like any self-respecting little green man who has crashed landed on Earth, you're armed, dangerous and determined to get your ship back, presumably so you can abduct simple redneck country folk late at night. But before you can get back to business, you've basically got to go on a massive killing spree and take down endless FBI agents, tanks, feisty creatures and big stompy robots. As you would.
Slug it out
And like any self-respecting Metal Slug wannabe, Alien Hominid does a nice line in high powered weaponry, fancy explosions and screen filling boss encounters to make the cartoon pyrotechnics as pleasant on the eye as possible. To begin with, of course, you have the most generic pop gun imaginable. You can fire up, left and right, jump up and fire down or lob a grenade, but by destroying buildings or being nice to children (I jest not) you can temporarily arm yourself with high powered futuristic weaponry. The type of firearms that would make you a hit at barbecues; capable of slicing, roasting and even freezing, and the type that firmly encourage you to pummel the fire buttons until your fingers are bloodied stumps.
Yet as perfect as Alien Hominid is for the quick thrills required from an Xbox Live Arcade game, it's an easy game to thoroughly dislike for its detestable tendency to kill you off every three seconds. It's One Hit Kill City, and you're the mayor, and we wouldn't blame you at all for throwing the pad down in a sulk the moment you come across the game's first mini boss. In fact Kieron ranted on incredulously in the original review for fully four paragraphs about how unjust these sequences tend to be. And they are. It's true, you can't really play Alien Hominid like a normal, sane videogame where you get an energy bar and you actually have time to get out of the way of enemies. Somehow, though, this unrelenting brutality makes it all the more satisfying when you do crack it.
Having just romped through all sixteen levels (the same featured in the original game), the thing that strikes you is it's nowhere near as stupidly hard as it first appears to be. After you've worked out an enemy's predictable attack pattern, and trained yourself how to actually get out of the way of bullets and imminent danger, you start having a lot more fun in the process. Of course, when you meet a new type of enemy or yet another boss, the chances are you'll get killed repeatedly - but, crucially, it's not a game that ever takes very long to figure out. And besides - if you really are getting an utter kicking, the game offers three difficulty settings and the ability to start on the last level you reached. Played on Easy, even mere mortals can have a lot of fun with this game. For 800 points, it's easily worth the money.
The various minigames and multiplayer modes are pretty good fun, too, if a little throwaway. The PDA minigame, for example, manage to turn on the retro charm with an exhausting number of simple 2D platform levels. Deliberately designed to feature the most basic (but loveable) stick-men graphics ever seen, you simply have to jump on the heads of enemies in order to progress. Elsewhere, the retro styling gets even more primitive with the Missile Master minigame, where the idea is to repeatedly guide a hilariously blocky cruise missile across a scrolling landscape to the United States of America. It's certainly one of the stranger games you'll ever compete for a worldwide high score for.
Various other flimsy minigames also now have international leaderboards to compete for - including score attack segments of the main game where you're tasked with staying alive as long as possible. There's also a button mashing frenzy called 'All You Can Eat' where up to four players (local or online) have to bash X and A to fill up a bar. After a single session your fingers will be so worn out you'll almost certainly need a rest, and possibly a new pad. The ball-throwing Neutron Ball offers little of interest, though, but there's always the offline 'jump in anytime' two-player co-op to go back to if you've got a pal nearby.
If Alien Hominid is destined to leave any lasting legacy, it will almost certainly be on your carpal tunnels. Few games of late have required such a concerted dedication to pure blasting, and few have ever provided such a visual feast, either. Earlier this year, the latter levels of Heavy Weapon certainly reignited our bug-eyed appreciation for rapid fire thrills, and this is even better way to ruin a joypad. After a stop-start year so far for Xbox Live Arcade, this is a welcome inclusion, and well worth checking out. For the price, it'd be rude not to.
Just remember to brave that pain barrier...