Alien Hominid
by Polly

Note: Screenshots are from Alien Hominid HD, but are still reflective of the GameCube version of the game.

Alien Hominid is one of those rare cool stories to come out of the gaming industry. In 2002, some really famous people released a little flash game that became a really big fucking hit. How big? In almost eight years since its release, it's received an astonishing 18,000,000+ views and that doesn't count hits from other lame flash game sites that steal games to get hits of their own. The game was so fucking huge that the original creators were approached to turn their little one-level project into a full-blown console game, and in 2004 the game was finally released on the GameCube and PlayStation 2 with XBORX and an exclusive European-only GameBoy Advance release coming a bit later. Since that time, The Behemoth has found even more success with the release of Castle Crashers on XBOB Live Arcade and are currently working on a new title set to drop sometime this year.

You can play the original Flash version of Alien Hominid here.

As you can tell, Alien Hominid is a 2D side-scrolling shooter in the vein of games like Contra and Metal Slug, but, believe me, it's waaaaaay more heavy on that dose of Metal Slug. In fact, it borrows quite liberally from the Metal Slug franchise. Hell, most of the time it can feel more like a Metal Slug fan game than an original work, but at least they started with a good template. Much like the games that Alien Hominid owes a lot of its existence to, it's tough as balls, has a lot of vehicles and guns to fuck shit up with, and has an overabundance of character.

You can't really talk about Alien Hominid without first acknowledging how much of a triumph its visual style and charm are. Even now, almost six years later, this game still looks great on the GameCube (the HD version on XBLA looks a bit better, mind you). All of the graphical assets in the game were hand-drawn by DanPaladin who utilizes a very refined cartoony style that's deceptively simple. It's one of the few games that actually does feel like you're playing a cartoon. The game's style is really all its own whether you're talking backgrounds, enemies, the ridiculously detailed hand-drawn explosions, or just the cute lil' Hominid itself. The details really are amazing. On your first few times through the game you'll undoubtedly keep noticing little nuances in character animations or other strange and humorous quirks in the backgrounds you didn't notice before.

So many things about this game just look amazing and they're really pushed to that level not only because they're just pretty, but because the hard work that went into the game's look and characters really shows. First, the Hominid itself. It doesn't matter what the little thing's doing, be it blasting lasers, gutting Federal Agents, or just straddling enemies' shoulders and biting their heads off, the little fucker is so undeniably cute. Enemies have just as much character with loads of running, jumping, and attacking animations, as well as proper death and reaction animations that are sure to bring more than one evil smile to the player's face. The bosses are, to put it simply, big and fucking awesome looking and just like everything else in the game, they blow up really fucking good. They too feature loads of animation and detail that's really almost unrivaled in the small servings of 2D games that get released these days.

The audio, much like the visuals, is also very suited to the game. All of the music in both the little story bits that appear between stages and the stage and boss musics themselves are fantastic. What stands out most though are all the quirky audio cues of enemies' terrified screams and death yelps. Again, more than enough to force an evil grin as your enemies run and shriek and freak out when you chomp their buddy's head off right in front of them.

As mentioned, Alien Hominid can essentially be considered a Metal Slug game with a different look. I don't mean that in a bad way, and they certainly play with the formula a bit, but don't really do anything that'll wow anyone already versed in it. Those familiar with the Metal Slug formula will feel right at home with the way the Hominid handles and its arsenal, which consists of many guns and grenades that are clearly inspired by SNK/Playmore's work and its up-close insta-death melee attacks. It's simple, really, and that's all it has to be. And I won't call it an outright rip-off, because this really does feel more like an homage to the genre as a whole.

So, while the game does do good to draw inspiration from a tried and true series, it still falters quite a bit in ways that can make the experience a bit aggrivating over the course of finising its 16 stages.

My starting gripe would be that though it's made the leap to the big time, Alien Hominid still feels a bit too much like the original Flash game. It looks better and sounds better, but performance-wise, it runs at half the usual frames per second that these kinds of games typically run at on consoles. I've always felt this threw the timing off and at times the controls don't feel quite as responsive as they should be because of it. Then again, I'm a fuckin' weirdo, so maybe it's just fine for some.

My second gripe is that while all the carnage and explosions in the game look fantastic, they become very problematic in trying to keep track of your character and enemy fire when the action heats up. Enemies are constantly flooding the screen and can fire off shots pretty quickly and with damn near everything in the game exploding when its destroyed it gets to be a bit of a headache. I can't count the number of times on any given playthrough of this game that I'd lose my character in a thick patch of smoke and fire and end up eating an enemy bullet because I couldn't see where it was coming from. Lives lost in ths manner feel really cheap and I feel some transparency on the larger smoke and explosion effectts could have been employed to make this aspect of the game a hell of a lot less frustrating.

Also, when playing through the game for the first time (and believe me, some subsequent playthroughs as well) it should be noted that a few areas of the game, some enemies, and a couple of bosses are just pure bullshit on an all cow patty bun. Stage 3-2's electric-themed boss springs to mind as the game's worst offender at completely killing any fun you may be having. You have a very small window of opportunity of when it's vulnerable to attack and if you miss that opportunity, it's pretty much lights-out because the attack it follows up with is damn near impossible to dodge. The game also has problems with reviving the player in all of the worst possible cases, either dropping you right back into pits, right in the middle of an undodgeable stream of enemy fire, or sometimes right onto enemy sprites that you can't get out of before the invincibility window disappears. The game dishes out extra lives by the truckload, but it still doesn't help ease that feeling of frustration of dying in the first place because of something you couldn't help. Rather than shitty design, I feel some of this may simply be a lack of polish at the end of the development cycle, but these frustrations still go a long way toward making the game very un-fun in a lot of areas.

That means it's a good thing that Alien Hominid has some other fun things for the player to engage in other than the main game. The best of these is a simple PDA game where up to four players can guide a little stick figure dood to the exit of little one screen levels. While it sounds incredibly simple and easy, some of these things can get quite difficult and there are 200 of them. As a bonus, there's even a level editor for this portion of the game, so the fun you can have with it is essentially endless if you wanna challenge your friends to complete one of your cooked-up monstrosities. There are a few other mini-games like Super Soviet Missile Master and Neutron Ball that can be fun as well, but those are mostly quick one-off games and other than Missile Master require more than one player to enjoy.

So, while it's flawed to hell and back in some areas throughout the course of the main game, in no way would I call Alien Hominid anything but a decently competent shooter. You definitely feel the love for the genre (or maybe just Metal Slug) seeping out of every moment you spend with it and the inclusion of bonus mini-games helps give this game a bit more life than it'd nomally have. It's definitely worth checking out, but just be prepared for frustration. A lot of frustration.

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