Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Alien Island 3D

This actually changes color as you view it
Name:The Alien Island 3D
Developer:Nobuhisa Fujinami
Time:1 hour 50 minutes

Like all computer systems, there are aesthetics to the old Japanese computers. The one I've been attributing to the first half of the '80s or thereabouts is that of high dithering, low palette and very little action. But I haven't played anything from the earliest playable machines, that is, the PC-6001 and the earliest, the PC-8001. Though I'm playing this in a PC-88 emulator because it works here.

Looking at this game, I'm heavily reminded of the ZX Spectrum, my least favorite of all the home computers. At the very least this game shares the palette of that machine. Since its entirely in English its pretty much just a forgotten title of that system. Its about as complex as those titles get anyway. The story is, the player is a human going to an island via boat to stop aliens from eating trees. He stops them by shooting them. Any questions? I hope not, because I don't have answers.

The approach
Its fairly simple. The control scheme uses the numpad, 8-4-6-2 move in the expected directions, while 7 and 9 turn. Space fires. Unlike in some games, you don't want to be hammering that down aggressively. Shots continue until they hit something or go off the island. Hitting trees or your boat causes you to lose points, and in the latter case, lose a live. Further compounding the issue, some aliens leave corpses you have to push into the sea, or they'll spawn smaller aliens.

All the deaths are this flat screen, plus your point total
Its very easy to play at first. Too easy. Unless you're rushing in to save the trees its a very casual stroll through an island, even with the corpses. Unless you get turned around destroying the boat is impossible, and there's no penalty beyond score for losing all the trees. I was about to call this game a rip-off before the game told me there was a second island.
Talk about no mercy
On the second island, the game begins placing a treasure on the map somewhere. I think nothing of this, blasting away the aliens as per usual. The game is telling me there's more than one way to kill enemies, which I think counts as an example of in-game tips. Beats the Catacomb series, anyway. While doing this, I, firing too much, destroy the treasure. Oh, well. I continue to kill the aliens. After they're all dead, the game throws this at me. Couldn't bother programming in a death in this situation?
That tree on the right? That's what I would hit if I sidestepped to the right

Okay, time to play this seriously. And I get killed, three times. Seemingly by sheer dumb luck. Wait, is this actually better than it looks? No...it can't be...can it? Its a bit more complex than it seems at first glance, but only a bit. You can get very easily blindsided, but once you figure out where you actually are in relation to everything else, it gets easier. There are tons of little ways to get killed, wait too long and the treasure gets destroyed, walk into your own shot, walk into something you shot that's still smoldering and walk into a pond.

Dead alien in front of me, small alien in the corner, note the radar down there
As long as you get a favorable enough spawning of enemies, exercise a bit of caution in firing too many shots, and go slightly faster through the island than you would plan on, it isn't too hard for the first section of the game. The game starts really cranking up the number of trees too, functioning more as annoyances than things to save. At about scene 7 the game throws in trees that reflect shots and scene 10 the game allows aliens to shoot back. In fact I thought scene 10 was a fairly good ending point, since the game has no saves and only three lives. By 10 it seems we've hit a pretty natural ending point, but no, it keeps going.
Note the screen is going funny because of the warp
Even early on it never felt like it was playing fair with the player. Instead it was stacking the deck against him as much as possible. Without save states I don't see how you could even get this far. The game is vicious, enemies seem to walk in a straight line towards you, and the addition of them shooting at you is another easy way to die. In the heat of battle you're unlikely to see a short message of "the alien has shot the bullet" in-between the game telling you for the 9123rd time that you can kill aliens by ways other than shooting. Hell, the same instant the same instant an alien spawns could very well be the same instant it shoots you. Try blocking that.
Every line on the radar is another enemy
The game instead ends at level 13. Boy, does it make you work for that. Three trees are back down to normal but the game just floods you with enemies. The game pretends to allow you to deal with enemies before they become a problem in the form of alien eggs, and has for a while, but in the past these weren't close enough to the start for me too notice. Since this final level throws a lot of enemies, probably like 50, in a game where space is at a premium. Eventually, I win, and after the customary fireworks sequence, the game calls me crazy for beating it. I suppose so, but what about your next game, Fujinami-san? Oh, wait, there wasn't one.

The primary issue is that despite the cool tech, the gameplay itself feels outdated for 1985. This feels like the kind of game you would play at an arcade and have to spend hundreds of quarters to win. I do not see how you could possibly beat this game legitimately. The game employs so many tricks that give it an unfair advantage that the only way to counter them is to cheat. If you get a bad enough seed on each island you're screwed no matter what. A human simply can't compete.

A simple blaster. 1/10

The big enemies dying and having to wait or toss them into the ocean is more annoying than interesting. 1/10


Randomly generated islands. Its very cool that the whole level, even the parts that aren't on-screen, is thought of at once. 1/10

Player Agency:
This game's control scheme seems smooth at first, but once you start getting into serious fights, it reveals itself as being pretty bad. You just can't move with any urgency. You can't move and shoot at the same time and shooting after moving seems delayed. 2/10

Being able to shoot trees and treasure chests to destroy them counts...I guess. 1/10

Weird, but not too pleasant. Feels very horrorish in concept and execution, but sort of that 8-bit horror where its not really scary or even Halloween-ish, even if its trying. 1/10

Very, very simple. The scrolling is very smooth, especially for a system that wasn't very capable of such things. 2/10


Blips and bloops. 1/10

That's 10. Not bad for a game that's a chore to beat legitimately. Its by far the most mundane of the Japanese FPS titles so far, and seems to fit in with the sort of annoying difficulty these games employed.

There are no contemporary reviews of this game, owing to coming out for the PC-8001 series computers in 1985. The system was discontinued in 1983. The only modern mentions of the game are that its an early FPS from Japan, which is about the only positive thing you could say about the game.

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