While Treasure avoided creating sequels (up until the GBA era), their older works demonstrated a clear willingness to revisit some of their gaming concepts with a different take. Alien Soldier is probably one of the more restrained of their output. And in terms of mechanics, Alien Soldier, in some ways, is to Gunstar Heroes what Dynamite Headdy was to McDonald’s Treasure Land.
Alien Soldier may not be as familiar to American gamers, as the title never actually crossed the pond, finding release in Japan and Europe. Alien Soldier is a run-and-gun shooter, although calling it that is probably not completely accurate, depending on what you expect from your run-and-guns. The early Contra games and Gunstar Heroes had significant platforming and non-boss areas. Perhaps reflecting the change that began to occur in the Contra games while still on their watch (with some Treasure members having worked on Contra III), Alien Soldier is basically a boss rush. Corridors to the next boss are very short, and the fodder enemies do little more than provide a way to get life back before the next encounter. Contra III had some of this conceit as well, but not nearly to the level of Alien Soldier.
Before beginning the game, you choose your weapon loadout of four weapons from six total. Each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses, and also has limited ammunition. The hero has a fairly varied moveset, with the ability to hover, walk on ceilings (a la the mine cart level in Gunstar Heroes), an indispensable dash move (which highly damages enemies when performed with full life), and the ability to reflect shots. It’s a lot to absorb in a game this fast, and a bit more complex than what Contra throws at the player, as well as a bit more technical than Gunstar Heroes.
Speaking of Contra, it also has that series’ difficulty firmly in place. There are two difficulty levels, “Supereasy” and “Superhard”. The only difference between the two is the number of continues, the former being unlimited, with a password system, and the latter with only two. It’s very clear that the designers intended one to practice on Supereasy, getting good enough at the game to speed-run the bosses on Superhard. The game even ranks your performance on each stage, a precursor to leaderboards seen in other boss-rush games. There are also some interesting callbacks to Gunstar Heroes, in the form of two bosses. The first is unquestionably the coolest, with Seven Force making a comeback, albeit with only five forms. The second, Melon Bread, is a recurring boss in other Treasure games as well.
The game, graphically, is an absolute tour-de-force. There are tons of huge sprites, effects, and the speed never falters. The combination of showmanship and the game’s limited nature almost makes it feel like a prototype for Gunstar Heroes. Whether this was a project started before Gunstar and eventually released after that game, or just something to really challenge the programmers’ skill, it’s a very different experience from the normal run-and-guns of the time, and well worth playing.
Article by Lee Hathcock
GameSpite Journal 12: Alien Soldier