Movie game adaptations back in the ’90s were hit or miss. Often times seemingly more miss than hit, especially when you saw the infamous dreaded letters of LJN on the box cover. Alien³ has a mixed reputation when it comes to the film. So you factor all these things — somewhat shoddy film with a very shoddy firm such as LJN — and it’s easy to see why some folks had their doubts about how this game adaptation would turn out. Thankfully, Probe handled developing the game and Probe strayed away a little from the film’s stifling creative choices. This included strapping Sigourney Weaver with enough arsenal to start a small war and oh boy, were there aliens galore! Compare this to the film which had only one alien and zero guns. A most fine creative choice by Probe. The box wasn’t lying when it said 3 times the suspense, 3 times the danger, 3 times the terror…
AN ICONIC FRANCHISE
The first Alien film, released nearly 38 years ago on May 25, 1979, was a smash success. It was a tense sci-fi thriller starring Sigourney Weaver as the iconic Ripley character. And of course, one badass alien that scared audiences the world over. The sequel, Aliens, hit theatres on July 14, 1986. It scored rave reviews but the franchise would go on to remain dormant for six years. That’s when Alien³ marched into theatres on May 22, 1992. Today actually marks the 25th anniversary of Alien³. It received mixed reviews and is considered by many as the black sheep of the franchise. However, there’s a decent smattering of Alien³ backers who will claim otherwise. It’s one of those “controversial” sequels in a franchise that warrants another viewing if you haven’t sat down to watch it in over 15 years or so. A year later Alien³ was released on the Super Nintendo. Let’s take a closer look…
NO ONE CAN HEAR YA SCREAM IN SPACE
Nothing like that classic slow Alien fade in effect.
Shiver. That damn facehugger dropping always gets me.
Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, one of the most iconic characters in sci-fi cinematic history, is the sole surviving member. She may wish otherwise…
Alien³ is not your typical side-scrolling platformer, which tends to be the fate of most movie licensed games. It plays more like an interconnected adventure, which is a nice change of pace from your typical hop ‘n bop affair. Throughout each level you’ll find computer terminals. Select a mission, discover your objective(s) and view blueprints. There’s some slight strategy at play here, such as being able to select the missions in an economical fashion where you travel the least amount of distance from mission to mission. Obviously the less ground you cover the greater your chances of survival.
Missions don’t vary too much, which can lead to a spell of repetition now and again. One type of mission is locating and rescuing all the trapped prisoners. Right away you notice the game has this gritty, grimy feel to it. It’s faithful to the movie in that regard, perfectly capturing the bleakness and futility of the maximum security prison. It stands out in a crowd of bright, cartoony looking SNES games for sure!
Ripley’s energy bar is only shown after she incurs damage. I rather liked this as it’s not eating up your HUD space. Although your health bar will occasionally flash once your health drops to 25% or below. It adds to the tension of the game and is a bit reminiscent of Metroid, but less annoying. The smaller aliens inflict little damage but the bigger ones pack a nasty punch.
Speaking of the bigger aliens, I love the way they explode. You can really feel the impact. The screen also seems to shake ever so slightly, just to further play up the gravity of the situation.
Climbing ladders and crawling through the claustrophobic air ducts are two things you can expect to do a lot of. Watch out — those air ducts can quickly fill up with deadly facehuggers and other buggers…
Another mission type is repairing broken electrical boxes.
Creepy shadowy figures watch you from the safety of the sidelines. Use the flamethrower on the eggs when they open up. And beware of falling facehuggers!
Always the little details in a video game that makes me go, “Nice.” Look no further than spotting an item, collecting it and watching it split into several different pieces as it goes into your inventory. I also like the ability to shoot up and kill aliens that may be scurrying high above.
Nothing like taking a flamethrower to those nasty eggs. Also equally satisfying is rescuing all the hostages held captive within the prison.
Ripley’s hand-over-hand technique is brilliantly animated. Finding that tricky final hostage is quite a fist pump worthy moment.
Mission completed? Head back to any given terminal and select the next one. You can choose them in any order you wish, and a blueprint allows you to see exactly where you need to go. It can slow down the action of the game but I do like the touch of strategy that comes with the ability to view a map.
