Climb into your most extravagant Pearly King outfit and start practising your apples-and pears, cor-blimey-guvnor, Knees-Up Mother Brown Cockney accent, because today’s game is taking us down to the Big Smoke. It’s Data Design Interactive’s 2006 Playstation 2 shoulda-taken-the-Tube-em-up London Taxi: Rushour! 

The game opens, as is traditional, with a title screen. Well, okay, a loading screen, but the actual title screen is too boring to show you. A cast of colourful characters, who appropriately enough all look like advertising mascots for a low-rent car insurer, are here to greet you. Bright smiles beam from their faces as they tell you they won’t take you south of the river, not at this time of night.
I have two issues with this screen. Firstly, that’s not how you spell “rush hour” and frankly every time I write “Rushour” it makes me a tiny bit angrier. The other thing is that the very concept of this game is just wrong, wrong, wrong. A taxi ride? In London? At rush hour? You don’t need a videogame to recreate that experience, you could just sit in a heated metal box and burn fistfuls of cash in the privacy of your own home.

There are some options to fiddle with if you’re so inclined and a “tutorial” that would more accurately be described as “the instruction manual,” but again they’re very boring so we’ll get straight to looking at the game modes London Taxi: Rushour (ugh) has to offer. There’s Time Games, where you have to make as much money as you can within a time limit, there’s Money Games, the goal of which is to reach a certain cash total without a time limit and then there’s Perfect Day, where Lou Reed’s ghost pops out of your PS2 and sings you a song. Not really, in Perfect Day mode there are no time or cash limits.

I’ll be playing as Andy, because I have neither the time nor the inclination to unlock the other characters. I can’t be sure because this game has no voice acting, but I’m certain that Andy sounds like a real Cockney geezer – or, at least like Jason Statham doing his very strongest Cockney impression. He drives around in a pretty standard Hackney carriage-type vehicle, so it’s fair to say that his taxi isn’t particularly crazy.

Here’s Andy at the start of his shift, his face contorted into a permanent Dreamworks Eyebrow arrangement. He’s here to kick ass and drive people to their destinations in exchange for money, and he’s all out of ass.

So, yeah, it’s Crazy Taxi. A London-themed, budget release version of Sega’s smash-hit minicab-em-up. I suspect you’d figured it out already, but that’s what London Taxi: Rushour is all about. You drive your cab like a maniac through the city streets, picking up fares and taking them to their destination, occasionally jumping off ramps or smashing right into the side of a bus. LTR isn’t exactly subtle about its inspiration, either. Look back at the character select screen and you’ll see it’s very similar to Crazy Taxi’s, with the same large, bold font for the character names. The drop-off points are almost identical, with large green boxes surrounding the destination. There are trucks with ramps on the back dotted around for you to leap from. I was genuinely surprised there wasn’t a feeble cover version of “Way Down the Line” blasting out at me when I began playing. Unless you count me shouting “YAHYAHYAHYAHYAH!” into an empty room every time I picked up a fare, that is.

Oh right, the taxi driving. I suppose I should pick up a passenger, and fortunately they’re not difficult to spot. They’re the only pedestrians in the game, for starters, and all your potential clients also show up on the minimap. All you have to do is park next to the customer – or right on top of them, if you like, because they have no collision detection – and they’ll hop on board. Or at least they will if your cab is clean enough. That’s what the meter at the bottom-left is for: as you drive around the city and cause more vehicular carnage than a Top Gear marathon, your taxi gets dirty. If it’s too mucky, the discerning taxi passengers of old London town won’t get in, so you have to pick up an item that cleans your car. It’s something that’s a bit different from Crazy Taxi, so congratulations on that front. However, there are so many taxi-cleaning pick-ups littering the streets and it takes so long for your taxi to get properly filthy that the whole dirty-clean mechanic becomes something of a moot point. Oh well, nice try.

When you do pick up a fare, they’ll tell you where they want to go. Most of the time, they’re headed for a well-known London landmark, like Buckingham Palace, the Tate Gallery or the Houses of Parliament. That’s not always the case, mind you. Sometimes your destination is a little more vague.

Ah yes, the restaurant. London’s one solitary restaurant, famous the world over for specialising in food cuisine. Maybe this is because the passenger just couldn’t decide what they wanted for dinner, so they’ve left the decision entirely up to their taxi driver. Will they be dropped off at The Ivy or City Best Kebabs? The possibilities are thrilling!

Once you’ve scooped up a willing victim – sorry, passenger – it’s time to make some seeennnsible money! All you have to do is drive to the destination as quickly as possible, a task that’s made more difficult by London being a lawless hellscape where there is only one rule of the road: survival. It’s not just you that’s driving like a psychopath in LTR, with every other road user willing and able to ignore things like traffic lights, road markings and basic human decency. You can see that white car on the left has decided to take a shortcut across the pavement, and that’s not an uncommon occurrence. There were plenty of times that I was trying to stop next to a potential customer, only for a double-decker bus to smash into my taxi from behind and send me flying away from my fare. Please note that this isn’t a complaint, because that’s how this kind of game is supposed to work, and it is fun to see the action play out like a genteel, tea-drinking version of Mad Max.

See what I mean about the destination markers? Oh well, at least they’re easy to see in the distance. They’re about the only thing that’s easy to see in the distance thanks to LTR’s fairly extremely levels of graphical pop-in, and on the whole it’s not a great-looking game, is it? The obvious thing to say would be that it looks more like a PS1 game than a PS2 game, and while that’s a fair point to make there are definitely PS1 games that look better than this. I’m thinking of Gran Turismo, mostly. It almost feels like the developers were going for a charmingly simplistic, low-poly look in the vein of the Katamari Damacy games, but in my heart I know they weren't and LTR looks like it does because, you know, it’s a budget release and the budget in question was about seven pounds.

