After a few weeks full of ports and disappointing original titles on the eShop, Japanese studio G-Style's 3DS-exclusive Alien on the Run is a breath of fresh air, a surprisingly addictive "comical escape game" that has arrived on the store at relatively short notice. You play as an alien named Delude who has been abudcted by a UFO, and you've got to escape before the timer runs out; Alien on the Run consists of over 80 quick levels that lend themselves perfectly to the pick-up-and-play nature of handheld gaming, and scale from laughably easy to infernally difficult as the game progresses, with an outlandish schizophrenic sense of humour along the way.
The levels in Alien on the Run are full of classic video game obstacles like ice patches and electrified tiles, but rather than traditional enemies blocking your path, the UFO attacks Delude with tractor beams that try to suck him up – these tractor beams create the crux of Alien on the Run's gameplay. The beams are your primary opponents through the entire game, and Delude has the ability to slide on the ground to speed through them. If Delude slides through an orange tractor beam, he destroys the beam and gains a few seconds added back to the countdown clock; purple beams are invincible, and all Delude can do is avoid them at all costs.
This title boasts an intuitive and simple control scheme to match the core play: the Circle Pad is used for movement and B for almost every action, including sliding and interacting with obstacles. When a tractor beam begins to suck Delude up, mashing the B button helps him escape its grasp; other times you'll need to press B at just the right moment to activate a catapult that launches Delude to the next level, or to destroy a punching bag that stands in his way. There's a "retry" button on the touch screen that lets you quickly start a level over again without any load time, which abates some of the frustration of trying levels over and over.
Alien on the Run is split into 17 different zones of five levels each; after completing the helpful tutorial, you can tackle many of the zones in whatever order you choose. The first four levels of each zone are all escape sequences, but in a nice change of pace, in the last level of each zone Delude must find a collection of chili sauce bottles that can launch him back to his home planet – the sauce is particularly spicy and gives him a rocket boost in the gastrointestinal tract, if ya know what we mean. Early stages in Alien on the Run are all about simply getting to the finish line unharmed, but as you get better at the game later levels give you much less time on the clock, and in a clever twist sliding through orange tractor beams to add precious seconds to your time becomes an integral part of gameplay.
With a limited number of objects and assets, Alien on the Run is still, nevertheless, filled to the brim with clever level design. A particular highlight is a pair of zones late in the game that are full of chase sequences where Delude must run from a giant moving purple beam, reminiscent of the boulder-escape levels in Crash Bandicoot.
There are a few hints of Alien on the Run's low budget; many of the art assets are reused from level to level, the same exact cutscene plays after you finish each zone, and the game doesn't use the stereoscopic 3D effect of the 3DS at all. But for a $3.99 download title,it's incredibly polished with impressive 3D graphics and an eccentric soundtrack. Every time Delude destroys a tractor beam, he stops the game for half a second and strikes a goofy WarioWare-esque pose like sitting on the toilet or standing like a noble samurai; at first this can be jarring and take you out of the game flow, but there's a surprisingly wide collection of poses to uncover, and soon enough you'll want to destroy tractor beams just to see the next pose.
One of Alien on the Run's nicest touches is the ability to preview every single level before you play it, using the Circle Pad to move the camera around so you can plot out your desired escape route – many other racing games would do well to adopt this feature. There's plenty of replay value, too: after you complete each level, you're given a letter grade and encouraged to beat your personal high score, not only by getting through the stage more quickly but also by destroying more orange beams and other obstacles to gain time bonuses – when you return to early zones after mastering more advanced techniques in the later stages, you'll look at the early levels in an entirely new light.
Alien on the Run is a pleasant surprise, but don't take our word for it: it has a free downloadable demo available now on the 3DS eShop, so you can check it out. We think it's worth the low price of admission for dozens of shrewdly-designed levels of unique action racing gameplay; the 3D graphics and bizarre sense of humour are simply icing on the extraterrestrial cake. With intuitive controls and quick portable-friendly stages, Alien on the Run is a title you'll have trouble putting down.