Posted on June 30th, 2009 8 comments
Maker: Naxat Soft
Release Date: 9/14/88
Price: 5200 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 22.66 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The pinball table is laden with aliens which you must defeat through your ball control. Fulfill the required conditions and shoot the ball into the alien’s mouth to reach a bonus stage. The enormous table is divided into two vertical screens.”
A couple of firsts in PCE history here — the first game from Naxat Soft, and by relation (since they coded a lot of their PCE games), the first of several classic titles on the system that Compile was involved with. (The TG16 release of Alien Crush has a Hudson Soft credit, but I don’t know how they got into the act, unless they were responsible for redrawing the US version’s title screen — the only difference between the two cards.)
I could write an MBA thesis about Compile — the company that made its new employees wear pink shirts for the first year on the job — but I want to save that for later so I can discuss Naxat Soft/Taxan/Kaga Electronics. At the late ’80s, there was only Kaga Tech, an electronics distributor that used “Taxan” as their US/Europe consumer brand. Largely they worked in monitors, and I remember all the Apple IIs in the middle-school lab sporting off-brown Taxan amber-screen jobbies. They went into the video-game biz big in 1988, taking a surprisingly hardcore approach to the console industry. Naxat released games like…well, Alien Crush; Taxan licensed classics like Star Soldier and commissioned the chronically underappreciated KID shooter Burai Fighter exclusively for America. The Naxat label survived through the 16-bit generation before losing its way on the PlayStation and releasing everything from soccer simulations to ridiculous fighting game Killing Zone; they changed names to Kaga Tech in 1998 and gradually descended into girl-game purgatory.
The PCE was Naxat’s canvas of choice; they put out 50 games on the thing and were one of the few third-parties in Japan to throw a bone at the PC-FX, albeit a rotten mahjong one. Their debut effort is, I feel, a game that defines the early PCE better than most other titles — dark, dank, not appetizing to casuals, more rewarding as you plunge more and more time into it. The game’s a little bare-bones by modern standards — one two-screen pinball table, four bonus stages that are all kind of the same thing; Devil’s Crush improved mightily on those faults — but in many ways, it’s the most impactful release of the TG16 launch era. Everything oozes atmosphere, from that cute hive-mind thingie on the bottom screen to the bonus-screen music, which uses a bass instrument that sounds like it came off an Atari 2600. Can’t get enough of it.
I wonder if NEC should’ve pushed this a little harder in America. Aliens wasn’t that old back then, either. The game has some programming issues that could’ve used fixing — it’s disorienting when the ball flits between screens rapidly, and the sound effects have a tendency to horn in on the music channels, ruining the song — but it’s still an amazing piece of audiovisual work.
Alien Crush is perhaps famous for its ending — a silly, 5-second-long one, accessible only by spending approximately 12 hours straight, no saving or passwords or nothin’, to max out your score. Instead of inlining that video, I want you to view this general gameplay clip, which should give some clue to both the game’s primitive pinball simplicity and that atmosphere I keep harping on.