We are big fans of The Behemoth's Castle Crashers here at Co-Optimus. The art style and old school gameplay work together to make a memorable gaming experience. I've always known about Behemoth's first game, Alien Hominid, though I never played it myself. A few weeks ago, the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game, aptly titled Alien Hominid HD, was heavily discounted. My weakness against the allure of a deal made Alien Hominid HD an easy purchase for me. I assure you that the game is easily worthwhile, even at the full price, for folks who enjoy old school co-op brawlers.
The titular Alien Hominid is a very charismatic fellow. He is short, bug eyed, and shockingly yellow. The alien may be cute, but he's quite deadly. The default weapon is a small blaster, which is pretty wimpy, until you charge it up. A charged shot from the default blaster is quite useful for clearing the screen. Other weapons have limited ammo but are far more powerful, including flamethrowers, a freeze gun, rapid fire lasers, and more. Another sweet ability is head chomping; our hero has a taste for human brains, it seems. Adding to the fun, head chomping scares off nearby enemies. Another cool trick is to shoot straight down in midair, which delays your fall, often just long enough to avoid a nasty death. Lobbing grenades is one more trick up the alien's sleeves. (If he had sleeves, that is!) As a parent, I was glad to see you could turn off the gore, though it is verycartoony and clearly done for laughs in the first place. When you do this, the game replaces blood and gore with flowers and sparkles, to hilarious effect.
As far as the story goes, the alien first crash lands on earth. After the spacecraft is quickly collected by the FBI, the hunt for the alien begins, and our hero must defend himself. Of course, this is a Behemoth game, and Dan Paladin's trademark over the top art style is in effect. Quite unlike the real FBI, these agents wield flamethrowers, jet packs, missile launching helicopters, and some truly enormous robotic warriors that make it a point to stomp on you. After you retrieve your spacecraft and escape the clutches of the FBI, you are shot down by a nuke and land in Russia. Fighting your way through the Cold War style Red Army, you eventually find your way to Area 51 for the truly imaginative last section of the game.
There are so many memorable parts of this game, you'll be entranced by it. The boss battles in particular are suitably epic and extremely creative. Besides just the bosses though, many of the levels change up the standard run and gun formula. One early level has you jumping on the roofs of cars in heavy traffic, avoiding helicopters and agents. You can even drive the cars, which is really fun with your co-op partner on top, blasting away everything that moves, including innocent drivers! A flying level has you zipping throughout the sky, finding pieces of your spacecraft. Each piece gives your ship new abilities, like guided missiles, a turbo boost, extra maneuverability, etc. Levels like this mix up the action quite well.
But it's the bosses you'll really remember. Who could forget a giant pudding monster that is immune to your weapons? Or the mean FBI robot the size of a large building, with a sign on his chest that says "Do Not Damage Head". My personal favorite was an enormous Russian flying mech who used a hammer and sickle to beat you down. Each boss requires a particular method to defeat it beyond just spamming blaster fire indiscriminately, reminiscent of the classic Mega Man series. I won't spoil any more of the boss bottles in this review, let's just say they are easily as good as those of Castle Crashers, which is high praise indeed.
The co-op play is very solid. You and one friend can team up to take down your opponents. At first it was a bit difficult to tell which alien was which, but as you play, you unlock new hats. Some are stylish, some are just plain odd. I opted for a chef's hat, and my son chose a pirate hat, and the black and white contrast made it much easier to keep on top of things amid the chaos. There are many sections where teamwork is essential, in particular the driving sequence, and the flying sections. Many boss battles have regular enemies attacking you, and having one player keep the little guys beat down while the other takes on the boss is quite effective. Sadly, there is no online co-op in the campaign. You can play four player co-op, online or local, in the PDA minigames , but the meat of the game is obviously the alien story mode. The claim of 4 player online co-op is a bit deceptive, so keep it in mind when purchasing. Castle Crashers is the better co-op game, though Alien Hominid holds its own nicely.
The last thing I must mention is probably the first thing that you'll notice when playing. Alien Hominid HD is hard, brutally so. It is old school in the truest sense. It is similar to Contra or the first NES TMNT game, in that you feel lucky to get through a level. We failed the first level probably three or four times on Normal before we scaled the difficulty level for both of us down to Easy. Even then, the game is rough, though not frustratingly so. Your alien is cute and has lots of abilities, but a life bar isn't one of them. One hit from a stray bullet, a lick of flame, or contact with an enemy and you lose a life. The amount of lives and continues you get varies by difficulty level. We found that we could play through about a level and a half to two levels before one of us got the dreaded "Game Over". Thankfully, you can load any level you've unlocked when this happens. If I were playing with my older son, Normal may have been doable, but even playing on Easy, there was a nice sense of accomplishment.
Alien Hominid HD is a real treat for fans of co-op brawlers of yesterday. The always pleasing art style, whimsical gameplay, and cartoony cut scenes will keep you playing. The authentically retro difficulty might turn some off, but there is a solid co-op experience to be had here. The lack of online co-op is the most glaring omission on what is otherwise one of the finest XBLA titles.