The game ASO: Armored Scrum Object is a game no one has bought from me in my two years. The game is uncommon (I've only had it twice), is a shooter and entirely in English, so for my Famicom Friday yesterday I was curious about why it is so unpopular.
ASO game was released on the NES as Alpha Mission. On eBay it regularly sells for hardly anything, CIB (Complete In Box) 7$. Since this is a common NES game there are lots of reviews of it. Most of them are hateful it because it is too hard.
Maybe it is another misunderstood game that I need to rescue. It looks cool doesn't it?
I have to admit I bought it by mistake. I thought it was rare and expensive, like these similar looking shooters I once had.
When it comes to vertically scrolling shooters ("shmups"), I find most of the pure shmups repetitive, dull and uninteresting. There are a lot of simplistic vertical scrolling shooters on the NES/Famicom, such as Exed Exes, Argus, the classic Xevious, Hector '87, Gyrodine, Exerion, Galaga, Dragon Spirit, Star Soldier and Star Force.
I do enjoy shooters if they have some strategy element, like Zanac and Guardian Legend that I have blogged about before. Or Gradius or Twinbee that I have mentioned many times. These are games where you have to think out a strategy and not just madly shoot your way around.
I read that it has a strategy element to it so I thought that maybe I would find some amusement in it.
After around 3,5 hours I had found a strategy that took me to stage 5, as you see in the video. A useful strategy is to equip the shield and then collect get E to keep the shield strong. At boss battles I switched to fire that killed them quickly.
A little explanation of the useful icons: You collect the E icons which will give you energy, up to a max of 24. When you have energy, and possibly collect the airplane icon, you get special items you can use. Change this by pressing Select, navigate to your choice, and press Select again. I soon discovered that the "sheeld" was very useful, while the other special weapons only last for a short time and should be reserved for boss fights.
The M and L icons improve your gun and your missiles. The K icon is useful because it allows you to continue with all upgrades if you die. The W warps you forward. The F icon shows all nearby powerups. S increases speed. Then there is the rare special icon you see at 05:50 that restores your energy to full.
Then the bad icons: The C that takes away all your energy. The inversed K that takes away ALL your ships powerups. The R warps you back (this can actually be useful so you can collect more powerups). Looking at my video, I now realize the inverted E takes away some energy. The C and especially inversed K must absolutely be avoided! It isn't too hard to avoid the negative powerups actually. The inverted K will only appear after you have maxed out one weapon, so after maxing out just be more careful. When your plane is already strong, you have less reason to go around collecting powerups.
Most complaint that the game is bad because it is too hard, except one reviewer who found the game boring because it was too easy http://www.gamefreaks365.com/review.php?artid=1602. I think that is because he played on PSP, PS3 or emulation. On the original NES/famicom hardware, shooters are harder because:
- The composite video (or worse: antenna!) on NES makes it harder to see bullets
- The NES controller can't move well diagonally. Look at my video how I mostly move back-forward or right-left.
Well, I enjoyed it enough to keep me amused for 3,5 hours of a Friday, which is more than most games do. I think I would enjoy keep playing it, as it seems like a game one could master and beat in a short amount of time. Playing to stage 5, as in my video, takes 15 minutes. Looping it once would probably only take 20 minutes. Perfect for a quick fix.
I also enjoyed that the game isn't unfair or has insane enemies. Most enemies and bullets can be avoided without having the die EVERY time you first encounter them (as you would in Salamander / Life Force). The gun turrets on the ground only seem to shoot once, so you don't have to worry about a cheap shot when you are flying over them. The tracking bullets that appear later seem hard at first, but I think they only change direction twice and can be avoided with some practice. I don't think the game has cheap deaths.
Another complain is that you start slow. Well, you are slow in Gradius too, and the solution is to get speed ups and other powerups, and then avoid dying. The game only gives you three lives and no continues so you do have to avoid dying. According to gamefaqs, there is a continue cheat but I couldn't get it to work and the cheat has three "thumbs down" so I think it is fake.
ASO / Alpha Mission isn't the deepest game but it doesn't deserve the univeral hatred it has. I don't think it is worse than similar NES shooters.
For some more reviews, see:
- http://www.gamefreaks365.com/review.php?artid=1602 (too easy)
- http://www.questicle.net/2011/01/35-alpha-mission.html (too hard)
- http://www.examiner.com/review/retro-video-game-review-alpha-mission-nes ("For its crimes against the shmup genre, arcade ports, and the act of gaming in general, this mess gets one and a half stars out of five")
- http://www.flyingomelette.com/reviews/nes/alphamission.html (too hard)
- http://www.honestgamers.com/1916/nes/alpha-mission/review.html ("I just can't think of a single shmup I got less enjoyment from than this game and I'd be hard-pressed to think of any game (regardless of genre or system) that provided more negative memories.")