Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! Re-Review – Still Challenging, but Not Frustrating

ace-armstrong
Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! is a side-scrolling shooter from Laughing Jackal. When it first came out a few months ago, it was extremely challenging, even on the easiest difficulty level. To the point of being frustrating more than fun. But, Laughing Jackal listened to feedback, and even better, they took steps to fix this in a patch. And so, we decided to review it again.

You control a retro-themed spaceship, flying from left to right over a cartoon cityscape. Ace’s ship seems to have gone from a mid-1950s model in the original game to a 1964 model in the update—slightly smaller but much more responsive in terms of handling.

As you fly over the city, you face an assortment of bug-eyed aliens that look like they are out of Mars Attacks!, if not an actual 1950s movie. Most fly in ships, while some sit on the ground and shoot up at you. There’s a pretty decent variety, even if they all have a very similar appearance.

AceArmstrong1a
When you blast the aliens, some of them drop a cloud of colored mist, presumably the scum mentioned in the title. You can suck this up with your ship’s secret weapon, the Recycl-O-Ray (now mapped to the shoulder buttons), and equip a secondary weapon. Sort of like a power-up, but some types of shots don’t seem to be an improvement. Some will let you shoot at an angle, which is quite useful for destroying enemies that are near the ground. Those can be tricky to shoot with your regular blaster, as you have to be careful not to touch any of the cityscape with your ship.

Other than the improved performance and smaller size of Ace’s ship, it seems to be about the same in terms of enemy difficulty, which is pretty hard. Lots of enemies, lots of shots on screen, so lots of dodging required. I did notice that you seem to be able to kill the aliens that are surrounded by a saw blade sometimes (but not always). I do not think that was the case in the original version. The main change is that once you’ve used all your lives, you can continue from where you left off. On Rookie difficulty, you can continue 5 times; on Pro 3 times, and Elite only once.

Ha! I beat her!

Ha! I beat her!

Eventually, at the end of the level, you encounter a boss, which seems to be Spaceballs-themed. In the original version of the game, I never made it this far. But, thanks to the continues, I finally was able to not only make it there but actually beat her—though it took about ten cycles of her attack pattern (and most of my continues) to finally do so.

The second level takes you up into space. This is rather tricky; you are chased by some sort of giant mouth and have to navigate through asteroids and still battle enemies. I couldn’t get very far into this, and after my continues ran out, I was chagrined to discover you cannot select a level but have to start over from the first. Subsequent attempts were even worse, but for some reason I often do worse at something the more I play in a session—video games, golf, pool.

AceArmStrong1

The graphics of the game look a bit bland on the first level, with just the cityscape (that for some reason seems to have every monument on Earth in silhouette in the background), but the second level is a lot more detailed (and amusing). I especially love how the aliens explode on it, instead of just falling down (as the second level is in space). The music is also quite good in the game.

All in all, the changes have definitely improved the game, I feel, but at the same time, it’s still pretty difficult and not that friendly to, well, most people. The lack of a level select option means you are starting from scratch each time. That might be okay if there were multiple pathways through the game, or if the first boss didn’t take so long to kill. But playing the first level and part of the second over and over gets a bit old.

AceArmStrong2

And, there is still a definite lack of presentation values compared to Ace’s closest competition, Who’s That Flying?! and The Flying Hamster. Ace Armstrong (the person) is just dripping with character, and you’d expect him to be spouting quips and one-liners in cutscenes. But nope. Just a one-panel (uncaptioned) loading screen between levels. Lots of wasted potential.

You also don’t have any additional modes, unlockables or achievements that I could find, just a high score table for each difficulty. While perhaps adequate, again, it’s directly competing with The Flying Hamster and especially Who’s That Flying?!

So, the market for this game is still primarily for those that love a challenge, though the frustration factor is definitely gone. While I still can’t get very far in the game, I no longer have the urge to throw my PSP through the window like I once did.

7/10

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Comments

11 Responses to “Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! Re-Review – Still Challenging, but Not Frustrating”
  1. onmode-ky says:

    “Sort of like a power-up, but some types of shots don’t seem to be an improvement.”

    Well, they’re all useful, but they’re not all useful for every situation. All but one are more powerful per shot than the standard shot.