Thirty quid for a twenty-second trip? Sounds like a London taxi to me!

That’s about it for the gameplay. I suppose there’s not much else you could do with the concept of taxi driving. Collect passenger, drop off passenger, repeat until your time runs out or, in Perfect Day mode, until you fail to reach the destination in time.
But is it any good? Well, in a game like this ninety-five percent of how much fun you’re going to get out of it is determined by how enjoyable the driving is, and on that front London Taxi: Rushour does not fare particularly well. While the murderous nature of your fellow road users helps to keep things hectic, something LTR suffers from is a sense of slowness. It just never feels like you’re really getting any speed up, and if you do manage to get into top gear it invariably won’t be for long because the journeys you need to take are very short and you’ll be constantly crashing into things. You do have a speed boost (assuming you’ve collected the requisite power-ups to keep it topped up) but even that doesn’t make you feel like you’re going all that much faster – it just zooms the camera out a bit.

Then there’s the handling, which is awkward, twitchy and hugely influenced by how fast you’re going. From a stationary start you can turn almost on a sixpence, but once you’re moving your taxi becomes cumbersome and sluggish but yet somehow still over-sensitive. There’s a lot of wobbling back and forth in this game as you struggle to get your car to go in a straight bloody line, and the jerkiness of the steering makes attempting to use any of the ramps a fool’s errand. There’s a handbrake button that ostensibly allows you to drift around corners, but in practise it mostly just makes you stop dead, rotate ninety degrees and then start moving forward again. If you’ve made a frantic city racing game where your only opponent is the clock and it’s not fun to powerslide around every corner you can, then somewhere along the line you’ve gone terribly wrong.

However, even if the driving mechanics were so good they made OutRun 2006 look like Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, there is a problem with LTR that is so heinous, so insurmountable, that it would have ruined the game anyway. That problem is kerbs. Specifically, that the kerbs are actually modelled into the game at the edge of the roads, complete with collision detection. Almost every street in the game has these small lips, and you’ll notice them straight away because they completely drain the fun out of driving your taxi. The biggest problem with the kerbs is how inconsistently you interact with them. You might simply bump up over them and continue onto the pavement, which is what you’d want to happen most of the time because driving along the pavement is often the fastest route. Sadly, most of the time contact with the kerb will make your taxi veer off in a completely random direction, your new angle seemingly determined by the programming equivalent of a board game spinner. If that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes you get “trapped” on the kerb, your wheels locked against the edge of the street so you’re forced to either continue along until you reach a corner or violently wrench the steering wheel in an attempt to break free. I couldn’t really say that the kerbs ruin LTR, because there’s not that much here to ruin in the first place, but the game would be approximately one thousand percent more enjoyable if there was no road / pavement barrier at all.

Is there anything else to recommend LTR? Well, I quite liked seeing this chunky PS2 model of the Houses of Parliament. Not because I have any deep patriotic attachment to the seat of my country’s power, but because chunky PS2 models of the Houses of Parliament make me think of the first mission from Global Defence Force.

An attempt was even made to recreate the Tate Gallery (or Tate Britain, as it’s called these days.) It’s not bad, I guess. It’s got the look of a generic brand knock-off to it, the Tesco Value version of the building, which I suppose is exactly what it is.

Having all these landmarks knocking about made me curious as to the accuracy of London Taxi: Rushour’s street map, so being the lonely shut-in that I am I spent the time to make this GIF overlaying LTR’s roads onto London’s streets and hey, you know what? It’s a pretty good match. Not accurate enough that playing LTR for a few hours would help you navigate the nation’s capital – the fact that the real London’s buildings don’t look like crudely-painted cereal boxes would probably throw you of – but some effort was definitely expended on getting the layout mostly correct.

I like that you can drive down into the Tube system. There’s not much to it, but it’s a fun shortcut. Well, it would be a shortcut if it didn’t take so bloody long to navigate the stairs that lead down here. Also note that there’s an old lady standing on the platform, and she’s trying to hail a taxi. I hope the destination she sets is the care home she’s clearly wandered away from.

London Taxi: Rushour is the only game I’ve ever played where an angry priest gesticulated wildly at me because I didn’t drop them off at the cathedral in time, so there’s that. What’s the matter, vicar? Does God not like to be kept waiting? Calm down, I’m sure he’ll forgive you.

Oh yeah, these things. Hidden around the map are these bulldog tokens. Some of them are tucked away in secret corners, like the top of this car park or down in the Tube, while some are “rewards” for suffering through the fist-clenchingly tedious process of trying to properly line up a jump off one of the game’s ramps. Collecting the bulldog tokens is how you unlock the other characters in the game, but it takes so many token and so much collecting that even after a few hours playtime I only managed to unlock one character. Okay, two if you count the second version of Andy who drives a silver taxi instead of a black one, but you shouldn’t count that because he’s the same character but driving a silver car. If for some insane reason you did want to unlock all the characters, my advice would be to play Perfect Day mode, grab the tokens near your starting point then fail a drop-off and retry the mode. The tokens all respawn, but you keep the ones you grabbed last time. This also cuts down on loading times, which are pretty long in LTR.