Multiple pipe fractures are compromising your safety, so find them all and seal them up. I like how you see the meter charging from 0 to 100%. Sometimes aliens will come scurrying at you so you must take them out first, and then resume reconstructing the pipes.
Medikits are scattered throughout the game and replenish 30% health. They’re a Godsend when you’re low on health. The game will remind you if your health dips below 25%. There’s nothing like healing up and not having to deal with the annoying low health warning.
Sometimes you need to hang around for a bit. Watch out for the alien’s acid spit!
Roasting the bigger aliens and seeing them explode into tiny pieces is disturbingly satisfying…
Speaking of roasting, the flamethrower is by far my favorite weapon of the three. Just a shame then that it eats up ammo super fast.
Creepy! Alien corridors are exactly that.
Nothing beats an ammo room! You’ll need it too as ammo in this game can dry up fast with the insane amount of aliens that the game throws at you. Probe had mercy and even makes the ammo and various goodies reappear after each successfully cleared mission. Trust me, you will need to restock…
Alien³ can be a pretty tough game. Not impossible by any means, but hard enough to send you to the game over screen a few times. And what a game over screen it is, too…
Scrambled? Sunny side up? Over easy? None of those. I simply prefer my eggs to be alien-free, please. Thank you.
Another type of mission sees you picking up a device in one area only to place it in a control unit in a different area. This back and forth gives it a slight Metroid feel as opposed to an all-out hardcore action affair. And for the most part, this works well.
Sealing certain doors is another type of mission. Notice in the first shot there you are sealing off the door that leads to the ammo supply room. This is where strategy comes into play. I recommend saving this particular mission for last since you will probably need to restock on ammo. Killing all eggs is another mission variant. Watch out for them bloody facehuggers leaping out at you!
Facehuggers should naturally make your skin crawl. They definitely do that in this game. Falling from the ceiling and scurrying about… it really adds to the horror vibe of the game.
Quick, better fix those fuse boxes! But don’t forge ahead if a nasty bugger is quickly heading your way. Pause and dispatch of the threat. You’ll have to start over from scratch charging the bar but thankfully they charge pretty fast.
Grenade launcher will light up your TV screen. Potent sucker!
Hidden goodies are usually lurking about if you explore enough. Once you clear all missions you receive a (funky) password and a time stamp of your adventure. I love games that provide the time it takes to complete a level or mission.
Things get progressively more difficult as you proceed. For example, multiple eggs and xenomorphs call the various hallways home. You’ll be amazed at how fast the ammo flies… and watch out for the changing colors of the aliens. They do grow stronger, like the blue ones…
Missions galore, as usual. I like the little titles they each get too, rather than a generic “Mission #1,” “Mission #2″ and so forth. Take advantage of the blueprint by examining it carefully before accepting and carrying out a mission.
Ooooh, ahhh. A nice change of pace from the more depressing looking visuals of certain other locales.
Reminder: DON’T F*CK WITH RIPLEY.
3 TIMES THE GUNS
Sometimes an action shooting game doesn’t need a whole lot of guns. Alien³ only has three, but they work extremely well and each has its pros and cons. Take the pulse rifle, for instance. It can kill aliens from a low angle but it’ll miss aliens crawling up top. That’s when you bust out the flamethrower instead. However, the flamethrower eats up a ton of ammo fast. The third gun, a grenade launcher, does massive damage but is used more sparingly. Three guns may not seem like a lot but in this case it actually works so well that you don’t find yourself wishing there were more weapons. All three guns are also instantly accessible from the very start. Deciding when to use which, or sometimes even not using any of them at all (if you can safely evade the alien hordes that is), is all part of the ever shifting strategy as the game unfolds. There’s a brilliant simplicity to it all.
Roasting aliens never gets old. The flamethrower goes through three upgrades. Red-green-blue. Red is the weakest. Green is medium and blue is extremely potent. You’ll find the different colors accordingly as the game progresses. Of course, the aliens themselves grow stronger too…
Interestingly enough, the beta version is a lot lighter by contrast. The finished product however is much darker. I’m glad Probe went the darker route because it creates a creepy and foreboding atmosphere that is perfect to play on a stormy night with all the lights turned off.
