[I ♥ The PC Engine] Alien CrushPosted on June 30th, 2009 11 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.
1. this was the sole video game i could get my father to play with me more than once. i have fantastic memories of our month-or-so-long alien crush sessions.
2. this was the game that first got me interested in the TG16 — the first ad (that i remember) for the system had these weird “shards” of screenshots and one of them was alien crush graphics. they looked so damn good.
3. about the bonus stage music: i know rite? i can listen to that on endless loop for like ever.
“I could write an MBA thesis about Compile”
I hope you will, because they’re one of my favorite lesser-known developers.
This game, as you pointed out, simply oozes a wonderfully eerie, dark atmosphere. The attention to detail (everything is so well-polished, especially considering the console games during this period), the gruesome aesthetics that seem more of an homage than merely a rip-off, the genuinely addictive game itself… This was one game I kept going back to, even after I bought Devil’s Crush.
Of course, it’s the goddamned music that was the icing on the cupcake. You guys dug the bonus stage music? Well, for me, I just couldn’t get enough of the High Score screen. I would purposefully not enter my last initial, simply to listen to the music. Thankfully, the song went on for a bit before you were dumped back at the title screen. Everything song is divine, though.
I wish there were more songs, though. The more to cherish.
Later, Alien Crush was used in promotions for the TurboExpress, where NEC offered it, along with other older titles, to folks who bought the handheld.
Big electronics company > Off-shoot game company in the 80s > Good or at least passable games > The 90s arrive and 2D games die off > Off-shoot game company severs ties with head company (or vice versa) > Jumps into porn games > possible death
I’ve seen this before.
Desperately looking forward to “The (extremely brief) Rise and Fall of Spike McFang”
God, I remember going to the Wiz with my grandmother shortly after the TG16 was released. They had Alien Crush running on one of the display TVs. I stood staring at it for like half an hour, trying to look as sad as possible. My grandmother was supposed to notice my frowns. She was supposed to ask “What’s wrong? Do you want that video game?” And I’d say yes, and she would buy it, and I’d be happy. But she didn’t buy it for me. My fake frown turned legit. So sad!
She did end up buying me a Genesis that Christmas, which was very nice. There was a brief period in 1989 where my ultimate dream was to own an Altered Beast arcade cabinet, so you’d think I would have been overjoyed by this gift, but by the time Christmas came along I’d smartened up. I’d seen Alien Crush. I wanted THAT. And Keith Courage. (Shut up I thought it looked cool ok? And I still think the enemy designs are kinda neat.) So I pouted briefly, got yelled at (which was totally warranted), then ran up to my room to play Altered Beast with my cousins for the rest of the day. It was great, because it was a new video game system, but my heart still longed for a Turbo. Even after getting Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Phantasy Star 2 I was wishing I had a TG16 instead. It looked so AWESOME.
And I did get the TG16 not too long after. I was spoiled! And I was right. It was awesome, with the Naxat pinball games being the most awesome of all. And why am I spamming your blog comments with my stupid reminiscences? I think I’m just overwhelmed that you’re blogging again! I absolutely loved video-fenky/senki, and these PCE posts have been wonderful. Especially the MP3s! Thank you for all the good times! And please do that Compile write-up!
1. The Compile connection is great. Although I never saw their name on the game, the distinctive Compile font is all over the place and if you do well in one of the bonus stages the unmistakable Compile extra-life song from ZANAC will play.
2. I got Taxan’s newsletter in the US back in the NES days, and remember it going on about how awesome Burai Fighter and Mystery Quest would be. Burai Fighter was awesome, yes, but Mystery Quest? I remember them making a big deal about getting to 10,000,000 points in that damn thing, like there was some kind of ending. Did they not know that, since the game contains several store doubling items and loops upon finishing, it really wasn’t that hard to get that high? The cruel joke was that the score stops just before that many points.
But yeah, that newsletter was apparently written by a young Ken Lobb, long before he joined with Nintendo or Microsoft.
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