The one new character I did unlock was Stacey. She’s very cheerful, isn’t she? So cheerful, in fact, that I’m a bit worried The Joker has used Joker Gas to place her under his control so she’ll carry out his diabolical plans. You know, his plans to, erm, overcharge for taxi rides?

So after unlocking Stacey, I tried her out for a little while and realised that she’s identical to Andy in terms of driving. Her car handles the same (badly) and looks the same (except red). For a brief moment I thought she might have been slightly slower than Andy, but on further investigation I’m pretty certain there’s no difference between the two and I thought Stacey was slower because I had so thoroughly convinced myself that there must be some differences between them.

That’s about it for London Taxi: Rushour. It tried to be Crazy Taxi and failed, although that’s hardly surprising considering the developers were clearly working with no budget and they’re not Sega. The small game map and overall sluggish pace mean you’d probably get bored of LTR pretty quickly even if it was fun to play, but sadly it isn’t. Those kerbs really do ruin the entire experience. Would it be a decent game without the kerbs? Part of me wants to say yes, but I suspect that’s just because I really enjoy games like this – pissing about with the taxi missions is always my favourite part of any Grand Theft Auto game, that’s for sure. But no, it’d still be a dull experience with little character and almost no, I dunno, flair or pizazz.

In short, I’d really like another city-based taxi insanity simulator… but not this one. It did make me ponder a hypothetical game that would work like Crazy Taxi in reverse – rather than trying to get your passenger to their destination as quickly as possible, you’d have to milk their fare by going round the houses while trying to stop your customer getting suspicious that you’re ripping them off by distracting them with small talk about the weather or roadworks. Game developers of the world, you can have that one for free. Finally, I’d like to give a shout-out to the taxi driver I had the other week for turning his meter off while we were lost in a housing estate thanks to roadworks. You didn’t have to do that, pal, and I appreciate the gesture. Be excellent to each other, and all that.



After playing through Alien Storm and its smorgasbord of different gameplay styles last time out, I thought I’d go for something a bit simpler, a little more sedate, with today’s article – and what could be more simple than a Commodore 64 single-screen platformer about a young boy’s quest to escape from a house that wants to murder him at every turn? That’s right, get your jumping boots on because it’s time for Henry’s House, programmed by Chris Murray and distributed by English Software!

Well, that’s certainly a title screen. A screen with a title on it. Yup. As you can see, Henry’s House was released in 1984, which puts it after Manic Miner but before Super Mario Bros. in the timeline of classic platformers, and it definitely leans towards the Manic Miner end of that spectrum: single-screen rooms, no scrolling, lots of precise jumping required and a host of weird things that want to kill you.
You might also notice that the title screen describes this game as “starring little Henry,” as though the Henry in question is someone we should know. As we’ll see in a while, that might actually be the case.

The game begins with this opening room. Most of the other rooms in the game are clear analogues of rooms you might well have in your house – bathroom, kitchen and what-have-you – but in this case I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be. The enormous stomping shoes and the fact that it’s the first room in the house imply it could be a porch or boot-room of some kind, but what kind of person stores their precious crown in the porch?
Whatever this room is supposed to be, the goal is the same as in every other room in the game. You control Henry – that’s him up there, with the baseball cap and little white bootees – and your goal is to tidy up this bloody mess, I’m not running a hotel here, pick up after yourself, etc. Most of the objects you can see on the screen here can be collected, and you need to grab them all to move on to the next screen. Bow ties, question marks, multicoloured sacks: all must be gathered to allow Henry’s continued progress. After you’ve grabbed most of them, a key appears which you much also collect, but you still have to collect every other item before you can head for the exit door.

Now that the basic concept has been firmly grasped, Henry can get to work. The only actions Henry can perform are walking, climbing ladders and jumping, so it’s not going to take you long to get a handle on the controls. You jump by pressing the fire button and not by pushing the joystick up, which is a welcome relief after the amount of deaths I suffered in Great Giana Sisters thanks to the latter control method.
Most of this first screen is spend figuring out what will kill Henry on contact. Some fatal traps are more obvious than others. The large shoes are a clear threat, because they’re moving up and down like a typical platformer trap and also because they’re clown shoes. Grinding children beneath their oversized soles are what clown shoes are for. The row of smiley faces might look more friendly, but they way they’re spinning around clearly indicates that they should be avoided, and indeed they should. After that, things get less obvious. Jumping into the crown results in instant death, perhaps as a warning on the corrupting influence of absolute power. However, the real kicker is that the walls will kill Henry if he so much as lightly trails his fingertips across them as one might caress a lover. That’s why he’s disintegrating in the screenshot above, he bumped into a wall. In short, if it’s not the floor you’re standing on, a ladder or one of the collectable items, it will kill you.

You also lose a life if you fall a distance greater than Henry’s height, something which gave me blood-chilling flashbacks to Spelunker. Fortunately Henry’s House is not quite as soul-grindingly hateful as Broderbund’s masochistic potholing adventure, but it does have its moments.
Once I figured out that everything in Henry’s House is lethal, even the artificially-enhanced gravity, I managed to make my way around the screen and collect all the items. It certainly helps that the hit detection in this game is absolutely spot-on, and if a hazardous pixel isn’t directly touching you then you aren’t going to lose a life. That was a relief – if Henry’s House had wonky collisions, I reckon it’d be borderline unplayable.

Once you’ve cleared a stage, you get a brief animation of Henry walking between rooms. I know the title screen called him “little Henry,” but just how little is he supposed to be? I actually got a tape measure out and checked Henry’s approximate height out against my living room door. My best guess is that Henry is about two foot tall.

