SNK's old-school shooter ASO eventually had a sequel and now it's available for modern consoles. Alpha Mission II may not be the best shoot 'em up from the early '90s but is it a worthy enough game to revisit?
Alpha Mission II is a cooperative arcade shoot 'em up that's rather simple at its core. You basically tap a button to unleash a fury of projectiles and missiles as you weave through enemies and their tricky attacks. As you play, you'll shoot power-up pods that release items after they explode. These include speed boosts and upgrades for both your regular shot and missiles. If you don't like the item that releases, you can shoot it and it'll ascend the screen then transform into a new type (similar to the bells in TwinBee). Another interesting power-up system is the transformations that you can assemble. Basically, once you collect three parts of the same upgrade, you can equip it in order to improve your ship temporarily and unleash unique shots and even a special move. Overall, it's a simple game but these upgrade systems add a welcome layer of complexity.
Alpha Mission II's visuals and sound aren't particularly impressive. For starters; the stages, enemies, and ships are all incredibly stereotypical. When you watch the campaign unfold and let the generic music and sound effects wash over you, it's hard to keep your eyes open. This is especially the case when you consider the stage design. There are a few exceptions such as a stage where components slowly lock into a giant warship that you have to take out and a large boss with magnetic nodes. However, the majority of the campaign is tedious at best. Don't get me wrong; it's challenging and can be enjoyable but it's simply uninteresting due to the overall lack of variety.
Besides its unimpressive superficial aspects, Alpha Mission II has some truly irritating components. First, the ship transformation power-ups can be pretty annoying. Basically, if you accidentally collect a different type of part before fully completing a power-up then your progress is reset. In other words, you have to collect three of the same type in a row which is just silly. Considering these transformations don't last very long, why do you need to assemble them at all? I wish you could equip one simply by collecting it. Another frustrating part is that the enemy patterns and projectiles become far too unpredictable and fast later on in the campaign. Enemies may sweep in from the side and end your life unexpectedly while other foes might shoot a high-speed laser out of nowhere. As a result, the difficulty is more aggravating than it is rewarding which is unfortunate because this would be a lot better game if it simply felt fairer.
A couple of nifty additions come in the form of multiplayer and some extra modes. Not many early shoot 'em ups allowed you to play cooperatively with a friend but you can here which is great if you have a pal who digs these sorts of games, too. The extra modes include Hi Score Mode and a similar mode with a time limit known as Caravan Mode. You can also choose between the Japanese and English versions although I'm not sure what the differences are besides the fact that the former is named ASO II: Last Guardian and has Japanese text. Obviously, it's great to have these variations available, especially if you enjoy chasing high scores.
Alpha Mission II has solid core gameplay but the fun factor is heavily weighed down by a counterintuitive power-up system and some undeniably frustrating moments. That being said, if you're dying for another retro shmup then you may find some enjoyment here.
- + Simple shoot 'em up gameplay with an interesting transformation system
- + You can play cooperatively with a friend
- + A few cool additional modes
- - Mostly bland and monotonous graphics, sound, and stage design
- - Power-up system can be annoying
- - Frustrating enemy / bullet patterns