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While it probably isn't well known by the majority of gamers, Hudson Soft's old TurboGrafx-16 title Alien Crush and its sequel, Devil's Crush, were two of the better pinball games of their era. The original Alien Crush featured an innovative sci-fi setting, as the player uses the pinball to defeat hordes of space invaders. According to the developers, it was also the first pinball video game to feature bonus stages. The graphics were quite good for the time, though not so impressive when Alien Crush was brought back years later and made available as a Virtual Console download. Now, the developers have returned to the series in full force, releasing the all new Alien Crush Returns as a downloadable pinball game for Wii in November 2008. So how does this series update fare in today's market?
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Well, the controls certainly are solid enough. To pull back the plunger and launch the ball, you can either push down on the Wiimote's directional pad or on the Nunchuck control stick. As a right-hander, I found that the latter feels more natural. The B-button on the remote controls the right flipper while the Z-button on the Nunchuck attachment serves as the left flipper. The A-button launches a brief power-up called the action ball, which is accessible once you earn enough points. There are different types of action balls that can be unlocked through continued play, and are selectable by pushing left or right on the D-pad. On the whole, I have no complains -- except, that is, for the decision to map the pause button to the minus key (-). Countless times while playing the game, I accidentally bumped the button with my thumb, thus pausing the action. It got immensely annoying after several times.
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Alien Crush Returns features three primary modes of play: Story Mode, Arcade Mode and Versus Mode. In Story Mode, gamers play through five levels -- three normal boards and two boss fights -- tied together with a throwaway plot involving space marines investigating a mysterious alien ship. Each level has a different objective where you either need to defeat a certain number of alien creatures or a single large alien creature. How do you do this, you may ask? By running them over with your pinball, of course! As far as everything goes, the Story Mode is quite a lot of fun, but it doesn't last very long. Playing through it on easy difficulty took me under an hour.
Once that's over, though, you've still got Arcade and Multiplayer Modes to play around with. Arcade Mode features the three non-boss boards from Story Mode, only this time around the goal is to score as many points as possible instead of having to squash a certain number of aliens. Finally, Multiplayer Mode allows you to test your skills against another pinball wizard via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Players can choose from one of three regions from which to pick their challenger, allowing them to pick from anyone worldwide, only those from North America, or if they prefer, they can limit themselves to only gamers they have traded friend codes with. These features definitely help make up for the rather short length of the Story Mode, and as mentioned above, there are multiple difficulty levels as well, which also adds slightly to the depth of the whole package.
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Graphics and Sound
Given that this is a WiiWare title, gamers shouldn't expect too much from Alien Crush Returns in the graphics department. It definitely sports rather old-school graphics, but while it would never pass for a full retail release, it looks quite nice for a sub-$10 downloadable game. The boards have nice detail, and not only is there a suitable variety of creature types, but some of the aliens even squish into little green blobs of pus when you run them over. The sound effects are solid, but not overly impressive, and while the music is limited because of the WiiWare size limits, I came away impressed by the tracks that are included. In particular, the eerie title screen song fits perfectly with the sci-fi/horror theme and does a marvelous job of establishing atmosphere, and the techno-beats for the boards will definitely get you pumped up. In all, Hudson Soft did an impressive job in this department.
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There's no doubting that Alien Crush Returns is an enjoyable pinball game, but is it a good value? That's hard to say. The dubious length of Story Mode and the limited number of boards definitely hurt it in the value department, and while there is word of future downloadable content being made available, undoubtedly that would require an additional investment. There are different action balls to unlock, but that doesn't really make up for the limited number of tables. If you own a Nintendo DS, you could actually get the lengthier Metroid Prime Pinball, which shares many of Alien Crush's sci-fi elements, for much the game price. Not to mention that Wii owners also have the option to, for slightly more money, pick up a full-featured retail pinball title like Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection, which boasts 10 different tables, all of them arcade classics. Nonetheless, though, Alien Crush Returns is worth the 800 points ($8.00) it will cost to download it. The gameplay is top notch and even though the package may lack some in the depth department, the content that is present is good enough to keep you coming back for more time and time again.