Here’s room number two, and it’s a recognisable room this time. Unless Henry’s some kind of madman who had his bath plumbed into the kitchen, then this is the bathroom, and it’s packed with bathroom-related items. Deadly toothpaste, lethal taps, a spotted dick with a cartoon face that’s also, y’know, a remorseless killer. What, you don’t store your sentient dried fruit puddings in the bathroom? You really should, the extra humidity helps to keep them moist. Also in the top-middle of this room are a floating set of teeth. I didn’t realise they were teeth until a huge toothbrush appeared and started scrubbing them.

The gameplay is the same in this stage as it was in the first and will be in all the subsequent stages, but some screens do have their own small gimmicks. In this case, collecting the plug at the top-right of the screen causes the water to drain out of the bath, allowing Henry to climb inside and collect the items. It'd make more sense if the plug was anywhere near the bath, but it's still a nice touch. You will have to watch out for the water dripping from the tap while you’re in there, which, of course, is deadly. I’d rather die by drowning than have to go past the hovering teeth again, if I’m honest. Those things are creeping me out.

Next is the kitchen. I like the kitchen, because the first thing I noticed about it was the very “dad joke” sight of flower falling into the mixer. I hope the game ends with Henry meeting a nice young lady and giving her a bouquet of flour.
Less pleasing was that fact that in this very English game, a game that was published by a company called English Software, a game that plays “Rule Britannia” whenever you move between stages, in this game I was killed by tea. Glorious, life-giving tea, blasphemously transformed into a method of murder! That’s just not on. There aren’t even any biscuits to soak it up, for shame.

A cosy living room now, with a roaring log fire and the comforting glow of the television. Given that the TV presenter has the caption “Chris” underneath him, I’d imagine that he’s a cameo appearance by the game’s programmer. Apparently Chris Murray was only 16 when he created Henry’s House, so I’m willing to overlook the fact that it’s a very short game with very basic gameplay. I mean, how many computer games had you or I released when we were 16? I didn’t have time for anything like that when I was 16, I was too busy moderating Buffy the Vampire Slayer message boards.

Of course, being short and simple doesn’t make Henry’s House a bad game. It’s quite a fun little romp, in truth. There may only be eight stages but they’re all interesting to look at, with some charming sprites and a sense of playful fun that means the constant deaths never feel spiteful, even when Henry fatally splinters both his legs after falling a mere seven inches. Henry’s House avoids many of the problems with the genre by giving the player tight controls and accurate collision detection. There is a bit of a problem with Henry’s jumps in that they look kind of janky, as though he’s missing some animation frames, but he always moves along the same trajectory so it doesn’t make the game any harder.

Onward to the play room, and at first I was confused about how to get down from the upper platforms without leaving Henry as a crumpled heap on the floor. Then I realised I could jump into the toy plane and use it as a kind of mid-way stepping stone. So I jumped out of the plane to reach the items at the bottom of the screen, and when I did Henry was wearing a parachute. “Great,” I thought, “I can gently drift to the bottom of the-” but that’s all the thinking I managed to do because Henry’s parachute disappeared and he dropped to his death. Oh well. Riding in the plane was fun, at least.

A comfortable and cosy bedroom for the next stage, where the large amount of dummies are making me wonder just how old Henry is supposed to be. He seemed a bit older at the start of the game, then there was the sight of him being tiny next to those doors, then riding in a toy plane. Is Henry regressing? Is this some kind of Benjamin Button situation, and by the end of the game I’m going to be controlling a single sperm? A confession: I’ve never seen nor read Benjamin Button, but I assume that’s how it ends.
This screen does have a gimmick, but it’s a relatively minor one: you have to build the ladder up to the top-right by collecting all the “ladder +1” icons. That’s all well and good, but collecting the items that are up on that shelf is a real pain in the arse because of the patrolling radio that moves back and forth up there. You have just – just -enough time to climb up, grab one of the items and get back down to the ladder and safety before the radio clobbers you, but the timing on it is so tight that Henry’s House begins to slide towards being frustrating… and you have to do it twice. A Commodore 64 platformer being difficult thanks to it requiring extremely precise timing is hardly a shocker, but I was rather enjoying Henry’s House’s slightly more laid-back feel.

The penultimate screen is the dining room, laden with a banquet fit for royalty – and here’s where we get to the secret of Henry’s House. Apparently, this game was originally going to be called Home Sweet Home, but in a predictably money-grabbing but (I would argue) not very well thought-out plan the publishers opted to rename the game Henry’s House in order to cash in on the then-recent birth of Prince Harry. So why isn’t it called “Harry’s House,” I hear you ask? Because Prince Harry’s actual, given name is Henry, and if he ever manages to make his way on to the British throne presumably he’d be called King Henry IX. There you go, that’s a bit of monarchical trivia for you. I don’t think that particular scenario is ever likely to come to pass. Not because William is ahead of Harry in the line to the throne, but because I am now convinced that dear old Lizzy II has become immortal and will never vacate the throne.

For the final screen, Henry’s House does away with the whole, erm, “house” concept and drops our hero into a pixellated Halloween decoration. I am more than happy with that. Well, in a visual sense, anyway, and naturally I do love the way this screen looks. Cheerful skulls, dangling spiders and a witch who summons a ghost from the netherworld by banging her broom on the floor like someone trying to get their downstairs neighbours to shut the hell up at two in the morning. Best of all is that coffin with DRACULA written on it, an especially wonderful sight now that we know we’re playing as Prince Harry, so presumably one of Britain’s royal residences must have a vampire’s coffin in the basement. I don’t think that’s the coffin of Dracula himself, mind you. He’s too classy to have his name painted on the side like a vanity numberplate. My best guess is that it’s a Dracula® brand coffin, in the same vein (no pun intended) as a George Foreman grill. Now that I can imagine, Dracula loves monologuing so I bet he’d jump at the chance to promote his own line of luxury caskets. “What is a coffin? A beautiful pile of comfort! Hi, I’m Dracula, and I’m here to tell you about an exciting revolution in tomb furnishings.”

