Review: ACA NeoGeo: Alpha Mission II
Posted 23 May 2017 at 19:49 by Sam C Gittins
One game genre which I've always been fond of ever since the early days of the Sega Megadrive is most definitely that of the shoot-em-up, there's just something very pure and rewarding about it which I've loved from those first times playing stuff like the now infamous Zero Wing (All your base are belong to us!) plus the underrated gem that is Gynoug (available on the Wii VC but only in Japan) which has you controlling an angel as you do battle with demons, to name but a few.
Though I may have played a fair few of these types of games over the years, it wasn't until the Wii VC that I'd get to try out any NeoGeo (plus TG-16) titles and I must say that I am most thankful for being made aware of all the great shmups which are out there. It seems that a good few exist on the NeoGeo so I am grateful that I'm finally getting around to playing some of these classics thanks to Hamster who are doing excellent work in bringing these games back into the spotlight.
So without further ado, on with the review!
System: Neo Geo
You know how the story tends to go in shmups such as this, aliens threaten to destroy peace in the galaxy, you are the last guardian capable of fighting against them, here's a spaceship, let's go! Pew-pew-pew! That's really all you need to know here... happy? Good! Then it's time to get blasting.
Controlling your ship is simple enough as it's done with either the analogue stick, split buttons or D-Pad if you're using a Pro Controller, you can opt to remap the action buttons to your liking but you will have one for firing - you can turn on turbo fire in the menu - in front of you, another for dropping projectiles onto lower down enemies or structures - much like in Twinbee - while the final button gives you access to your limited special weapon which you'll likely want to save for tougher encounters.
Everything controls smoothly just as you'd expect it to as well whether you choose to play on your own or with a friend in two-player co-op, it's here that you have a fair few options at your disposal as well because even though you can play on the TV screen with two Pro Controllers for a comfortably satisfying setup with all of the sound coming through the speakers which is amazing, there is another option.
This is afterall a Vertically Scrolling Shoot-'em-Up and although a lot of older arcade re-releases on newer systems have options in the settings for anyone lucky enough to have access to a monitor which supports "Tate mode" where you can turn a mounted monitor on it's side for true vertical play, this is likely out of the realms of possibility for many including myself... until now that is as I'll continue to explain.
Despite the fact that no official NeoGeo titles were designed to run vertically, you can now quite easily play them this way with the Switch in table-top mode, simply opt to rotate the image ninety degrees, scale it to fit the Switch screen and then prop the screen up securely on a flat surface or even better using the official Hori Play-stand to enjoy playing the game vertically.
The first vertical shmup on the Switch... at a stretch.
Of course it won't be a perfect scale, neither is it the definitive way to play in this instance but just picture the moment, you have your Switch with you in handheld mode, you can just take off the Joy-Cons, stand the screen vertically, use one controller yourself with the other one handed to a friend or family member and you're suddenly playing a shmup together. By happy accident if you have the Red/Blue Joy-Con setup then the colours will even match the ships in this instance with Red for Player 1 while Player 2 has the Blue, yet another way to play.
For true table-top verticality we will need a shoot-'em-up to be released which has proper support for it but at least it allows you to partially fulfil that dream, it's one I'd had since the Switch was announced and from now on I'll be trying out any shmup which offers such a display option in the same way just to see how they perform in addition to playing them properly on the big screen, naturally.
While the general design of the seven stages which make up the game are rather standard for the genre, there is a sense of achievement as you get further in as enemy patterns do get more difficult just as the bullets become harder to avoid, especially when you take into account things like energy beams trying to pull your ship closer towards doom in addition to far-reaching retractable attacks for which there are few safe zones on the screen at any time.
You'll likely be using up a lot of credits on your first play attempt just as I did, so it's a good thing that you can add more credits at any time you see fit, so long as you're happy with not going for a world record attempt on the leaderboards, you'll probably need to stick to the default settings if you want a hope of seeing your score up there; my attempts didn't even get close and I like the genre plus the bettering of your score each time, so if you're going for fun then just play it your way as it's still pretty enjoyable.
Nowhere left to run, best keep blasting at that core!
It's the myriad of power-ups which are perhaps the most confusing thing of all, you shoot in their direction which blasts them up the screen as you "juggle" to get the ones you want - again like in Twinbee - of which there are eleven different "armours" which can range from Bubbles, Black Holes, Missiles and much more besides, you'll need to save these for when you really need them so try not to deploy by mistake as the only way to regain them is by getting three of the same power-up in a row.
Then you have the letter pick-ups, "C" takes your armour so leave that, "E" replnishes energy, "G" gives you gold to buy armours inbetween missions assuming you don't lose them by continuing, "R" is for rewinding the action, "S" means that "You got boost power!" of course and "W" will fast-forward the action because why not I suppose.
Graphically there is a clear aesthetic appeal emanating from the diverse locations utilised across the stages, there are clearly different landscapes ranging from a fiery chasm, an ancient aquatic area plus plenty of mechanised metropolis places as you advance further toward the finale; the intense designs of the bosses along with the variety used in enemy design in general and the solid design of your ship which changes as you get more power ups all deserve a mention, as does the smooth animation in general.
This game is short but sweet and hard to beat! At least on a single credit anyway.
Each area has a nicely composed theme which is always in keeping with the on-screen action, not perhaps the most memorable of OST's in general but when you're playing it certainly keeps you focused on your mission within the game, all of the sound effects are decent enough as well. Once the boss music kicks in you know that you're in for a battle as that sense of dread comes over you because you never know what you're going to be fighting next, the music just amplifies the level of intensity just as all good boss encounter music should.
At this moment in the early life-cycle of the Switch there aren't that many examples within this once niche genre which is gaining in popularity all the time, while some might look at Alpha Mission II as perhaps not the greatest shooters ever made, personally it's one of the more original offerings that I've had the pleasure of playing and for that reason I feel that it's certainly worthy of purchase. It might not be the longest or strongest example available but it does offer a decent amount of replay value for those who are fans of this type of game; clearly it shows which era it's from but it plays to this as a strength and I really hope that this title in addition to many other similar NeoGeo titles will get the chance to shine on Nintendo's latest platform which really brings out the best in these fine digital offerings.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Alpha Mission II is an original entry within the shoot-em-up genre which borrows from the best while putting a new spin on things. It may well have been bettered by other offerings on the NeoGeo but it's a solid starting point if you're after an arcade quality shooting experience with a difference.
Brilliant boss battles
Original upgrade system
Confusing for beginners
Unforgiving at times