Review: Alien Crush Returns (WiiWare)

Crushing nefarious xenomorphs with your trusty pinball - welcome to the gloriously deranged world of Alien Crush Returns

Over the years, the original Turbografx-16 Alien Crush title has become quite the cult favourite among classic game fans, so it certainly comes as no surprise that Hudson's decided to give this classic a fresh new look and feel in an effort to create a modern pinball game for the WiiWare service. Hudson has taken the addictive pinball-style gameplay of the Naxatsoft-programmed original and created a brand new gaming experience around it, complete with updated visuals and a host of new options. But does this 15-year old pinball simulation still have what it takes to stand out and can Hudson capture lightning in a bottle once again?

While Hudson has managed to inject a host of new play control ideas into the title, at its core, the game remains similar to the original in many ways. The same simple pinball action is intact, but this time around there are a few new twists that attempt to add depth to the overall experience. You still command the many flippers located around each stage, but this time you take a more active role in how the pinball reacts during play. There are also a host of new gaming options to add even more variety. Its small touches like these that provide a more modern appeal and added replay value.

When you begin the game, you're presented with several different modes to choose from. Story Mode allows you to play through each stage, each of which comes with its own unique segment of the plot to carry it along. Your task in each stage is to destroy each of the designated alien targets. At various points you'll also be forced to take on one of the alien bosses, which you must target with your pinball at its weak point. You control the game using both the Wii Remote and the nunchuk attachment. One button on each controller works a corresponding flipper while the other button controls the action ball power up. You can then use either the nunchuk stick or Wii Remote D-pad to toggle between the various types of action balls.

Arcade Mode strips away the story line and boss fights and allows you to take on one of the three stages where the only goal is to rack up as many points as you can before losing all of your reserve pinballs. At the end of the game, you'll get to see where you rank on the Wi-Fi leader boards for each stage. This mode is basically for those who want to get right into the traditional Alien Crush pinball action.

Next up is Versus Mode in which you take on a friend or up to 3 other players via the Wi-Fi function. When you play the game online, you establish a session in which you can choose to play a Worldwide Match with players from around the world, a Regional Match with players only in your area, or a Friend Match with any of your Wii friends. Once the desired number of players are accepted into the session, each player may select a specific stage to play. The majority wins, and the stage most chosen will be the one played. If it comes down to a tie, the stage is automatically chosen for you. Once the game begins, it's a race to 10 million points and the first player to reach that mark wins the match. While it can take awhile to get the session started, once play starts the Versus Mode plays like a dream and can be quite intense when you have four players racing to 10 million points. If you like multi-player competition, this is your game.

It's nice to see that Hudson decided to keep the classic feel of Alien Crush intact in this remake, but the new additions also add a lot to the overall package. Unlike the original Alien Crush, this time you get to make use of your pinball in much more creative and useful ways. You have an action ball gauge that slowly fills up as your ball strikes objects around each stage. Once the gauge is full, you can then press the "A" button to turn your pinball into an action ball. There are several different types of action balls, each with their own distinct characteristics. The boost ball increases the speed of your ball and also makes it more powerful. This ball can be especially useful for taking out the various alien targets or quickly racking up a lot of points. You also have access to the reverse ball, which can immediately change the direction your pinball is travelling. Last but not least is the split ball, which will temporarily split your ball in two and allow you to cause twice the damage around the board. You can easily switch between these various balls using the nunchuk stick or the D-pad on the Wii Remote during play. Bring all of these new game play twists together and you'll find that Alien Crush Returns actually has a lot of depth to it, especially when compared to the original.

The visuals, however, are a mammoth step up from the Turbografx-16 ancestor and are even impressive by WiiWare standards. The organic look of each stage makes the levels really come alive and everything tends to animate and pulse, giving the added impression that everything on screen is really alive. As creepy as the original's visuals were, Hudson have really outdone themselves with the spooky touches in this remake. There's also a lot of variety between the stages to keep things from becoming too repetitive. As if all of this weren't enough, the bosses are equally impressive. Not only are they huge in size, but they're also extremely well-animated and lifelike in both look and feel. It's clear from the moment you begin playing the game that Hudson given this game the same attention to detail as was lavished by Naxatsoft on the original. It's a real sight to see.

Nevertheless, it was the music in the original Alien Crush that was probably its biggest selling point, and it is the one aspect of the game that most classic Turbografx-16 fans tend to mention when the game is brought up. While the new tracks aren't quite as moody, the music quality is better and has a much more modern sound to it. The sound effects further add to the audio experience and there are absolutely tons of different effects spread around the game. If you want to give yourself (and your neighbours) a real treat, you can select Surround Sound from the options menu and fire up the Dolby Sound System to hear some of the best Pro-Logic II sound the WiiWare service has seen to date. Not only will it shake the walls, but it also adds an even creepier aura to the entire experience with its pulsing sound effects. It would be easy to get caught up in the game's eerie visuals, but Alien Crush Returns is also a game that needs to be heard to be fully enjoyed.

Conclusion

With Alien Crush Returns, Hudson has somehow managed to retain all of the unique and addictive elements of the original game while simultaneously adding in enough fresh game play ideas to bring the cult classic properly up to date. While the game is a bit on the short side and doesn't feature the type of depth some gamers might be looking for, it's difficult to deny that Alien Crush Returns is everything an Alien Crush fan could want out of a remake; the only problem is that it just leaves you wanting more. Hopefully the downloadable content will help alleviate that.

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