At the forefront of the initial wave of truly interesting Xbox Live Arcade games, Mutant Storm Reloaded (from UK based developers Pom Pom Games) was a fantastic title that helped sell the merits of Microsoft’s fledgling service. Now, after a Mutant Storm sequel and a distinctly ordinary title for PlayStation Network in the form of Astro Tripper, Pom Pom release their latest title – the flamboyantly titled Alien Zombie Mega Death (AZMD).
The game is a simple shooter where the player, cast as a spaceman, must clear each level of the aforementioned alien menace. They can move up and down the multi-tiered levels with a flick of the left analogue stick, but only one layer at a time. Shooting is handled with the right analogue stick, either to the left or right of the screen, but never up nor down. This limitation is offset by the ability to pick up random power-ups that are dropped periodically. From missiles to lasers, their potency is diminished by a strict five second time limit, meaning there must be a strategy to where and when they are picked up to maximize their usage .
Amongst all the alien slaughter there’s a selection of medals which are awarded for reaching specific goals (kill X amount of enemies, etc.). This meta-game isn’t merely a throwaway addition since the various medals allow further levels to be unlocked, and eventually lead to the more difficult sub-levels to be challenged. To complete the picture, each vanquished enemy drops crystal shards that can be collected to boost the score multiplier, along with large crystals that spawn at intervals around the level, keeping a strong and well thought out scoring hook in place for those looking to obtain leaderboard dominance.
There’s ample variety to the destruction with a mash-up of game styles. Space Baby Rescue is exactly as it sounds, with the added caveat that you can’t use weaponry while carrying the astrological bundle of joy. The same premise is placed on the player in the other variation, Bomb Dump and as the levels unlock, the difficulty spike goes through the roof across all modes. What was initially a breeze soon distils down to the purest form of twitch gaming; kill or be killed, always be moving, never keep still in one place for any length of time.
From the start the art style that accompanies AZMD is reminiscent of a past era when the boxart that came with a game was always over the top, but bore little relation to the subsequent gameplay. However with AZMD, this isn’t the case; graphically it looks the part with a nice mix of retro visuals set right beside Pom Pom’s usual visual flair, especially in the animation of some of the Aliens. Pulsing, one-eyed monsters that fire lasers, vie with funky green grunts that swarm the player in their attempts to terrorise them into submission as they move up levels in the same way the player can. It all adds up to a chaotic, giddy experience that can be appreciated by the gamer in all of us.
For those looking for a retro-tinged title that they can pick away at in short bursts, Alien Zombie Mega Death is right up their street, providing they have at least another friend to bounce leaderboard scores off and provide some competition. For everyone else, it still holds enough charm, balanced with a set of mechanics that instil a rich sense of enjoyment, to draw in would-be players who might be in the market for something a little different.