Before being renowned world wide for their Neo Geo MVS unit, SNK were fairly productive on home consoles of the time as well as stand alone arcade games free of the Neo Geo nomenclature. One of their Mid-80’s efforts was vertical shooter Alpha Mission which appeared first in arcades and soon landed on the increasingly popular Famicom and NES. It’s sequel, Alpha Mission II appeared six years later as one of the very early titles for the MVS and on a system hugely dominated by 2D fighters, a vertical scrolling shooter was very welcome for variety’s sake. But was it any good? Let’s find out!
Now if you follow my reviews you’ll know that I’m not exactly an authority on the genre. While I like them as a concept and would love to play them well, in actuality I’m a complete scrub. I generally lack the patience to learn patterns and know when to hold back. I’m the kind of guy who just enjoys blowing stuff up, charging head first into battle. Maybe I’m not the best person to review Alpha Mission II but bare with me as I’m sure I’m not the only one coming from my perspective.
As a shooter, there’s not much to be said for the general gameplay, it’s very standard for the genre. The closest thing it does to being different is shooting enemies above and dropping missiles on enemies below, as though there are two planes of play. It’s something that has been done before way back in Xevious, which is the most comparable game. Personally, while I found Xevious a challenging game, it’s just too slow, thankfully this isn’t mirrored here. Alpha Mission has a nice pace to it when you’ve powered your ship up a little.
Where most games differentiate is in the weapon and power up systems. Alpha Mission II doesn’t break any grounds in this regard. In fact some may brand it a rather generic example of a shooter. Blue power up cubes fall from the top which need to be shot in order to release the power up inside. Initially the power up is marked “S” which indicated a speed increase. If you shoot it one time it will juggle back to the top of the screen and become an “L” which increases your laser firepower. Hit it again and it will become an “M” which increases your missiles. Hit it a final time and it becomes a “G” which, while not a power up, gives you some money to trade it at the end of the stage. Everything can be upgraded up to four times but be warned, once you get to this point the power ups, will suddenly turn purple and become “power downs”. While this part reads fairly simply, Alpha Mission 2 does throw all of these at you and it can quickly turn messy as you try to change the speed to a laser while dodging enemy fire.
Alpha Mission 2’s main gimmick is in it Armour power ups which, while do offer protection, should be more aptly named special weapons. This is probably the most confusing aspect of the game as you collect three pieces of the same armour to then press the C button to equip it. There are apparently 11 in total but even after a few hours worth of play I didn’t see them all. Most disappointingly for me is just how brief their longevity is. Each armour power up has an energy meter that drains in almost an instant. Yes, it makes them a more precious commodity that should be used in the more tricky places, but I would have liked them to have lasted longer because that is when the game is most fun. Additionally, the previously mentioned money pick ups can be used to buy these armour power ups between stages.
Like any shooter worth its salt, Alpha Mission 2 contains its fair share of boss battles and mini bosses, naturally they pack quite a challenge and their patterns must be learned in order to not get slaughtered. There’re 6 full stages in total followed by a final boss battle which makes it not the longest game in the world, probably completable in an hour or less. As an arcade game though, it’s about mastering it and achieving the highest score.
Much to my annoyance it’s a one hit death kind of shooter. As a personal preference, due to my lack of skill, I always prefer a health bar and it’s a shame for me personally this game doesn’t have one. Yes, the armour power ups can allow you to survive a hit, but it’s not that helpful in the grand scheme of things. It may not come as a surprise to you but I generally don’t like dying in games, especially shooters where as a staple, dying means losing all of your power ups. Dying while being fully powered up can be soul destroying and makes recovering very difficult.
Of course in this port from HAMSTER, dying shouldn’t be an issue as you can put in as many credits and lives as you please, but that doesn’t stop the feeling like you’re cheating to get through the game. Thankfully, the first five stages are pretty bearable on the lowest difficulty after a bit of practice, but the final stage and final boss are just incredibly biased towards grabbing your money. Of course with a bit of patience and learning, highly skilled plays should be able to do it.
As with the previous HAMSTER ports, they’ve done an excellent job especially including all the available options to customise your game as much as you want. Right from the controls (the faster auto-fire is a godsend to my controller and thumb) to screen filters to how many lives you have, you really can make it as fun as you want to suit your style. Me personally, of course I notched the difficulty down a level or two just so I could sit back and enjoy a more balanced game that doesn’t want to take all your money.
Included in the various options is the ability to set the Switch screen in a vertical perspective, sadly, the aspect ratio of the game doesn’t change so you can’t use the whole length of the switch screen. Considering the original game was never designed this way, it’s impossible to see it as a negative but one could have dreamt.
For a 1991 release Alpha Mission II looks pretty swell for its time. At first glance it looks on par visually with the console games at the time but it’s the details that give away the power of the system. It’s not pushing the systems’ limits for sure, but some of the effects and sprite details are gorgeous. Where the game really packs a punch is in the sound design with some really awesome music tracks and effects.
One of my favourite aspects is the 2 player option where you play through the game together. Unsurprisingly it can make the game easier, but on the other hand it can be awesomely chaotic as you fight for the different power ups and blame each other for dying. It’s just the perfect fit for the Switch, too. The Joy Con’s versatility as a single controller or two is just genius and makes multiplayer for Alpha Mission 2 excellent either in the home or in your coffee shop of choice.
Additionally, like all of HAMSTER’s Arcade Archives series you can choose either the Japanese original or international release, as well as the Hi Score mode where you have one credit to get the highest score possible, plus the Caravan mode which gives you five minutes to get a high score. Like the previous Neo Geo titles I’ve reviewed, I’m not entirely convinced of this mode, but I guess it suits Alpha Mission 2 the most so far.
Overall Alpha Mission II is an excellent download title for your console of choice. As a new system, it serves a nice genre filler for Switch owners especially and the portability and multiplayer versatility of it just completely sells it to me as the preferred system of choice. HAMSTER’s excellent porting job and the options they include make the game as user friendly as can be, even for shooter idiots like myself. While Alpha Mission II may not be the pinnacle of the genre, it’s still a nice own to own.
Game provided by HAMSTER Corp.