The Aleste series is a collection of vertical shooters originally created for arcades and consoles. The series hasn't enjoyed much success in the States, but Square Enix and Macrospace are teaming up to deliver the latest incarnation to mobile phones. Unfortunately, the only notable element in this unexciting port is its arcade-style graphics. The rest of the game falls flat.
Aleste features an above-view of a spaceship that's attacking a battleground filled with mechanical aliens. Like most any shooter, the goal of Aleste is to destroy as many enemies as possible, score a lot of points, and defeat the boss at the end of each stage. A good chunk of the game is spent dodging tons of enemy bullets while returning fire, and there are three levels of action in all.
The graphics in Aleste are worthy of an arcade shooter, with a depth comparable to a Super Nintendo game. The objects aren't huge, but they're shaded in gradation, giving minute detail to ships and explosions. The backgrounds range from idyllic, grassy villages to futuristic fortresses--again providing small but detailed scenery. The game maintains its graphic intensity without any slowdown, making its visuals an impressive balance of speed and beauty. The controls are also tight and responsive.
A basic gun is available as well as a secondary power-up weapon. The gun begins as a single peashooter, but it can be upgraded to a three-way popper by collecting yellow power pills from special enemies.
The eight power-ups give your ship a potpourri of options, though all the weapons are pretty similar. Containers are cracked open to release capsules numbered one through eight. They tend to float in the opposite direction the container has been shot from, so shooting a container from below can make the capsule quickly float away off the top of the screen.
Number one shoots out a little ship that absorbs shots and causes enemy damage. Numbers two and seven both create a round ball at the front of the ship that attracts bullets; but while two fires off a laser every three seconds, seven provides a larger protective ball than two. Numbers three and eight each fire a laser that burns through enemies, but three fires a straight beam while eight blasts a spinning shot. Number four protects the ship with rotating energy balls. Number five sends a heatseeking double-ball shot. Finally, number six blasts a crescent laser, along with the basic gun bullets. Collecting the same numbered capsule adds potency to the power-up. For instance, catching two number sevens creates two large protection balls instead of one.
Unfortunately, all this great ammunition has gone to waste in this version of Aleste, because there is a total of maybe eight different enemies--including the bosses. There is the standard fighter plane, which attacks en masse, the red molecule bunch that fires potshots, the flying craft that carries gun-power pills, and the stealth bomber that occasionally appears midlevel. The enemies attack aggressively, but the simple fact of the matter is that you have seen virtually all of the game's enemies by the time you've completed the first three-minute level.
The blandness continues with the bosses, who conjure up bad memories of the final enemy in Atari's Xevious. Every boss is a collection of two different gun turrets: a small, peashooting circle and a large, laser-shooting circle. The former fires bullets like a regular enemy, while the latter shoots a spread of round laser blasts every three seconds. The variety between bosses is weak. As a result, one boss will have one big turret surrounded by six little turrets, while the next boss will have two big turrets surrounded by four little turrets. Unless you're already a fan of this obscure shooter and can milk some nostalgia points from it, Aleste comes off as dated. The bosses, like all the other enemies, are fairly easy to beat with nearly any powered-up weapon, which severely hurts the game's difficulty and value. After the first five minutes of play--which is about the same amount of time it will take to get used to the game's speed and setup--Aleste waters down into simple, repetitive play.
Aleste is a three-level game, and with each level lasting about three minutes--in addition to a weak difficulty level throughout--it hardly stands up to other shooters. Beating the final level sends you back to the start of the final level again, thus giving you the opportunity to both rack up points and upload them to the international high-score board. However, this isn't incentive enough to continue playing for long, given Aleste's repetitive, simple gameplay. There is no adjustable difficulty, so there is no reprieve for those who think the game is too hard or too easy.
Aleste's music is superb on the surface, but it's ultimately shallow. The soundtrack is worthy of a console game, but it's the same tune repeated every 20 seconds or so. Furthermore, there's a one-second break every time the sound loops. You will probably opt to turn off the sound after a while to prevent yourself from going completely insane. Some sound effects would have broken the monotony up nicely, but there are no sound effects to speak of.
Square Enix and Macrospace managed to squeeze some nice graphics out of Aleste, but it's a pity that the rest of the game isn't as great as its visuals. As it is, the mobile Aleste doesn't stand up to other shooters, be they modern or classic.