It's always heartening when an independently produced game manages to clamber out of the Internet community and, through sheer brilliance alone, become a mainstream success. Alien Hominid is a--perhaps the--shining example. The original Flash version of this brilliant scrolling shooter, with its frenzied attack waves and lovely hand-drawn, hand-animated graphics, has been downloaded almost 10 million times--enough to gain the publisher support for the rewritten and hugely ambitious console conversions. And now all that crayon-colored extraterrestrial fun is coming to mobile phones. Well… kind of. To call this collection of simple Java minigames a port would be a little flattering. It does a nice job with the material as long as it lasts, though.
It is, in fact, a collection of four minigames inspired by the dozens of unlockable minigames in the console versions. The main blast-'em-up component may be gone, but the anarchic, surreal humor certainly remains, as does the does the original backstory--an alien crash-lands on Earth and must fight to get his UFO back. In stage one, your ship is on an unavoidable descent and you simply have to hit the 5 key to drop bombs on the city below, clearing a path for a safe landing. Stage two has you moving the alien left and right while catching bombs that are being tossed over a wall at you by FBI operatives. Occasionally, power-ups come over, which either slow the bombs down (good), or reverse your controls (bad). With stage three, the alien must run across a four-lane freeway, collecting parts of his spaceship before running back. The final challenge involves moving a seesaw around in order to help a bouncing fat boy collect sweets. Did we mention the surreal humor thing?
And that's it. Sounds like a quick cash in, but each game is finely tuned, with perfect controls and fun objectives. The individual graphical style is also beautifully replicated on the Nokia 6600, complete with smudgy crayon coloring, those stylized Chuck Jones-esque backgrounds of crooked silhouetted cityscapes, and the cool little characters, seemingly wrenched from some cutting-edge graphic novel. Similar to the likes of Jet Set Radio and Paper Mario, the visual imagination draws you in, amuses and dazzles you. In short, the graphical style really adds to the gaming experience.
As in the full Alien Hominid, there's also a real deference to, and understanding of, classic arcade themes. While the main game in the Flash and console versions draws heavily from Metal Slug and Gunstar Heroes, here you can feel the influence of Missile Command, Frogger, and Breakout. No wonder these simple little diversions prove so bewitching; they are based on timeless, elemental video game prototypes, which are the very building blocks of the industry. The minimalist sound consists of a few whirring bombs, and a couple of quick, simple motifs to accompany the collected sweets and power-ups, and it's straight from the early '80s, too. It would be annoying elsewhere, but it kind of works here.
But nothing can disguise the fact that everything this collection has to offer can be experienced in a matter of minutes. This would have been fine back in the olden days, but it's difficult to stomach in the modern era. The games may be played through consecutively in the story mode, which is interspersed with plot segments taken from the original story. Alternatively, arcade mode gives you access to any of the games separately, with the aim being to simply beat your own high scores.
While we certainly would have preferred to see the entire Alien Hominid experience transferred over to mobile, the minigames that arrived in its place are enjoyable on their own. It's just that Alien Hominid left us wanting a lot more. Our appetites have been truly piqued, but not satiated. Sure, we'll keep going back and nibbling at those high-score tables, but Alien Hominid is nothing but a generous appetizer. This is the only mobile game in town for Hominid fans at the moment, however, and it's enough fun to be worth a download.