Nintendo's Virtual Console service is a great way for people to reconnect with the games of their youth. It also gives them an opportunity to play classic games that they may have missed because the games either were before their time or were for a system they didn't own. One such example is Alien Crush, a pinball game that, until now, was enjoyed only by the handful of TurboGrafx-16 owners. Now, the game is available for just 600 Wii points on the Wii's Virtual Console, and it's worth every penny.
As you may have guessed from the title, the table in Alien Crush has an alien theme. In fact, the artwork bears more than a passing resemblance to H.R. Giger's creature designs in the movie Alien. The main playfield consists of a top and a bottom screen, each with its own set of flippers. There's a large tentacled monster, a disembodied brain, and a few chattering alien skulls on the top screen, while the bottom screen contains a half-dozen "live" aliens on the periphery and an angry mother alien in the center right above the ball drain. Considering the game originally came out in 1989, the graphics and audio have held up rather well. The graphics are colorful, the creature designs are creative, and everything animates smoothly. You can choose from two different songs that will play in the background. "Demon's Undulate" is a haunting tune, but the catchy melody of "Lunar Eclipse" also fits the game perfectly, as does the eerie theme that plays during the bonus stages.
The Virtual Console version of the game is faithful to the original in every way, which means the pinball itself is top-notch. You can choose from two speeds, fast or slow. Slow is probably your best bet if you're going for a high score, but fast comes the closest to duplicating the physics of an actual pinball machine. Hitting the aliens on the right side and left side of the bottom screen increases your bonus multiplier and also unleashes creatures that periodically scurry across the playfield, which you can then whack for some extra points. Shooting the ball into one of the mouths on the upper screen or into the mother alien's maw on the lower screen will take you to one of four different single-screen bonus stages, where you can earn big points by clearing all of the enemies from the screen, pushing skeletons back into their holes, or opening eyes by hitting them. Passing the ball through certain lanes will summon human skulls that will block the drain. You can also make use of the tilt button to nudge the machine when you think the ball is heading toward certain doom. While nudging the machine to save your ball is rarely used by casual players in most pinball games, it's an important and valuable technique here. There's a surprising amount of depth to what at first appears to be a standard pinball video game.
The game controls equally well via the Wii Remote, Classic Controller, or GameCube controller. Pressing left on the D pad moves the left flipper, pressing the 2 button flicks the right flipper, and pressing the 1 button nudges the machine. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to keep and share high scores. The original game didn't have a battery backup, so, like with the majority of Virtual Console games, the only way to maintain the high score list is to hit the home button on the remote and exit to the Wii menu, which will suspend your game until you play again. That's about the only weak spot in an otherwise superb revival of a great pinball game.
Alien Crush is a great example of everything that's right with the Virtual Console. It's a fun, addictive pinball game that many people never got a chance to play when it originally came out, and at $6, the price is right.