As much as I like the aesthetics of this screen, the gameplay ain’t so great thanks to one small, beaked problem: this goddamn homing missile of a bird. It flies in from the left of the screen, and unlike every other enemy or obstacle in the game it doesn’t move along a set route but instead flies directly at Henry, zeroing in on the young prince with the ferocity of the most fervent republican. This is particularly problematic during the final part of the screen, when you have to run across the flat plane at the top of the screen. If the bird appears on the left while you’re running for the exit, you’re screwed because there’s no room to avoid it. It’s a hugely annoying end to a game which otherwise had been free of such tedious bullshit, and it’s almost enough to ruin the entire experience. If I’d had to struggle against this bird another ten or twenty times rather than fluking my way past it, it might well have ruined Henry’s House, but fluke my way past it I did. Afterwards I realised that picking up the crosses on the screen causes any on-screen bird to disappear. It’s still difficult even with that knowledge, but it would have been somewhat less kick-in-the-dick painful.

Once you’ve cleared the spooky screen, that’s it. Back to the first screen to do it all again with nary a congratulatory message to be seen. Maybe there is an ending if you make a certain number of loops through the game, but I don’t think Henry’s House is a strong enough gameplay experience to make that worthwhile, plus I never want to see that bird again.
There’s not much else to say about Henry’s House, honestly. It does what it does pretty well (final bird menace aside) and it looks nice. The action’s simple but precise, and sometimes that’s all you need, you know? This isn’t a game that requires a lot of deep dissection – the fact I’ve managed to write two and a half thousand words about it is down to my own personal issues rather than Henry’s House being all that interesting. Still, you can’t argue with that flower / flour joke.



So, part of the reason that I chose to write about today’s game is because Sonic Mania is out. I haven’t played it, but I’ve watched a bit of other people playing it and even as someone who’s not particularly a Sonic fan I must say it looks very good. Plus, it got me to thinking that I’d like to cover a brightly-coloured action game from Sega, something from a genre you don’t see much these days and one that’s littered with nods to the games of Sega’s past. As a result, here’s a bunch of words about Sega’s 1990 arcade triplicated-fun-em-up Alien Storm!

First things first, that’s a really great logo. Striking typography in a colour that could only be called “Alien Blood Green” it it was a crayon, set into a what appears to be the contents of an alien’s skip during some extensive home remodelling. There’s also an eyeball peering out of the bottom-right corner. If you want to increase the spookiness of your logo, slapping a twitching eyeball on it somewhere never fails.
Interestingly, just before this title screen appears the logos for previous Sega classics Golden Axe, Shinobi and Altered Beast fly past. I presume the intent was to create a “from the creators of such hits as...” feel, as well as firmly establishing that Alien Storm takes pride of place in this famous lineage. Of the three it’s Golden Axe that feels like Alien Storm’s closest ancestor, but we’ll get to that later.

For now, let’s meet the game’s heroes. They’re busy working their day jobs as the owners and staff of the “Alien Burgers” fast food van, because there’s not much funding for intergalactic monster fighters and they have to pay the bills somehow. I think this might be the burger van that used to park outside club nights at the student union, their burgers definitely had something ineffably alien about them.
Anyway, these fine, upstanding folks who I’m sure obey all food safety laws are Gordon and Karla – they run the kitchen – and Scooter, who is a robot, a waiter and, one assumes, a sort of mobile condiment dispenser. When an alien menace threatens the Earth, these three heroes switch from flipping burgers to cracking skulls. Literally flip, in the case of the van’s signage, which flips over to change from “Alien Burgers” to “Alien Busters.”

Here’s a wonderful little touch – if you go into the game’s service menu, you can change the place name on the van’s signboard to read whatever you’d like. Normally it says “Sega World,” but obviously I changed it to VGJunk. How cool is that? Well, let me check the Cool-O-Meter… and it’s a solid nine-out-of-ten! Very cool indeed. Hmm, just out of curiosity, I wonder what’d happen if I put myself through the Cool-O-Meter? Oh. Well, that’s disappointing, but not unexpected.

I really like that the first time you see an alien, it’s standing in a 24-hour convenience store with a human captive tucked under its arm. It gives the impression that the alien was throwing a dinner party but forgot to pick up the main ingredient.

I decided to begin the game as Gordon, for no reason other than he’s the first one highlighted on the character select screen. Gordon’s got a little bit of Elvis about him, especially on his status portrait where the high collar and quiff definitely bring to mind The King during his overweight, jumpsuited phase. One thing Gordon has that Elvis didn’t is high-tech gun that fires short-range bursts of electricity, which is what he’s going to be using to fight these alien slugs that were hiding underneath the bins. The aliens in this game love hiding underneath things, so bear that in mind.

