The Alien franchise is a classic in science fiction, with many movies, TV shows, and video games to its name. There have been plenty of video games that dive into the Alien universe that span over consoles, arcades and PCs. Today I will focus on one of the most interesting release that happens to be for the MSX computer. Released in 1987 by none other than Square, (today known as Squaresoft) Aliens: Alien 2 is a side-scrolling shooter that puts players in control of Ripley as she takes on hordes of deadly aliens.
The Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu did the entire soundtrack, making it even more interesting. He is best known for his work on the work of the “Final Fantasy” video game series and his compositions have been praised for their creativity and engaging substance. You can hear that “signature Nobuo” energy as soon as you hit the start button as it urges you to dive into the battle.
Aliens: Alien 2 is an action-packed arcade game in which you play as Ripley, taking on hordes of aliens and their eggs as she tries to escape from LV-426, the planet infested with aliens. Be careful though – the planet is also filled with snakes! You remember the snakes from the movie, right?
After clearing the surface level, you’ll enter a complex where you’ll have to take on a giant, full-grown Queen alien. You face off time and time again to the Queen in these stage ending boss battles until you finally kill her. It’s refreshing to see sprites this big move and have such a menacing presence in games from this time that it’s forgivable that she is recycled every stage end.
IS THIS THE BEST ALIEN GAME I’VE EVER PLAYED?
While the game was not released outside of Japan, it has since gained a cult following among fans of both the Alien franchise and classic games. The MSX release follows the main plot element to the second Alien’s movie and sneaks in a few gruesome scenes of the planet’s colony (or your fallen marine rescuers) being harvested by chest bursters.
The MSX game has its charms, but it’s not perfect. It’s a shorter game where the player is gradually led into the compound to find door puzzles that warp you back and forth to find power-ups while avoiding blood-thirsty Aliens. Besides being a shorter game with only 4 levels, a few things stand out as being utterly obnoxious. One such as the Aliens bursting out acid in some of the teeniest pixels I have ever seen in a video game, which will deal out major damage. It’s something you’d only notice playing the game vs watching a stream or a video because it’s that small.
However, what makes this game worth your time is knowing that in 2011, a near-complete ROM for the unreleased Aliens Famicom Disk Computer System leaked, and it’s a fascinating upgrade to the MSX release.
2011 AND WHEN THINGS GET CONFUSING
Internet does what Internet do
It remains unknown why this never had a release, but it’s possible the game got caught up in licensing issues or any number of reasons games don’t get published. There is very little information available about the unreleased Famicom version of the game, and often I find people mistakenly attributing a publishing credit to Activision. However, there’s no proof or fact Activision had anything to do with this game. It seems that people are often confused when they see the MSX releases for this franchise, as there have been several Alien games produced by different companies for different systems.
But it’s ON THE BOX
Yes, it sure it.
Yes! Down on the left-hand side of the original MSX game release you can read “Activision”, where I assume much of this confusion comes from. However, when you translate it, it simply states that they acquire a license agreement with Fox and Activision. License agreements are one way for businesses to make extra money and this is here on the box for this transparency reason. For a specified payment, another company can manufacture a product and then “sit back and relax”. So why did Activision and Square have a licence agreement?
The game “Aliens the Computer Game” was released in 1986 by Activision’s “Electric Dreams Software” division. The game was widely ported to different computer systems, including MSX. The most logical conclusion is that Activision has the agreement with Fox Studios to create their 1986 game and Square had to pay to release theirs to avoid any lawsuits. I believe this is where the confusion is coming from. The earliest examples of this error and association were made in a Reddit thread in January 2011. The Famicom game leaked online and was credited as a Square/Activision release, which then led to so many videos, twitter post, and other information being pooled into an inaccurate “purple-monkey-dishwasher” vortex.
The facts are, Electric Dreams Software is a subsidiary of Activision based in Southampton, England where Square at that time was only a Japanese company. The likelihood of these two companies working together on such a small game in the 80’s is very unlikely. Most people got the story of Square’s release of Aliens wrong.
The game’s look is much improved on the Famicom, with more backgrounds, greater detail on environments and enemies, and a collecting power-ups menu located in the top left corner.
The stage design matches the 1:1 except for a few bonus aliens added to make the game more difficult. That’s right, it’s still four stages long. The Queen Alien still looks amazing, but each boss stage is still in an empty black room. It’s still forgivable, as the Queen is such a good looking huge sprite. The end is still the same, only instead of having a wall of text that expands on the story, the Famicom version has Ripley and Newt hugging in an image in the sky.
Tricking snakes to fall
Blasting Aliens cause no one has time to wait
This looks more like an inside
In the Water
On the ledge and not in the water
The BEST improvement in the Famicom release is the option to shoot your guns on a directional path instead of straight ahead. This helps to get pesky Aliens lurking on higher platforms and immensely improves the gameplay. Another huge improvement is having a jump button vs hitting up to jump. This also makes entering doors a lot faster.
Despite the Square release of Aliens having a lot of misinformation surrounding it online (including a false assumption that it was created by Activision), the game is still charming to play today. It’s also an interesting look at an early Square side scrolling action game that features a simple soundtrack by the famous Nobuo Uematsu. Get your hands on the MSX or the unpublished Famicom Disk System release and play it yourself, especially if you are a die-hard Aliens fan.
Need more Dank Games? Check out my Twitch streams where I dive face first into the world of obscure Dank video games and share the discovery! Check out more Dank MSX games such as this look back on this cute pac-man clone wit raccoon’s and Pop Idols.