There can never be too many side-scrolling shooters. It’s a formula that’s been with all of us since gaming first became a thing. AlienCruise wastes no time at getting you into the thick of it. There’s very little in place as far as a story is concerned. In a nutshell, players take on the role of a veggie-like character that’s tasked with seeking out habitable planets, destroying the dangerous beings that already dwell there first and foremost. It’s your run of the mill sci-fi affair, with no innovation or depth present to set it apart from its many peers.
That is to say that if you prefer simplicity above all else, this will likely appeal to you more than most. The game’s menu is nice and clean, and presents you with a few simple options. Here, you can alter a few settings, check out the online and local leaderboards, or dive into the campaign via solo and co-op play. The game’s controls are relatively simple too. Movement is tethered to the left stick, with a small speed boost tied to RT. You’ll attack through the use of the A button, and utilize a special attack by tapping the B button.
When you start out, you’re fed into a brief yet informative tutorial that gives you the basics of play, and from thereon out, you’re on your own. You’re free to tackle the game’s worlds in any order you see fit, each of which bringing their own unique design and variations of enemies. The aim of play is to make it through the few levels that each world relays, before defeating its boss and then moving on to the next. Each level takes roughly a few minutes in total to work through, but the going certainly gets tough when things begin to pick up.
Enemies of all shapes and sizes will patrol the screen from all directions, gunning for you at every chance they get. Perhaps AlienCruise’s most defining feature is that there’s a heap of different and interesting enemy types to take on, many of which are fashioned on the design of the planet they belong to. Land of Neptune, for example, sports the more aquatic-like beings, including that of piranhas, jellyfish, and oysters. Whereas the more outlandish and fantastical enemies dwell on the likes of the Star of Parcaneas. It’s quirky, if anything.
Each area remains well designed, with fun-looking set pieces and assets in place to maintain engagement. I was particularity fond of enemy behavior, which isn’t something I tend to notice in games of this type. Here, however, it’s hard not to appreciate. You see, enemies don’t just fire at you as found in many of the game’s peers, but they constantly toy with your positioning. In one level, I saw a nice trail of piranhas coming my way, so I lined myself up ready to dispose of them, and got butchered as they grew in size and chomped me.
Moments like this are not few and far between, and if anything, you’ll be met with a range of foes that behave exactly like this; religiously forcing you into false security before transforming or reacting in unique and clever ways. Most enemies will wipe out after a few hits, but its your positioning and your reflexes that will see you through to success here. Further to that, the game’s levels are designed in such a way that you’ll constantly be met with deciding which route is the greater of two evils. I do say that lightly, however.
You see, whilst AlienCruise isn’t particularly deep, its levels do make a habit of forcing you to decide which set route you move through. Do you stay above the mid-platform and contend with fifteen jellyfish? Or, do you go below the platform and deal with a tankier merman? These choices are present throughout, and they’re always in the head of the moment. Outside of that, you’ll occasionally be met with mid-level bosses; tough foes that typically take up a huge portion of the screen and usually require specific tactics to take down.
These encounters, much like the game’s boss battles, are fairly tense. Most of these bulky foes can wipe you out in a single hit, further emphasizing the necessity for swift reaction times. Boss battles take an entire level, and can be often cruel at the best of times. These encounters are easily the toughest component within, and demand precision and perseverance at all times. They also, like any other enemy in the game, come with their own distinct movement patterns and behaviors, and must be taken down in very specific ways.
It’s a tense affair overall. I can say the same about the levels themselves. You’ll not only need to contend with the enemies that litter each level, but the dangers of each level too. Whether that be huge rocks flying at you, gigantic spiky vines protruding from the environment in the blink of an eye, or even huge tentacles that purposely aim for you whilst you’re in combat, you’ll always be put on edge. When all is said and done, you’ll want to come into this with the expectation that you’re going to die, a lot. If you’re like me, you will.
Thankfully, AlienCruise isn’t at all that punishing. Each run affords you a total of three lives, and should you use them all, you’ll be placed back at the start of the level that you died on, rather than at the start of the planet. You’ll also lose any of the power-ups and weaponry that you have obtained along the way. Otherwise, the stay with you. The game’s pick-ups consist of new firepower, shields, health, and so on. You’ll find these additions from the remains of enemies that you dispose of, in which you need only fly into them to pick up.
Playing in co-op is fun too, with that added sense of greed present through each player naturally wanting to nab the upgrades that fly their way. Despite that, irrespective as to how you play, the game largely remains the same. My only gripe is that there’s quite a few cheap deaths to put up with. Whether that’s due to an enemy catapulting onto the screen and killing you instantly, or, being met by a foe that you cant possibly beat in the small window that you’re given, you’re bound to become frustrated. It’s an unfortunate pace killer.
The bottom line in is that AlienCruise is a solid side-scrolling shooter, but it doesn’t quite achieve greatness due to its few issues its short length. If you’ve a soft spot for this type of experience, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Just, don’t expect the game to have a lasting impression. It would have been nice to see more length, and some more meaning behind the different characters that you can use, or even an additional mode to stretch out longevity, but sadly that’s not the case. Still, it’s hard to not to like what’s present and accounted for.
In regards to the game’s visual and audio design, AlienCruise is hit and miss. The visuals take center stage of the two. If you’ve played the developer’s Little Triangle, the game’s colorful presentation will feel familiar. The aesthetic remains cartoony throughout, with a nice variation of detail and vibrancy across the board. It helps, of course, that there’s some distinction between the planets, ensuring that repetition is held at bay. Sadly, the audio design is less desirable, putting forward generic cues and a bland, irritating soundtrack.
AlienCruise is a decent side-scrolling shooter that does well with the little content that it serves up. The game’s commendable variation of interesting enemies, together with its few colorful and distinct locations, collectively ensure that player interest is maintained whilst repetition is held at bay. Despite some cheap deaths and its generic audio presentation, fans of the concept are unlikely to be dissatisfied with what’s on offer.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.