As you begin zapping the hideous creatures, it’s clear that (for now) Alien Storm is a side-scrolling beat-em-up. You walk from left to right, eliminating the aliens by repeatedly tapping the attack button to perform combos in exactly the way you’d expect. You can also run by double tapping the stick or press a button to fling yourself across the screen, a move that’s useful both for avoiding incoming attacks and closing the distance on far-away foes by flying towards them with your fist outstretched like a human cannonball with a grudge against space monsters. The fighting mostly proceeds as you would expect it to in any other side-scrolling brawler, although it does have its quirks.

For one thing, most of the enemies in the game are quite a bit shorter than the player character so you spend a lot of time attacking downwards. Thankfully, all the characters have their own moves to compensate for the slight angle: Gordon, for instance, whips out a rocket launcher to deal with the beasts nibbling at his toes. An extreme response when a hefty boot to the face might be the more expedient solution, but you can’t give this alien scum an inch.
It’s also a bit strange that your characters have projectile weapons, but the projectiles don’t travel very far, leading to the slightly strange sensation that you’re not at the right distance to be landing hits – it feels like you should either be slightly closer or further away. Still, it’s not something that takes much adjusting for, and after this first brief section of xeno-zapping action you should have the gist of it figured out.

Don’t get complacent, though: after a couple of screens, Gordon makes his way into the supermarket from the intro and Alien Storm flips genres. It’s a first-person crosshair shooter now! You control the character’s targeting reticle, aliens appear and you have to shoot them. I hope you like tapping the fire button, because you’re going to be doing it a lot. All told, it’s a very self-explanatory section, being basically a digital carnival game.

It’s an enjoyable area, even if it is a bit basic. Your crosshair moves quickly enough that you can respond to threats, but not so fast that it’s difficult to control. The aliens jump out at you in well-designed waves, so it doesn’t feel too random. However, the absolute best thing about these shooter sections is the way you can blow the shit out of the background. It always warms my heart when a game gives you the opportunity to completely level an area – this is one of the reasons I love the EDF games so much – and in Alien Storm’s shooting gallery every square inch of the background is a viable target, with shredded debris and canned goods flying toward the player as Gordon’s conveniently elongated electro-gun smashes the store to pieces. There’s even a reward for wrecking the joint: many background elements reveal small “Energy” power-ups when destroyed, and you’re going to need those later.

One of the aliens takes slightly more shots to kill than the others, but there’s nothing you’d really consider a “boss” in the shooting stage and soon it’s all over. Gordon leaves the store with the niggling thought that the shop’s owner may have preferred a lingering death in the aliens’ incubation chambers to having to clean up the mess he’s left behind. Then he gets into the ultra-rad Alien Bustersmobile and drives away to the next stage. Just looking at the excellent sprite work on that van is making me sad that there was never an Alien Storm toy line, complete with vehicles and a “Gross-Out Grocery” playset with exploding produce action.

The Sega references come thick and fast during the introduction to mission two, which posits a world where Sega completely dominate the television industry. Altered Beast gets a mention, and I assume the word “Crack” back there is supposed to be the first half of Crack Down, Sega’s top-down arcade shooter. Shinobi’s Joe Musashi makes an appearance at the bottom-left – at least I assume it’s supposed to be Joe, it is a very small image – but best of all is what seems to be a promo for a Golden Axe TV show. Man, I’d love to see a Golden Axe TV show. I’d want it to have the budget and “prestige television” ambitions of Game of Thrones, but each episode is just an hour of three people walking from left to right and beating up skeletons.

Mission two begins with some more street brawling, and I’m very glad I managed to capture a screenshot of Gordon in mid-flight as he uses his rolling attack to pounce, tiger-like, onto a small green gremlin. You can get some real distance on this move, I’d recommend you use it a lot to get out of tricky situations.

However, sometimes rolling isn’t enough. In those situations, you can press the third control button to activate a screen-clearing special move. In Gordon’s case, he summons a hyper-advanced fighter jet to bombard the aliens scum. The fact that the jet says “US Air Force” on it raises some questions, namely “why the hell am I out here in a sleeveless onesie when the US military have hyper-advanced fighter jets?”
Unlike most belt-scrolling brawlers, where using a special move costs some of your health, in Alien Storm you have a supply of “energy” that’s depleted every time you summon the big guns. That’s why it’s so important to destroy everything you can in the shooter stages, because later in the game having a plentiful supply of energy becomes almost mandatory.

Suddenly it’s all change once again as Alien Storm introduces its third and final gameplay style into the mix. It’s run-n-gun action in the most literal sense, with your character sprinting across a scrolling landscape while trying to shoot the alien hordes that appear in front of them. It’s closer to a horizontal shoot-em-up than anything else: you can move up and down, and your weapon now has the ability to fire projectiles all the way across the screen, so while it’s not quite Gradius it’s definitely in the same ballpark.

Is it any fun? Yeah, I’d say so. It’s certainly fast, and aside from a lack of autofire it controls well. There’s enough danger to keep your heart rate up, and I was always happy to see a running segment come up because they’re the easiest gameplay style of the three and a bit of a break is nice every now and then. In the intro, Alien Storm describes itself as “triplicated fun!” and so far, I’d have to agree with that assessment. While the gameplay isn’t anything particularly mind-blowing, what’s there is fun and doesn’t suffer too much from the feeling of spreading itself too thin that so many multi-genre games suffer from. Mind you, it could be a substantially less fun game to play and I’d still be enjoying, thanks in no small part to the absolutely grotesque enemy designs. Some of them seem heavily influenced by The Thing, especially the ones made from spider legs and random organs, but each and every one of them is a precious, hideous lump of biological randomness and it warms my heart to see them. I mean, check out the grey thing above: part bat, part slug, part screaming mound of unsettlingly human faces. That’s my kind of monster design.

