Alpha Mission, the latest game from SNK, is not your typical arcade-style space shooter. Drawing inspiration from the popular arcade game, Xevious, the player pilots the state-of-the-art SYD fighter through a dangerous gauntlet of alien attacks. The SYD can take out both air and ground based targets in its battle for the future of the planet.
The galaxy of Tetranova is gone, destroyed by a war. The warmongers responsible for this tragedy – the Seven Stars Alliance – now threaten the Earth. You’re the only pilot in the galaxy who can stop their tyranny and secure the safety of your home planet and rid the galaxy of this menace once and for all.
The game consists of 12 difficult, action-packed stages. At the end of each area, the SYD faces off an end-of-level “boss”, the defeat of which leads to the next stage. As I booted up the game and prepared for battle, I noted how slow my SYD seemed to be moving on the screen. Luckily, the play control is intuitive, and within seconds, I found a speed power-up by blowing up a ground-based target with a bomb, using the A button. The B button fires the SYD’s primary weapon, but I found hitting both buttons simultaneously helped destroy more foes.
Progressing through the first level is rather straightforward; I shoot down a few ship formations, avoid some enemy flak, blast some ground-based turrets and pick up several power-ups. Within a few minutes, I’m facing off against some kind of giant green creature with tentacles. It then proceeded to blast my ship to bits.
My next SYD was much more successful, conquering the foul thing. I went on to the next level and faced similar ground and air enemies. The action shifted further into space and the first thing I did was pick up the dreaded yellow “C” power-up, which completely obliterates your ship’s abilities without destroying it. So, it’s back to square one as I attempted to make it through this stage.
Power-ups in this game are odd. They consist of letters and symbols that serve to augment various aspects of the ship’s weaponry. These range anywhere form an eight-direction canon to a nuclear strike, with various stages in between. Backward letters power the ship down in different ways, while the letter W and the letter R warp the player forward or backward three stages, respectively. It’s an interesting idea, but can be confusing at times. Luckily, the ship can hold more than one weapon and by pressing select, the player may cycle through each one and use it to their advantage.
The soundtrack to this game is quite impressive. The music is action-packed and upbeat, truly inspiring the player to battle with all their might. More than simplistic sound effects, the game makes use of the system’s impressive sound producing capabilities.
Graphically, the game is easy on the eyes, but rather rigid and uninspired. I had no difficulty making out what the air and ground-based enemies were supposed to represent, but the end-of-level bosses were rather difficult. Is that first one supposed to be a caterpillar of some kind? It’s difficult to tell. More time could have been spent on enhancing the looks of these big bad enemy ships. They also tend to repeat the same type of boss over and over.
Unfortunately, Alpha Mission suffers from a steep difficulty curve. The game is relentless and punishing. The risk-to-reward ration here is disproportionate. For instance, the SYD starts out quite slow and sluggish. Only by obtaining an “S” power-up (stands for “speed”) can the SYD move faster. A backward letter reduces speed, clears out weaponry or otherwise adversely affects the ship. It seems as if these appear much more often than some other titles in the genre. Not only do you have to contend with avoiding enemy fire, but also you have to constantly analyze the letters and decide whether or not to pick them up.
The swarming patterns of the attacking aircraft are erratic—almost random—and make it difficult to progress. If the player is lucky or talented enough to clear a level, they progress to the next one, which only increases in difficulty.
This strong difficulty truly hampered gameplay for me and it was all I could do not to hurl the controller in frustration. This is not to say the game lacks fun; quite the opposite, really. I kept finding myself returning to the game just to see if I could get a bit further. When a game has this kind of effect on the player, I tend to interpret it as a good sign, but it definitely might not be for everyone.