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Alien Syndrome (Master System, 1987)

Those aliens won’t shoot themselves.

Never gonna blow you up! Never gonna shoot you down!
Make the worst-looking xenomorph ever and 20th Century Fox won’t sue.

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous



GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 10/18/87 – (JP), 03/1988 – (US, EU)

Alien Syndrome or That Time Sega Saw James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ and Thought, “Me too!”

In the game, you play a renegade Earth soldier named Ricky (second player controls Mary) who’s tasked with rescuing hostages from a series of alien cruiser ships. Each ship is a labyrinth of sorts, with winding passageways, claustrophobic corridors, and the occasional dead-end, all viewed from a top-down perspective. Now, Alien Syndrome is an arcade port, so the levels aren’t as complex as the first-person “where the hell am I?” dungeon excursions of Phantasy Star. But Ricky and Mary aren’t equipped with a map, and the goal is to find all the human hostages before time runs out. In other words, quick moving and quick thinking are a must. Once all the hostages have been saved, the music changes from dull toneless blats to reserved optimism. The exit door located near the top of the ship opens, and a grotesque alien boss creature straight out of Giger’s private reserve emerges. Beat it, and you’re rewarded with points and the next ship of nightmares.

Alien Syndrome (UE) [!]000
The role of Ripley will be played by Generic 80s Shlub!

As you wander through the ships, take notice of the following aspects if you want to live. Whenever you enter a room, aliens will blink before they appear fully generated on screen. If you walk through them while they’re blinking, you won’t be hurt. This is really important during later levels when you’re looking for that final hostage. There are several different alien designs on display throughout each level, but only two types: ones that move and roll around the room and the stationary heads that fire blasts at you. The ones that move are generally slow and easy to avoid, but there’s up to four of them in each room. Shoot them, and more will take their place. The stationary aliens can’t be killed, only shut down after they’ve been shot. Ricky and Mary can aim in eight directions a la Contra, and the controls are sound, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to move through the rooms with gusto. Our Earth heroes start with generic pea shooters, but weapon upgrades – which come in the form of letters L, F, N, etc. – are found on the walls of the ship and transform your standard issue snooze-fest into a laser gun or a flamethrower.

Alien Syndrome (UE) [!]002
“Looks like someone’s gonna have to clean up this solar system…”

Mary and Ricky might be part of Earth’s finest, but they take only a single hit before succumbing to death. Were this a harder game, I’d rage against such warriors losing their lives so quickly, but at best, Alien Syndrome is a challenging, but not impossible, game. Once you understand the basic arcade mechanics, your only concern is running out of time or making a careless mistake, like grazing an alien.

Alien Syndrome (UE) [!]003
This is one of the most disgusting bosses I’ve seen in awhile. Well done, Sega.

Alien Syndrome has an awful droning soundtrack, and it’s about the ugliest Master System game I’ve ever seen – each of the alien ships are colored by leftover Famicom browns, grays, greens, yellows, and blood-clot reds – but by gar, I enjoyed my afternoon with it. While the kill-aliens-find-hostages gameplay is simplistic compared to some other post-arcade 1987 Master System games, finding all the hostages and hearing the music shift from darkness to sunlight is reward enough. More importantly, Alien Syndrome began Sega’s love affair with aliens, for better and for worse. Cheers to Mr. Cameron for making this possible.


9 replies on “Alien Syndrome (Master System, 1987)”

Oh man I kind of love and hate this game. First Id like to mention the very early choice of female playable character. Not often seen in that era. SEGA seemed to offer lots of female protagonists or choice of playable characters before anyone else. Second I really loved the arcade version of this game. The creature designs were awesome and suitable grotesque. More so in the arcade version. I found the SMS version adequate. But for the life of me I suck at this game. I’ve beaten all sorts of hard games. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never made it past level 3 on the home port. If you die on a boss without your weapon power up you may as well start over. Ya it didn’t live up to the arcade game, but few 8-bit games did. But I still managed to enjoy this. But still it bugs me, being one of the only SMS games I owned that I never beat. Is that an FM logo on the Japanese cart? I would love to hear the FM enhanced soundtrack. The arcade music was so good and creepy. The SMS PCM less so. I kind of feel if they made this a larger memory cart it could have been a little more arcade perfect. I’m pretty sure this version is missing some weapons. The levels were different. The hostage rescuing requirment was changed somehow. And the enemies and bosses are slightly to dramatically different. I kind of feel this was a lazy port.

Sean, I agree with you that this was probably a lazy port. Outside of the controls, the game plays, looks, and sounds a little rushed. But I enjoyed it anyways. I have the arcade version on the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection for PS3… I should give that a go, as I’m sure it’s superior to the MS port.

Also, yeah, I’ve noticed Sega loves their female protagonists. Sure, she’s second player, but at least she’s included at all, particularly in 1987.

Ya I think your B- mirrors my view exactly. It’s still a decent fun game. I don’t remember the character select on the SMS. But I know in the arcade the male and female character have equal billing. You can select which one you want to play as at the start of the game.

I’ve only played this on the PS3 Mega Drive Collection which is the arcade version. I found it frustratingly difficult. will have to check out the Master System version.

Well, apparently, I’m just really good at the game, according to Sean. I didn’t find the Master System version that difficult, but it’s renowned for being so. Strange, cause I’m not usually very good at super tough games.

I have to agree with you on the looks of this game. Its really not the early Master System’s best (a game worthy of its western box art 😀 ). I always found that diagonal shooting was a bit lacklustre and required a bit more concentration. Those things being said however i did enjoy this although, respectfully Dylan, I think B- was a bit high. This is an average C for me.

Alien Syndrome has music. If I could remember what it sounded like I might never have to use any form of prophylactic ever again. I loved the arcade version of this game, but played the home port in hopes to get better at it and this just never happened. The idea of a sloppy port of an arcade hit at that time just seemed like another limitation of home systems, but I think this one could have been better. I grew fond of it after a long absence. Then, as with a lot of Master System games, it turns out to not be a classic and you hope you never get nostal-amnesia again.

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