Alien Hominid is an action shoot-'em-up along the same lines as games like Contra and Metal Slug. It has everything you'd want to see in a game of this type (dozens of laser guns, vehicular combat, giant bosses, huge explosions, bloody deaths, multiplayer play, and so on), and, if those things weren't enough, it also has a funny story, a cute main character, and a hand drawn art style that manages to look simple, complex, charming, and gritty all at once.
At the heart of the game is this little yellow alien guy, who was flying past Earth one day when the FBI shot his spaceship out of the sky. They managed to drag his ship back to FBI headquarters, but neglected to notice our hero lying unconscious near the crash site. To make matters worse, they also stole a fat kid's ice cream cone in the process. Angry as all hell, the alien hominid picks up his trusty laser pistol and sets out to reclaim his ship, but in order to get it back, he'll have to run, jump, and shoot his way through hundreds of FBI goons and lay waste to the giant contraptions and mutants that they've built to stop him.
Don't let the whimsical story or hand drawn art (which I'll discuss in a minute) fool you, this is a shoot-'em-up that means business. Each of the game's 16 main levels is packed with gun-toting government agents. Some are equipped with body armor and flamethrowers, while others prefer to sit behind the relative safety of a bunker or manhole to take potshots at you. You'll also have to cope with armored vans, tanks, helicopters, and bosses, which usually take anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of shots to destroy. The game's bosses are awesome. There are at least two per level, they're generally quite large and grotesque, and they all have multiple attack patterns that you'll need to learn before you can avoid losing half your lives on each fight. If Alien Hominid were an arcade game, people would call it a "quarter muncher." That's because there's hardly ever a moment when the screen isn't completely busy with bullets and laser fire, and also because our little alien buddy doesn't have a health meter. If you get shot just once, you lose a life. The developers were kind enough to make lives plentiful (you start with five, multiplied by five continues), and they also made it so that you can easily earn extras as a reward for defeating bosses or by killing enemies in a stylish manner, but, even with those compromises in place, you'll still need loads of practice to make it to the end.
Getting to the end seems impossible at first, but once you take the time to learn the pros and cons behind everything that the hominid can do (and put in some trial and error on the bosses), you should be able to handle anything the game can dish out. As you'd expect, the hominid can run, duck, jump, and shoot. Added to those basic abilities, our little yellow E.T. can roll backward and forward, take cover atop balconies, and dig himself into the ground for brief periods of invulnerability. On the attack-oriented side of things, the hominid's main weapons are a laser pistol and grenades, but you can also stab enemies at close range, take control of vehicles sitting in the background, and jump on enemies' backs (which subsequently allows you to bite their heads off, pick them up and throw them, or make them carry you around like a piggy-back ride). Different energy orbs provide different shot types for the laser gun and there are dozens upon dozens of vehicles to take control of as well.
Vehicles are one of the game's better aspects. Instead of just setting down one or two vehicles to play with, the developers have made it so you can hijack almost any vehicle that you see sitting in the foreground or background. Most of them are in the form of cars, busses, and tractors, which allow you to run over enemies and shoot the hominid's laser pistol while wrapped in a de facto suit of armor. At certain times though, you'll run across a jeep or a tank that has a cannon attached, or get to pilot the alien's own UFO in order to give the feds a little payback. One level is entirely devoted to vehicles–a freeway where you have to jump from car to car, or just drive them, in order to avoid falling to the pavement below.
The levels themselves reflect a good deal of variety and forethought. Although the majority of them are of the "run to the right and shoot everything" variety, some switch things up a bit by swapping out enemies in favor of tricky obstacles courses, while others let players take to the sky or spend longer periods in vehicles. Some levels are just plain wacky, such as one that lets you piggy-back on top of a giant yeti that can punch enemies or simply just pick them up and eat them.
It's nice too that, despite everything the alien can do, the controls are intuitive. You can move the hominid around with the directional pad, and the square and X buttons control shooting and jumping, respectively. Those two buttons are really all you need to work your way through the game, although you'll have more fun pressing the other buttons once in a while as well. The circle button lets you lob grenades and you can tap the jump button a second time to piggy-back onto an enemy. The L1 and R1 buttons make the hominid roll backward and forward quickly, which is useful on occasions when a boss is trying to stomp him into jelly. Let's not forget the triangle button, which triggers multiple actions depending on the situation. Press it while on top of a vehicle and you'll climb inside. Press it while piggy-backing an enemy and you'll throw them like a cannonball. Press it (and hold down on the d-pad) while just standing around and you'll dig a protective trench.