I decided to switch to playing as Karla for a while. As a brunette with a shoulder-slung flamethrower who fights space monsters, I have to assume that Ripley from the Alien movies was a big influence on Karla’s design. Speaking of designs, check out that alien child. How wonderful is that thing, with its shorts, its baseball cap and its arm-swinging, carefree gait? I have so many questions about that thing. Was it a human child that’s been somehow infected by the aliens, or is this just what juvenile aliens look like – that is, like bootleg Bart Simpson merchandise created in the tat factories of Zeta Reticuli 5?

She might have a flamethrower rather than an electro-cannon, but Karla fights almost identically to Gordon. In fact, all three characters are pretty interchangeable, much as they were in Golden Axe. I mentioned that Golden Axe is Alien Storm’s closest relative, and obviously that’s mostly true of the beat-em-up sections. The combat feels very much like it’s running on the same engine as Golden Axe, especially rhythm of the attacks in your combo and the running / charging moves. I believe the staff that made Golden Axe did work on Alien Storm as part of Sega’s “Team Shinobi” development arm, (which might have become Sega AM1, but I’m not sure on that,) and overall Alien Storm definitely feels like a pseudo-sequel to Golden Axe, or at least it would if it wasn’t for all the running and first-person shooting segments. It’s strange, actually – I always think of Alien Storm as a side-scrolling beat-em-up, even though that only makes up a third of the gameplay. Maybe that’s because I played the Megadrive port a lot as a kid, that version felt a bit more focused on the hand-to-tentacle combat.

Here’s another shooter section, inside the electronics store from the stage’s intro. As before, aliens are everywhere and will pop up to with swipe at you with their claws or vomit balls of… something at the player. Balls of vomit, I suppose, but deadly alien vomit. It’s all very straightforward. Don’t worry about the civilians in the background, you can’t hurt them. It’s a bloody good job too, a flamethrower is not exactly the weapon of a precise marksman.

After that section, it’s on to mission three: more city streets packed with aliens. In this case, there are immobile sporepods that belch gas at the player, plus these flying creatures with heads like a grim-n-gritty reboot of Pac-Man and giant grabbing hands. You know what they say about aliens with massive hands… that’s right, they’ll pick you up and then drop you on to the concrete. You’d think the flamethrower would make them think twice, but their only purpose in life is aggressive hugging and they will not be dissuaded from their mission. Actually, when I was playing as Karla I did notice that it seemed a little more difficult to hit the aliens with her flamethrower, as though it had a slightly smaller hitbox or something. It might have just been me, but I noticed it happen enough times that I quickly decided to switch to playing as Scooter.

Pictured above: Scooter’s arm, which is also Scooter’s gun. In addition: cars, aliens. Shoot the aliens. Hell, shoot the cars, too, they might have energy inside. Above all, however, I would prioritise shooting the aliens on the ceiling. They’re not the most dangerous, but the fact they look like sentient piles of shit is upsetting me and I’d like them removed post-haste.

Here’s Scooter on the move, both running and gunning. The alien hordes stand no chance against our mechanised friend, and he’s my personal favourite of the three characters. His general build and the circular shape on his abdomen bring to mind beloved metallic fusspot C-3PO, except Scooter is more useful in a fight.

Speaking of fighting, Scooter mostly attacks using an electric whip, something that always makes me think of Lister from Red Dwarf saying “a rather sturdy holowhip” whenever I see it. I assume Scooter’s whip can also mince alien derrières like burger meat, but if that doesn’t work Scooter can fall back on the gun in the sole of his foot or the tiny grenades that pop out of the top of his head.

The pinnacle of Scooter’s combat repertoire, however, is his special attack. He blows himself up, leaving only his head behind. While the enemies are stunned / dead, one of Scooter’s spare robot bodies runs unto the screen, picks up the stray head and affixes it to his shoulder in what is one of the all-time greatest special attacks in retro gaming, even if it does make you wonder how Scooter can ever be defeated by the aliens if he has a supply of spare bodies waiting just off-camera.

After another shooter section, Scooter faces off against a boss. This is unusual, because Alien Storm doesn’t really do bosses, at least not in the traditional beat-em-up manner of having one waiting at the end of each stage. This thing is definitely a boss, though. How can I tell? Because he’s got three forms, that’s how. The first is this bearded electro-slug monstrosity, rendered in a delightful shade of trodden-in bubblegum pink. I had quite a bit of trouble fighting this thing – I never really figured out the best direction to attack it from, and because it can shoot lightning in all directions it never felt safe to go near it.

In the end I just made Scooter blow up a few times, which caused the boss to mutate into an enormous horned creature with hands like mittens and a rarely-seen one-head-two-necks situation. Maybe someone was trying to replicate the xenomorphs from Aliens using a misunderstood description of their two sets of jaws.
This form is much easier to fight, because its attacks aren’t quite so all-encompassing. You still have to watch out for its most dangerous attack, where it creates a fist from the flesh of its pendulous gut and punches you with it, but in general some hit-and-run tactics will see you through.

Finally, the boss morphs into this amazing and deeply unpleasant behemoth. It’s a design that possesses the Lovecraftian notion of a wholly alien biology, while at the same time being extremely goofy. It’s not often you get to fight something that looks like a vengeful spirit summoned by the collective anger of all the world’s doner kebabs.
This form of the boss likes to fire small explosives from the, erm, protuberances around its bottom edge. Let’s call them “trunks,” because any alternative is too unpleasant to contemplate. Once again, hit-and-run tactics are the way to go. I think. I spent most of the fight doing the jump attack through the boss, and that seemed to work.