JUMP TO MY LOU-TENANT RIPLEY
Unfortunately, Alien³ isn’t without its share of flaws. While Ripley can jump a great distance, the jumping can feel a bit floaty. In particular, jumping straight up is awkward. It causes Ripley to leap straight up and then float forward a bit. Don’t ever jump straight up if you can help it. And then there are some instances where you need to make a bit of a “blind jump” and it’s tough to land on a platform. This can lead to unnecessary damage and some frustrating moments.
WHAT’S THE SECRET WORD?
There are a total of six levels, each containing six to eight missions per level. Due to the nature of these various missions, each level can last you a decent 45 minutes or so. As such, thank goodness for the password feature. The passwords have these odd words, as opposed to random strung together letters and numbers. For example, one password is MOTORWAY and another is CABINETS. Um, OK? It kind of adds to the weird charm of the whole game though, for sure.
“GAME OVER, MAN!”
In the 1986 film, Aliens, Bill Paxton had a classic line that simply stated, “GAME OVER, MAN!” Alien³ gives you a Bill Paxton voice over of that same line. Brilliant. It just fits like a glove. Even though they’re different films, it was still nice to see, er, hear.
Alien³ is a vastly different game on the Genesis than the SNES. Which one is better? There seems to be an equal amount of fans in each camp. If you’re seeking a more action-oriented rendition then you’d do well to play the Genesis version. But if you’re looking for more of a Metroid style action adventure then check out the SNES version.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
While the film Alien³ flopped with the critics, the Super Nintendo version of Alien³ was by and large considered a success. Often hailed as one of the better movie to video game adaptations of the ’90s, Alien³ was praised for its dark atmosphere, challenging gameplay and an intensely moody soundtrack. The visuals were also heralded as being top of the line in its day. EGM gave this game ratings of 8, 8, 8 and 8. GameFan scored it 95, 90, 89 and 87%. Super Play rated it 84%. It was a hit among critics and players alike. Nintendo Power in their 100th issue ranked their top 100 games. Alien³ cracked the list at exactly #100.
Don’t let that LJN logo on the box fool ya. Probe took their time developing this game and it shows. While the movie itself wasn’t great, anytime the video game is better than the movie that’s a win in my book. The graphics are amazing. They almost seem to have, at times, this photo realistic style to them. The music fits the game’s dark creepy corridors to a tee. It’s moody, intense and helps to craft one hell of a nightmarish atmosphere. There’s a sense of dread and bleakness that seeps throughout Alien³. It’s bloody brilliant.
Aliens come scurrying after you at almost all times. There’s hardly a moment to breathe as just when you think you’ve exterminated the last batch, here comes another wave. However, it’s not to the point where you feel suffocated so much that the game becomes overly difficult and thus no fun. It manages to keep you on your toes at all times yet skillful navigation and strategic conservation of ammo keeps you on the winning side. I love the alien variety, too. Although there may not seem to be that many, the different attacking styles and whatnot keep the game fresh as you adjust combat strategies on the fly. Facehuggers, chestbursters and then three kinds of alien warriors: small, medium and DAMN. The first time you see the big one is one of those moments you never forget. It’s an all out barrage of alien warfare the likes of which is sure to satisfy any action aficionado.
Alien³ has its share of flaws, though. The jumping can feel a bit wonky in spots. Ripley also has this annoying control scheme where you press down and she’ll kneel. You have to tap down and shoot. Hold down too long however and you’ll aim down instead of shooting while crouching. I lost way too much health to this than I care to recall. It’s not something you can’t overcome without a little practice but she’s definitely not as easy to control as, say, Mario. It’s not a deal breaker by any means but it’s little things like this that prevent me from giving this game an even higher score. Having said all that, this game is packed with action, intensity, violence and an underrated soundtrack. Killing aliens never felt so good before. You can really feel the “weight” behind the guns and the sound effects are top-notch, right down to the aliens’ screeches and death cries. Alien³ is easily one of the better movie video game adaptations not only on the SNES but of the entire 16-bit era.