What ultimately sets Alien Hominid apart from other side-scrolling shoot-'em-ups isn't how it plays, but how it looks, or, more precisely, the attitude that has gone into the game's presentation. The opening scene shows the hominid's ship getting shot down by a dorky FBI agent presiding over a button and a radar screen from the comfort of an easy-chair, and segues into showing agents carting off the ship while the alien lays unconscious. The stragglers, one of whom is carrying a sign that says "nothing to see here," even go so far as to swipe a fat kid's ice cream cone while making their getaway. There are plenty of similarly skewed moments throughout, such as bosses that belch pudding, people on the street that make suggestive gestures, and FBI agents reacting in horror whenever you bite one of their co-worker's heads off in front of them.
The only remotely accurate way to describe the manner in which the game's comic-book style artwork contrasts with the gunfire, explosions, and blood spatters that occur seemingly without end throughout each level is to say that Alien Hominid resembles an on-line webcomic put in motion. The Internet has given popularity to a new breed of comic artists that mix cute, crudely drawn graphics with shocking events, and that's exactly what Alien Hominid does. Not-so coincidently, Alien Hominid first came to life as one of the many Shockwave Flash animated games that are available for play (free) at Newgrounds.com .
Alien Hominid is one of "those" games that looks great because of its artistic style, and not necessarily because it pushes the PS2's graphical horsepower to new extremes (which it does not). This is a side-scrolling shoot-'em-up with crudely drawn two-dimensional backgrounds and characters, for goodness sakes. It probably could've been published for the PS One or the Super NES back in the day. Even so, you won't have time to dwell on how crude the game looks since the amount of detail and animation is truly off the scale. Enemies and bystanders always seem to be making facial and hand gestures of some sort, and enemies die in a variety of ways based upon what weapon you use to kill them or what's happening in the environment. For instance, if you cause an explosion that brings a building down, the resulting fire will fry any baddies in the vicinity. Scenes packed with bullets and laser fire or busy with vehicles and bosses are the norm, as are giant explosions that only seem to grow larger as the game goes on. Likewise, the multi-layered backgrounds add a high degree of depth to the environments (especially since you can knock down buildings or hijack vehicles in the background), and so do the bosses, which besides often being quite large in size, usually interact with the environment in some way–either by destroying the scenery or forcing you to climb up their limbs in order to reach their vulnerable heads.
The audio, while the game's weakest area, does at least back up the graphics fairly well. The background music has the same sort of percussion and rhythms that many a Hollywood-produced sci-fi movie has had. None of the tunes really makes a lasting impression, but they're sufficient. Aside from the music, there are dozens of different laser, mechanical, and human scream sound effects accompanying the ever-present din of gunfire.
Let's say you do decide to take the plunge on Alien Hominid. For $29.99, you get 16 main levels and five mini-games. The main game has four difficulty settings, supports two-player co-operative play, and lets you select individual levels from a menu once you've completed them. The mini-games vary in depth and quality. The most fleshed out is the PDA game, which is setup like an LCD handheld version of the main game. Up to four players can try their luck at jumping across gaps and pouncing enemies in order to move from one level to the next. There are 200 levels in that game alone, and it includes an editor that allows players to make and save custom levels. The other mini-games are challenges that two players can participate in, either co-operatively or head-to-head, and involve running through specific levels, fighting bosses, or just playing basketball, always to see who can score the most points.
Just based solely on its gunplay, Alien Hominid is worthy of mention in the same breath as classic shoot-'em-ups like Contra and Metal Slug. Nonetheless, it is the game's uniquely refreshing (albeit crude) visual style and attitude that justifies the price of admission. It's hard to believe that what was once a simple Flash demo at an Internet site has become one of the PS2's most innovative and interesting games, and yet, that's exactly what has happened.
( Click here to go to Newgrounds and play the original Flash prototype of Alien Hominid . Keep in mind that the console version has more levels, more weapons, more vehicles, and pretty much kicks the prototype's butt in every conceivable way.)