Alien Syndrome – A worthy introduction to an undiscovered console

 

Confession time…. I’ve owned a Sega Master System for the better part of a decade now, and have yet to hold its controller. Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve always wanted to start it up and play through my shelves of dusty titles – but the never-ending backlog of games has an unearthly way of growing bigger with every passing year. Recently, however, the CCWeekly crew had put out a #CCMission to let them know what our favourite Sega Master System games were – and I’d be damned if I wasn’t gonna give them an answer.

 

Image result for "alien syndrome" sega master system

 

But where to start? 10 years of collecting vs. my 10 minutes of research left a gaping hole in my usual selection process.  Do I dive right into the heavy hitters? Nah, too safe. Should I attempt a franchise that I’m already familiar with? Nah, too familiar. Maybe I can randomly select a game from the shelf? Nah, too risky. I know! Let’s just start with the letter A!

 

“Let’s just start with the letter A!”

 

Alien Syndrome was a game I’d only ever heard of but knew nothing about. I’d never played it in the Arcade, or on the NES, or on the Game Gear….or the MSX…or DOS…or Amiga…or Atari ST…or Commodore 64…or Sharp X68000…or Amstrad CPC…or ZX Spectrum…or my toaster oven. In fact, the Sega Master System was the only port I owned! So knowing nothing at all, I popped it in.

 

Image result for Alien Syndrome "Sega Master System" screenshot

 

In this 8-bit, overhead shooter, you play as either Mary or Ricky (sadly no two-player co-op in this port), as you fend off an alien race that has an uncanny resemblance to Ridley Scott’s Xenomorphs a la the Alien franchise. The game takes place across 7 unique Space Colonies, with your goal being to rescue the captured colonists and detonate the stations; always frenetically battling a creatively grotesque boss before escaping in the nick of time.

 

 

“an arsenal of lasers, flamethrowers and…pea shooters at your disposal”

 

Each maze-like stage is well crafted, utilizing the Zelda-esque screen-flips rather than the more Arcade-style pan-scrolling. This is a huge help considering the never-ending respawns that would otherwise annihilate you. Though a map feature would have been nice to help navigate, along with the ability to use a Genesis controller instead of the faulty SMS pad. What ‘does’ help you in your mission though: an arsenal of lasers, flamethrowers and…pea shooters at your disposal throughout each level. While the higher-tiered weapons make the game easy, the base-weapon that you revert to each time you die is essentially a death sentence. By that virtue, even dying on a close-quarters boss battle while armed to the nines, will restart the battle with only your woefully inadequate pellet shots – making progression extraordinarily frustrating.

 

Image result for Alien Syndrome "Sega Master System" screenshot

 

“Blood-curdling screams of your dying character is probably the game’s best audible achievement.”

 

The game’s sinister soundtrack…well it’s not great (my apologies to composer Tohru Nakabayashi). It utilizes the standard PSG sound chip which is really only capable of 4 channels, and it uses them all to the most basic of levels. In fact, the blood-curdling scream of your dying character is probably the game’s best audible achievement. One might argue that the ominous tones add to the unnerving atmosphere, which I’d agree with, had it not been playing for 7 consecutive levels with a 1-minute loop. A little variety would’ve gone a long way, in my opinion – but have a listen and judge for yourself.

 

 

Seeing past the blatant ripoffs of a certain franchise – Alien Syndrome is actually a pretty fun game. Obviously flawed, yet oddly addictive. I’d recommend it to anyone with a Sega Master System and would love to hear some of your experiences with the other ports. I hear they’re all quite different, and I think it’d make for a great topic. If you have any thoughts, be sure to head on over to the Cartridge Club forums to share them!