Of the three games that Hamster has selected for its initial spate of Arcade Archives releases, Alpha Mission II ($3.99) is the oddball of the bunch. Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown are both iconic franchises that were born on the NEOGEO, endured through its lifetime, and still see new releases in some form or another today. Alpha Mission II, on the other hand, is a sequel to a modestly successful 1985 shoot-em-up that dropped in the NEOGEO’s first year and served as the franchise’s final chapter. A decent game, but not the sort to appear in a list of the console’s best.
I think it’s a good choice, if only to deliver on the mission statement of Arcade Archives as we know it on other platforms. Hamster’s line of retro rereleases isn’t just about bringing out the most popular games, or the most critically-acclaimed ones. It aims at a greater sort of preservation, a more complete one. The greats, the not-so-greats, and everything in between. Some of Hamster’s choices can boggle the mind, but it not only paints a more thorough historical picture, it also allows players to find fun games they may have never stumbled upon before.
Now, Alpha Mission II isn’t that obscure. Indeed, in the early days of the NEOGEO it was a bit of a darling. A flashy vertical shoot-em-up with tons of power-ups and a few really wild stages. Your ship can collect armor pieces and go into one of several cool powered-up modes. It got good reviews, earned lots of quarters, and entertained people for a while until other titles bumped it off the rotation. History has been less kind to it, with more modern releases earning some sharp words and garnering little attention. It doesn’t really fit the character that the platform ultimately settled into. But in its time and place, it was fine.
What helps here is that it is a shoot-em-up, and shoot-em-ups take to mobile quite well. While you can make use of an external controller if you have one, the virtual controls work quite well here. You can even turn on auto-fire. You can only partake in the multiplayer co-op gameplay if you have external controllers for each player, but I suspect most people playing shooters on their mobile devices aren’t too concerned about that.
You get the same assortment of options, extras, and features as in the other Arcade Archives mobile releases. Difficulty options, control mapping and layouts, graphical and audio settings, save states, and more. One feature I particularly like for this game is the ability to rotate the screen and play in portrait mode. You can do it with the other releases, but it just feels better here. Now, this is a 4:3 game so don’t expect it to fill the screen if you play it like this, but it’s still cool.
The same modes of play are on offer here as well. You can play either the Japanese or Overseas version of the game, see how high of a score you can get on a single credit, or play a Caravan mode where you have five minutes to earn as many points as you can. Caravan modes and shooters go very well together, and it’s fun to see how high up the leaderboards you can climb. Yes, Alpha Mission II is a case where everything in the Arcade Archives package comes together quite nicely.
As for the game itself? Well, it’s alright. The power-up system is a bit confusing (there are power-downs, and those are fun), the bullet patterns are a little on the rude side, your default weapons lack much punch, some stages are an absolute drag, and it can be irritating trying to get into your armored state as you need to be very careful about what you pick up and what you don’t. But once you get used to how it all works, you can have a good time with it. Learning when to use your armored form and when to save it is a nice bit of strategy. The second level, which sees you taking apart a massive ship piece-by-piece, is quite memorable. It certainly tries some interesting things, including a between-level shop system.
Alpha Mission II is hardly a must-have or a must-play, but a decent enough spin for the few bucks it’s selling for. If you enjoy classic shoot-em-ups, you’ll get a few thrills out of this. More importantly, it fits the mobile platform a lot more comfortably than its peers in the Arcade Archives line-up so far. The game plays quite well with the virtual controls, so even if you don’t have access to an external controller you can still have a really good time. If you want to see what these Arcade Archives releases are all about in the best possible light, this is the one to get.
UPDATE: As pointed out in our forums, these ACA NEOGEO released DO in fact support physical controllers, it’s just not very obvious. With a controller connected to your device, click the icon on the title screen that looks kind of like a USB cable with Wi-Fi signals coming out of it to enable the controller support.