Mankind is doomed. That’s really all there is to it. The Scarlets – parasites that can basically infect anything you can think of – have ravaged the population. Despite their dominating presence, however, there’s something wrong in the upper ranks of the organization. Xi-Tiger, the leader of the group, has been called into question over his brutal methods. The fact that he usurped his position doesn’t help matters, either. Sensing the Scarlets’ disapproval, Xi-Tiger has been searching for Epsilon-Eagle, the former (and far more popular) commander. This rogue upstart isn’t searching for Epsilon to learn from him, or anything like that; he wants Epsilon dead, thus ensuring his power regardless of the criticism. Xi kills a random little girl to lure out his target, but runs like a typical villainous coward when Epsilon reveals himself. Thus begins Alien Soldier, the clash between two intergalactic super-soldiers for the dominance of the organization that will wipe out mankind…
Okay, you know what? Forget the story. It’s convoluted beyond belief and has little relevance to the rest of the game. Maybe you’ll be able to appreciate Epsilon’s ironic sense of justice (because avenging a human hostage while fighting for control of mankind’s destruction makes so much sense), but you’ll probably be too busy laughing at his appearance instead. True to his surname, Epsilon-Eagle is really nothing more than a bipedal being with an eagle’s head attached to his neck. The fact that the game takes itself so seriously makes Epsilon’s design all the more funny.
Once you see this guy in action, however, you’ll realize there’s nothing to laugh at. Epsilon’s job is to kick ass, and he’s got all the right weapons to do so. His Buster Force riddles his foes with rapid-fire energy bullets, and the Ranger Force sprays explosive shrapnel in a wide fan. If you feel like using a little more finesse, the Lancer’s thin but oh-so deadly projectiles can work wonders. Gunstar Heroes veterans, however, will likely recognize and use the semiautomatic Sword gun instead. But if you prefer something a little less conventional, his Homing and Flame Forces can turn even the toughest foes into charred corpses. You don’t have to limit yourself, either; Epsilon can carry up to four weapons at once, be they all the same design or a mixed assortment. The game designers didn’t give you complete freedom, however. The badass arsenal is balanced out by a fairly low ammunition capacity; if your enemies are strong against your weapons, you’ll end up having wasting it all.
Of course, such weapons don’t really make Epsilon stand out from any other generic run-and-gun hero. What make him better are all the crazy alien skills that augment his fighting capabilities. He can dash from one end of the screen to the other (including roasting everything in sight with his flaming body on the first surge) and dodge nearly anything. He can also hover, which can either serve as a double jump or leaving his as a stationary flying deathtrap. Spamming the Attack Button will result in him summoning a small, but incredibly effective barrier that’ll absorb or reflect enemy fire. Then there’s arguably the coolest feature of all: the ability to walk on ceilings. While all your pathetic foes are wandering aimlessly on the ground, you can perch yourself upside-down and let loose with a hail of bullets. With such an awesome moveset and tight controls supplementing his already powerful arsenal, Epsilon is a force to be reckoned with.
Don’t assume that our hero is overpowered or broken. It’ll take a level or two, but you’ll realize that Epsilon needs all of those skills to survive. Alien Soldier may have only 25 short levels to contend with, but the insanely high challenge level makes up for the brevity.You think Gunstar Heroes and Contra were hard? Try putting this game on the Super-Easy difficulty and watch Epsilon get slaughtered. It’ll start off innocently enough; a few sentient cannons here, a few grinning one-eyed slime monsters there. But when you hit the first narrow hallway, a slithering monstrosity will assault you with energy boomerangs and its hopping metallic hide. Defeating it seems simple enough; you just have to dash to the other end of the hallway and start firing. But of course, you might forget that it’s weak to your equipped weapon. By the time you’ve frantically sorted through your arsenal, the serpent will have ripped half of your health bar away. Even if you do have the right weapon, you’ll have to pay close attention to your foe’s movements; a mere pixel can separate you from annihilation. You’ll have to use all of Epsilon’s abilities if you have any prayer of getting through this alive.
And that’s just the first boss.
Assuming that you get past that first level (who knows how many Continues you’ll have gone through), you’ll be immediately thrust into the next area of the game. That’s the beauty of Alien Soldier; it’s designed as a continuous crusade, but subtly cut into small sections. If the game didn’t announce the beginning of a new level, you might not even notice. The game doesn’t bother pitting you against hordes of underlings or pathetic weaklings, by the way. It’s essentially one brutally difficult boss battle after the next. Imagine getting grabbed by a giant moth. As the boss hauls you skyward, you have to shoot its face in while dodging all the other projectiles. Once you do deplete its health, it’ll get caught and partially eaten by the spider boss; you’ll have to kill it before chows down on the moth’s wings and sends you plummeting to the ground below. After beating that, you’ll board an elevator and immediately have to dodge a cascade of laser cannon fire and do battle with the missile-spewing hawk monster. After that…well, the boss battles keep coming. And coming. And coming. The intensity never lets up, and you better be ready for it lest you want to see the Game Over screen every five seconds.
Considering the emphasis on bosses, it’s little wonder that Treasure spent the time to make them look so awesome. Unlike the somewhat cartoonish designs of Gunstar Heroes, the foes in this game are designed with far more detail and animations. There’s a boss that’s little more than a zombie dragon with motorized helicopter blades stuck into its rotting flesh. Then there’s a guy who looks like a Men in Black reject that’ll transform into a 20-foot tall steel-plated werewolf at the drop of a hat. That’s on top of the enormous samurai monstrosity with its buzz-saw katana, the floating computer kiosk with Rotating Panels of Doom, and the disturbingly phallic Pickled Foetus and his little dragonfly helpers. But while such details are awesome, the levels are worth looking at as well; you’ll get to challenge these foes amidst backdrops of a glowing sunset, a violent downpour, and futuristic cityscapes as far as the eye can see. Then there’s Epsilon himself, whose gleaming armor and sleek animations put some of the best Genesis-era character designs to shame.
It’s a shame, really. Alien Soldier deserves so much more recognition than it got upon its initial release, and it will never enjoy the same level of popularity as Gunstar Hero. But with this game added to the Virtual Console, gamers get to experience an awesome older game that they’ve probably never played. That said, this isn’t a game for the impatient; the insanely high difficulty level will result in countless deaths and Continues, if not the occasional broken controller. This game features some of the most grueling, badass boss fights ever seen in any game, and presents it in a seemingly never-ending gauntlet of challenges. Wii owners, stop searching through all the junk in the Virtual Console’s library and give Alien Soldier a shot. It certainly deserves one.