SNK continues to dig deep into their pre-NEO GEO catalog, this time delivering Alpha Mission, a top-down shooter with more depth than you would expect from a game from 1985.
Unlike standard space shooters, Alpha Mission capitalizes on both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Your ship, the SYD, comes equipped with lasers on the X button for airborn combat and unlimited missles on the circle button to take out ground-based foes. In addition to a variety of pickups that increase the SYD’s speed, number of laser shots, and number of simultaneous missles, there is another mechanic that makes Alpha Mission stand out.
Throughout the game, you’ll pick up three pieces of the SYD’s shell: front and both sides. Once you have all three, pressing the square button calls in your armor, giving you a huge boost in firepower. You’ll also need energy to power the armor, which comes in three different colors: blue, yellow and red. The different energy pickups give you different amounts of power, so make a beeline for a yellow or red E if you see one.
Unfortunately, there is no manual for the game, nor is there an attract screen that details all of the pickups. With so much going on, I was never clear which pickup did what, or why some would disappear from the left side of my HUD. I couldn’t figure out if they were time-limited or if specific pickups replaced others. A lack of any sort of detail is my biggest gripe about the game.
One little hiccough in this otherwise stellar shooter is that the game tends to stall, particularly before and after boss fights. As a warning of what’s to come, it helps, but it definitely breaks up the flow of the game.
Visually, I do like the arcade cabinet feel and the ability to simply pop in more virtual quarters to continue your game. The audio is exactly as you would expect from a game from the mid-80s with lots of simple shooting and explosion sounds. All of that is to say that the game recaptures the feel of being in an arcade.
If you’re looking for an old-school top-down shooter, you will find lots of enjoyment in Alpha Mission. It’s complexity holds up, even a quarter of a century later.
Review copy provided by publisher.