Inner Circle Creations’ classic action-platformer Alien Rampage cranks up the level of violence and ridiculousness when an alien starts fighting mutants.
Alien Rampage (PC)
(USA 1996, developer: Inner Circle Creations, publishers: Softdisk Publishing (now defunct)/Piko Interactive LLC, platform: PC)
An alien crash-lands on a planet after it’s shot down by the Untharian mutants, so it’s time for scavenging the opponent’s ship to repair one’s own and freeing the enslaved native Moorg population.
Who needs a plot or characters…
One still background picture with text before the first level starts in addition to some more between the three distinctive levels (the jungle of the crash site, temple ruins where the enemy ship is supposed to be, and an abandoned city) and obviously at the end provide a bit of background information about the planet, its inhabitants, and the nameless alien’s progress, but except for this, there isn’t much of a story or memorable characters to speak of. While the protagonist looks remarkably similar to the extraterrestrial hunter from the Predator movies, one doesn’t learn much about him. Unlike the original Duke Nukem platformer, the hero isn’t very charismatic, only highlighting the fact that the thin story is only a backdrop for some explosive and gory action.
… when it’s all about blasting action?
Armed with a wide range of destructive weapons like lasers or missile launchers for which ammunition can be bought from shopkeepers when collecting enough coins that defeated enemies drop, the alien leaves behind a trail of death, which becomes surprisingly violent, with even the smallest enemies exploding in a shower of blood and guts. It’s often a frantic exercise in jumping around and firing to survive the onslaught of baddies, which isn’t easy because the controls are a bit clunky, i.e. if one is attacked by the aforementioned wasp-like enemies, one has keep a distance before being able to hit them, as they become stuck to him like glue, which also holds true for some ground-based baddies that require jumping/firing up and down. This doesn’t only look ridiculous, it’s very annoying, too, being only rectified by the use of auto-targeting missiles.
Dangerous flora and fauna with small and big mutants
The enemy design is varied, ranging from giant slugs, ants or wasps, flesh-eating mushrooms and underwater plants to rifle-firing lizards, bloodsucking bats, rats and axe-wielding skeletons as well as robots with human heads. It’s all rather nonsensical, but the mutations and monstrosities fit the individual themes of the levels. Boss fights are also present, with some pretty big ones filling almost the whole screen. However, the same attack patterns and mindless jumping/firing around don’t make them very fun to defeat. The missile weapon usually does the job, so that again sheer firepower replaces any strategy except for evasive maneuvers.
Jumping around, but not for joy
While the shooting is fun, the platforming isn’t, with some very unfair parts resulting in frustrating deaths, e.g. it’s nearly impossible jumping over obstacles on a platform that moves rather fast over acid, simultaneously shooting a switch to open a barrier while trying to stay on it. This usually means missing it, falling into acid, receiving damage, running behind the platform before the barrier closes again and another one has to be opened in the same way. The movements of the character are simply too slow and aiming is too imprecise for this section, with others not faring any better.
At least one can choose between different difficulty modes, with the easiest one to be preferred, as the game is already hard enough with its relentless action and unfair platforming. In addition, one has infinite lives and some checkpoints in levels so that dying doesn’t mean restarting but only losing some money, which isn’t too important, anyway, because destroying boxes and finding hidden areas provide sufficient medi-kit and ammunition support.
What genre is this?
For a game that looks like a brainless shooter, there is a lot of gameplay variety, making the 5 hours playtime go by without much repetition, as there’s always something new to discover. In addition to a sudden change in genre when one takes command of a small submarine and evades mines underwater to reach the next part of a level and a vertically-scrolling arcade shoot-em-up section with a starfighter, the number of puzzles is also surprisingly high. The natives (who look very similar to the Morlocks from the Time Machine movies with their white hair and human/mutant bodies) can help the player after being freed from nearby enemies, e.g. they turn switches, repair a machine, and even serve as human ladders to reach ledges to climb. They’re not the most intelligent when it comes to following the player, but this gameplay mechanic makes saving them an interesting distraction from the standard shooting, while also giving them a bit of personality.
There are even some light adventure game parts when one collects items, like rocks to put on a catapult or fuel to make a mechanic driller clear a path. While it isn’t explained how the alien acquired the ability, it nevertheless turns into a bat when standing close to a well. Not being able to shoot, it can fly around levels and turn levers to open doors or activate platforms that weren’t accessible in alien form. An intricately connected portal system has to be used later that requires switching symbols on consoles to reach different level segments, while pushing buttons in the right order disables energy fields. Unfortunately, it isn’t always clear what is triggered where, e.g. a button behind a boulder is only made visible for a brief time after the player presses another button and the boulder then moves aside, which wouldn’t be too hard if the buttons were closer and not in different parts of the level. So a lot of trial and error is necessary, making the confusing levels even more difficult to traverse.
Old technology still looking and sounding good
For a game that is over 20 years old, the graphics are still impressive, which comes down to large detailed sprites, fluid animations, and lovely drawn backgrounds. However, it’s here where the game runs into trouble, as the unique quad-parallax scrolling that should give the 2D graphics more depth with different background/foreground layers is detrimental to the already confusing levels. These layers overlap so much that many parts aren’t visible anymore, e.g. vines that are necessary to climb become hidden behind trees, and the protagonist and enemies frequently disappear in multi-layered temple ruin graphics, resulting in blindly jumping and shooting around in the hope to find an exit, while hitting targets and collecting all sorts of stuff one can’t see, either. There isn’t much to speak of in terms of a soundtrack, as except for a rather cool menu screen tune, no music is played during levels. The weapons, enemy and explosions sounds all add to the over-the-top action and ridiculousness, but there aren’t any environmental sound effects to immerse the player.
A game that needs to be remembered
Alien Rampage is an action-platformer that time seems to have forgotten, which is surprising, because despite its lack of a good story or memorable character, it isn’t simply a mindless blaster. Being playful with switching between genres and offering varied if often obscure puzzles, this isn’t a simple Duke Nukem or Commander Keen imitator. Unlike those better-remembered DOS classics, it still looks great today, even if the shifting backgrounds can become a disorientating problem. It might not be perfect with its frustrating platforming segments or boring boss fights, but it’s still worth checking out for the gory presentation alone.
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