Once King Kebab is destroyed, it’s on to mission four. The alien’s UFO is in sight, and it’s up to the Alien Busters to track it down and destroy it. It terms of gameplay, it’s more of the same: some shooting, some running, some beating ‘em up. The big boss did mark a noticeable increase in Alien Storm’s difficulty level, and I’ll be honest – from here on out, getting through the stages becomes less engaging and even veers towards becoming a bit of a slog as the coin-munching habits of the arcade make themselves felt. That said, I’m not disappointed. How could I be? There’s a large alien being ridden by two smaller aliens, one of them pointing out the way ahead and presumably barking out orders like “get the big guys in the suits first, they’ve got more biomass to genetically tamper with!” I’d happily play through Rugrats: Totally Angelica again if it showed me scenes like this between stages.

Yes, I think it’s fair to say that Alien Storm’s big draw is that it looks fantastic, both in terms of design and execution. The graphics are pin-sharp and vibrant, the alien designs are unique and joyfully disgusting and there are fun details scattered throughout every scene, like the chickens that appear when you’re fighting in this warehouse. The way they look slightly confused and wander away when you free them from their cages – as you’d expect a chicken to do, even in the midst of an alien invasion – is utterly charming to me.

This mission ends with a running section, where you must chase the UFO and avoid the spiked barriers it drops while shooting it in the arse. I think the alien craft is biological enough for me to describe the back end as its "arse", right?

Okay, now Scooter’s been eaten by a different spaceship. This one definitely has an arse. I mean, it’s got a face on the front, so it stands to reason.

For their final and most dangerous missions, the Alien Busters find themselves deep inside the warm, pulsating innards of the alien mothership. Being trapped inside a nightmarish labyrinth of heaving flesh and dripping ichor means I’m not going to be fooled by the alien hiding under the vending machine, but I appreciate the effort.

On the subject of dripping ichor, this shooter section has more nauseating fluids than a swinger’s club on Free Laxatives day. I have to assume that causing such massive internal damage is hurting the ship, and that’s why it’s set these kangaroo-like aliens after me. Unlike our Earth kangaroos, however, their pouches contain not adorable baby kangaroos but vicious biting parasites that the aliens haul from their pouches and throw at your face.

Having battled through the first wave of the mothership’s defences, the Alien Busters find themselves in the ship’s cratered, wormy rear end. The backside of the ship is where its brain is located, so I guess this ship is also a politician, ha ha ha, thank you, a bit of satirical humour for you there.

The final mission is made up of a few single-screen beat-em-up sections and a rematch against the triple-changing boss, and before long you’ll find yourself at the ultimate showdown. It’s a shooter section, and as you can see above it gets a little hectic. Vast swarms of aliens flood in from all sides of the screen, and it’s nigh-impossible to avoid taking large amounts of damage simply because you can’t shoot all the aliens in time. It can get a bit aggravating, having gone past “challenging” and into “you die now” territory, but you can continue where you left off if you die so it’s not too bad.
Your final target is the brain in the background, Ol’ Squishy itself, the alien mastermind. Hang on, I recognise that eye – this is the same creature that was watching me from behind the title screen logo, right? Whatever it is, it doesn’t do anything, so you’re free to spend the battle desperately struggling to protect yourself from the attacking aliens. If you can survive for long enough, eventually enough of your wayward shots will hit the brain for the alien leader to be defeated and the Alien Busters to emerge victorious.

With the mothership destroyed, our heroes float back to Earth in a convenient space-bubble that comes to their rescue. They drift down to the planet where they will resume their lives as humble burger-flippers, ever alert to the danger from beyond the stars. Fearless, mighty, generous with the fried onions: they are the Alien Busters!

Another thing Alien Storm has in common with Golden Axe is that they both have a wonderfully daft ending that plays after the regular “world saved, good job” ending. In Golden Axe the game’s characters escaped from the arcade machine and into the real world: in Alien Storm, our heroes perform a strange dance reminiscent of Madness’ nutty walk through the vastness of space while enemy sprites fly past, interspersed with flashing images of various scenes from the game. It is a fitting end to a deeply, captivatingly odd game.

The final scores are in, and it looks like Scooter’s in with a good chance of taking home the gold! A couple of tens, and unexpected eight from the notoriously hard-to-please Gilius Thunderhead and only a three from the man in the suit to drag things down. This is because I made that crack about you having the most biomass, isn’t it? A shocking lack of impartiality on the judging panel there, folks.

Well, that was a hell of a ride, wasn’t it? And boy, did I have a good time. I have to split my appraisal of Alien Storm into two halves, I reckon. On one hand, there’s the gameplay. It’s fun, especially in the earlier stages, with each of the three modes adding something a bit different and none of them feeling half-arsed. However, as the game progresses, the number of aliens ramps up and the difficulty level becomes ever more punishing, it does lose some of its appeal. I think the biggest problem is that it starts to feel slow after the three-stage boss, and you’re wading through a morass of mutants where before you were zipping through the action at good clip. It gets a bit bogged down, that’s all.
Then there’s everything else. The presentation, the sense of fun, the overall feeling that the developers were having a great time making a bonkers action game – this is what makes Alien Storm such a pleasure to experience. That’s the best way to think of Alien Storm: as an experience, rather than as a pure gameplay vehicle, and any game starring a whip-wielding, self-destructing robot called Scooter who gets punched by an alien monster’s gut-fist is worth experiencing.

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