Today we can find an endless number of alien video games for all platforms, all of them with different stories or features and a plethora of subgenres.
For decades extraterrestrial beings have been part of popular culture. From friendly beings who came to Earth in search of answers to terrifying creatures hungry for chaos and destruction. All sorts of alien stories and adventures have been told in comics, movies or science fiction books… until these stories reached video games.
Arcade shooters: The Beginning of Aliens Video Games
The first alien videogames released for consoles were based on the premise of an extraterrestrial invasion. Starting from the shoot’em up genre, all these stories that shape the arcade shooter genre include two main characters: A civilization, from an insectoid and monstrous type to a disturbing and advanced superior race and, on the other hand, a main character or saviour often incarnated by a spaceship.
These videogames, where we find incredible titles born for recreation and transferred to console during the 70’s, start from games like Spacewar! (1961) and, above all, Space Invaders (Tomohiro Nishikado, 1978).
In these games the shooter genre always prevails, specifically the shoot’em up where we are often faced with an inferno of bullets, lasers and creatures that will not make it easy to protect our civilization.
This way we find many of the Bullet Hell titles where the players, given the difficulty, either love or hate them.
Types of alien arcade shooters
We can find different types of arcades on which alien video games are based:
- Bullet hell: Extremely difficult games with huge amounts of bullets and enemies to face with weapons that can be improved.
- Fixed shooter: With a fixed position. Example: Space Invaders. In this type the player moves on an axis and enemies attack from a single direction.
- Multi-directional shooter: In this case the ship can also move around and rotate.
- Rail shooter: The shooter moves towards the screen and the camera is fixed from behind the main character.
- Tube shooter: These have similar viewpoints as the previous one but the main characters fly through abstract tubes.
- Scrolling shooters: These can be both vertical and horizontal and the background slides over the main character.
In the 1970’s we found the first arcades inspired by extraterrestrial invasions or space battles with spaceships and black backgrounds. Thus were included different options such as lives and, later in games such as Galaxian (1979) complex enemy patterns and inspired by novels such as The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.
In the following decade, the genre was polished and refined, including various levels and premiering sub-genres such as Scrolling Shooter with Scramble (Konami, 1981), Tube Shooter with Tempest (Atari, 1981) and Rail Shooter with Space Harrier (Sega, 1985). In this way the number of alien-based videogames in the arcade environment grew, thus increasing its fame as videogames for consoles.
Gradius (Konami, 1985) and Fantasy Zone (Sega, 1986) also laid the foundations for the growth of the genre in terms of weapon options, possibilities and graphics, as well as a greater number of levels that demanded methodical strategies from the player.
Finally, during the 90’s different games grew and evolved in graphics reaching the three dimensions and the most realistic viewpoints, the plots and stories of the games became relevant and the main characters acquired a stronger personality.
In this way each time the titles approached genres of action, terror or science fiction, many of them were influenced by sagas such as Alien or Panzer Dragoon reaching all players who craved depth in the genre.
Today we can find an endless number of alien video games for all platforms, all of them with different stories or features and a plethora of subgenres. So we find great titles with a bigger budget as, among others:
- Mass Effect (BioWare, 2007). The game is a science fiction action role-playing third-person shooter video game series developed by the Canadian company BioWare and released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows, with the third instalment also released on the Wii U.
- Halo (Bungie, 2001). The series focuses on an interstellar war between humanity and a theocratic alliance of aliens known as Covenant. Later, there will be more threats like the Floods and the Prometheans.
We can also find, as decades ago, titles inspired by novels or science fiction or horror movies. These alien videogames can achieve great success by having the fans of the original saga as fans. For example:
- Alien: Isolation (The Creative Assembly, 2014). The action takes place at the Sevastopol space station, where the heroine’s companions will begin to fall into the clutches of the alien. The game is a first-person shooter, with small puzzles and a lot, a lot of terror. Inspired by Alien movies from Ridley Scott.
- Distrust (Cheerdealers Studio, 2018) A helicopter crash left a group of explorers stranded near an Arctic base. As they try to find a way back, all they’re doing is sinking deeper into a nightmare scenario. Based on “The Thing” by John Carpenter.
But beyond these two types of alien video games, we can also find bullet-hell games. This subgenre, more popular in Asia than in America or Europe, which, as we have said before, was the trigger for these videogames in the 70s and 80s. So, we find a niche of bullet-hell games as:
- Mars: Chaos Menace (Byte4Games, 2018). The title combines 3D graphics and visual effects of all kinds with a classic bullet hell gameplay. It introduces us to a world in which the terraforming of worlds is normal, after mankind had to leave the Earth because of the radioactive pollution it had caused.
- Ikaruga (Sega, 2001). Now a cult game, Ikaruga was one of the last titles to be released for Dreamcast, then it was released for Gamecube, in 2008 for Xbox Live and in 2014 for Steam. It has recently been released for Nintendo Switch.