Alpha Mission Review—Finding Pleasure in Pain

Alpha_Mission_TitleThe announcement of SNK arcade games being released through the Minis program didn’t particularly excite me. It doesn’t necessarily mean I hate them. They are interesting, yes, but they don’t cross my mind when I’m lying down to sleep.

The reason behind this almost apathetic reception to these classics is simple: I didn’t have the chance to play these games when they were in the arcades. I never even played the NES ports of these titles, either. The nostalgia factor is taken out of my equation. Surprisingly, though, playing Alpha Mission feels like deja vu. Have I played this one before?

Alpha Mission is a top-down shooter in the vein of…I really don’t know. I’ve played a lot of top-down shooters, but I don’t know which introduced what and which improved upon which.

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TwinBee comes to my mind immediately when playing this game. First, both titles pit you against air and ground enemy units.  Your laser beams shoot the air units while your missiles hit the ground turrets/tanks/whatever. Alpha Mission has more pronounced ground units, though. Second, both games are “power-up centric.” And lastly, both games are highly addictive, even if they are difficult.

Like with the previous SNK Minis, you can remap the controls. And for games like these, the shoulder buttons for shooting are your best options. Here is the default control scheme: X to fire, Circle for missile, Square for equipping selected armor, left shoulder button for P2 Start and Triangle for coins. Movement is via D-pad or analog nub. Don’t get too excited with the 2-player option, as you don’t share the same screen. The two players will just take turns playing the PSP. Seriously, what were you thinking?

There is a save state system included in each SNK Mini, and Alpha Mission begs for the player to use it. Aside from the fact that the game is nearly bullet hell, it suffers from a flaw: respawn areas are too few and far between. Essentially, levels are short, but you are stripped down to the bare minimum when you respawn. So if you reawaken in the middle of the level where bullets are raining and ships are blazing fire, you’re toast.

The power-up system is what makes Alpha Mission attractive. You collect armor parts and ship augmentations.  However, SNK Playmore did not include any documentation on what the power-ups do. You must discover on your own. You mix and match them. Honestly, I did it randomly. All I know is when you collect three power-ups with the same letter, something good happens to you. Also, the letter “E” fills the energy bar needed for equipping the ship armors and maintaining their subsequent special effects. My favourite is the one where you develop a shield to protect you from the enemies’ shots.  Sadly, I don’t know how to replicate that experience.

The ship is slooooow. This makes the experience harder than it should be. Predictably, this slow movement endangers you due to incoming fire. Still, collecting power-ups would be my main concern. You really have to collect the power-ups in order to succeed, especially during the boss battles. Collecting power-ups is a chore, like what you do in TwinBee (you have to shoot the bells to get your desired power-up AND THEN pick them up). In Alpha Mission, while you are dodging laser beams and destroying enemy forces, you are also looking out for power-ups, grabbing up those you like.

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The graphics are okay for a game that is older than me. The side art (sandwiching the game screen) is The Ugly, though. Music is okay, too. Movement is not okay. It made the game harder than it should be. However, you can improve your skills as you get the flow of the game.  It really takes learning and experience. The truth is I didn’t finish this game yet. It is really that difficult. But hey, I’m playing on limited lives on such a small screen! I think I’m going blind!

Alpha Mission is my favourite in the SNK arcade-turned-Minis roster. It’s freaking hard but mysteriously non-frustrating. The fans of the original game will love this. Those who like hardcore space shooters will definitely dig this. Those who are on the fence, don’t bother purchasing this. This game won’t accommodate any hesitations.

7.5/10

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Comments

One Response to “Alpha Mission Review—Finding Pleasure in Pain”
  1. onmode-ky says:

    “Don’t get too excited with the 2-player option, as you don’t share the same screen.”

    I don’t think anyone would have expected that, since a) Minis wouldn’t have supported any WiFi-based simultaneous 2-player play; b) this is not the type of game that could have been played with both players on a single PSP’s controls; and, c) the original arcade game didn’t have simultaneous 2-player play anyway.

    “However, SNK Playmore did not include any documentation on what the power-ups do. You must discover on your own.”

    Or you could do what I did and refer to this guide. :) It makes the game much less confusing, though still not enough. The game assumes that you have all the armor types’ visual representations memorized and are thus able to tell when you shouldn’t pick up a piece of armor because that’s not from the one you’re currently collecting. The sequel (available in the Neo Geo Station in the PS Store, separately for PSP and PS3) fixes this by just displaying the armor types’ names instead of vague little pictures.

    As for the power-up tiles, the basic rule is to avoid everything that is brown (power-downs). Make sure you get ‘K’ items, since they’ll let your next respawn keep what you had before you died.

    “The ship is slooooow.”

    Only until you get enough ‘S’ power-ups. This is a Gradius-like game in that your initial speed is pretty intolerable and needs to be increased as soon as possible.

    The first boss fight is really hard. It’s not a bullet hell game, which means that your hitbox is the whole ship–and it just so happens that the boss’ bullet spreads only have gaps your ship can just barely fit through. I still haven’t beaten the first boss without using save states. And even using save states, I can’t beat the fifth stage boss.

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