    “I did notice that you seem to be able to kill the aliens that are surrounded by a saw blade sometimes (but not always). I do not think that was the case in the original version.”

    The buzzsaws were killable in the original version as well. They take fewer shots now, I believe; in Rookie mode, I think it’s 10 shots for a buzzsaw.

    “I couldn’t get very far into [Stage 2].”

    Yeah, Stage 2 is the most memorization-dependent one. You have to learn where the safe zones are in the various asteroid formations, and by “learn,” I mean “die a lot.” Very R-Type that way. Irem would be proud.

    “that for some reason seems to have every monument on Earth in silhouette in the background”

    . . . You know, despite the number of times I’ve played this game, I don’t recall that at all. :) Too focused on obliterating alien scumbags!

    “or if the first boss didn’t take so long to kill”

    Actually, if you snag the proper power-up in Stage 1, you can take her out in about 10 seconds. If you miss it or lose it due to a death from her initial attack, she will take a few minutes, something like 4-5 cycles of her pattern—assuming you shoot as fast I do.

    “Ace Armstrong (the person) is just dripping with character, and you’d expect him to be spouting quips and one-liners in cutscenes.”

    I have to agree here. The comic panels really need some dialogue to drive home the game’s atmosphere. Ace honestly does not look like the silent protagonist type. Speech bubbles would have been sufficient.

    If you’re curious about the settings for the remaining stages: Stage 3 is inside the massive mothership that you entered at the end of Stage 2 (which does not have a boss fight; you just need to survive in order to defeat the thing chasing you); Stage 4 is over the landscape of the alien scumbags’ homeworld; Stage 5 is in a sort of jungle area on the homeworld, leading to the alien leader. Of the stages, I think Stage 3 is my favorite in terms of design and look. The way its boss gets constructed throughout the stage is also pretty awesome (if also dangerous to your ship).

  2. AG Awesome says:

    Thanks for finally posting this. Ill get it once it get’s a price drop.

  3. confuletlyf says:

    …did you purposely get the title wrong?

  4. onmode-ky says:

    Wow, I can’t believe that made it past both JeremyR and me. Thanks for catching that, confuletlyf.

  5. LJ-Al says:

    Thanks for the re-review Jeremy. A few comments:

    Ace’s ship is identical in appearance to the original version and handles just the same – we simply shrank the hitbox a lot!

    The buzzsaws can be killed but have had their hit points drastically reduced especially on rookie. On Elite you now need to hit them with 25 shits instead of 15.

    I’m thrilled someone finally noticed the world tour of monuments!

    Finally, I have to agree about the story or lack of it. The game had an aggressive schedule to say the least. It was about 15 weeks from cocept start to game finished! O_o I’d have loved to do more but was overruled. Never again!!! ;)
    Thanks again. Merry Christmas everyone. Head to our blog for an e- card! :D

  6. LJ-Al says:

    ‘25 shots’, obviously… Stupid iPhone! ;D

  7. JeremyR says:

    Really? Part of the problem I had with the original Ace was that he was so sluggish to control. Maybe it was just having to hold the PSP awkwardly to use the recyclotron.

  8. Carson says:

    “On Elite you now need to hit them with 25 shits instead of 15.”
    Wow Al! Your profane misspell makes for a very amusing/disturbing game idea! Heck, a whole new genre!
    Instead of “shoot em up”…. well, you get the picture. ;)
    … then again that would probably give Ace even MORE character (with no one liners).

  9. onmode-ky says:

    “On Elite you now need to hit them with 25 [censored!] instead of 15.”

    Al, are you saying they take *more* hits to kill now in Elite than before? Not fewer? Could have sworn the opposite.

    “Maybe it was just having to hold the PSP awkwardly to use the recyclotron.”

    Jeremy, I was honestly surprised your review didn’t go into more detail (and praise) for the controls revamp, which I think is the single best change in the update. It’s no longer a chore picking up power-ups, and doing so doesn’t restrict your normal shots’ rate of fire anymore. The whole “staying alive” thing is much easier thanks to that.

    By the way, it’s “Recycl-O-Ray.” :)

    Carson, please stop thinking about the next evolution of fart apps!

  10. Brian says:

    Is this the first PSP mini to be updated after release?

  11. volcane says:

    Hi Brian – no, there have been others that have had updates prior to this (such as Coconut Dodge).

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