Alien Scumbags opens with the depressing revelation that mankind couldn’t even wait to make it to the end of the 21st century before stuffing up the planet completely. A small glimmer of hope exists, though, thanks to research vessels like the Nostrami that has been sent out into space. Unfortunately, contact has been lost with the Nostrami and all the regular heroes are busy, which means the only badass space marine left to investigate is Master Chef. What follows is a 2D platform shooter that is heavily inspired by some of the classics of the genre and packed with more easter eggs than what you can shake a boomstick at.
Although it is Master Chef who is initially tasked with exploring the dark corridors of the Nostrami along the way players will also encounter capsule machines. These can only be used once per level, but spit out anything from extra health and weapons to a new character that can be used in the future. Unfortunately, they also sometimes unleash a face-hugger on you, but that’s the risk you have to take to reap the rewards. In total there are more than ten different characters to unlock ranging from the spitting image of Duke Nukem to a certain Italian plumber, and many others. They also have their own pros and cons, so the bunny costume can jump higher while the Flash lookalike is faster.
No matter which character you pick, though, the gameplay remains the same. Players must reach the exit of each level but are free to explore along the way. Exploration can be dangerous as the Nostrami is infested with all kinds of alien scumbags, but apart from the aforementioned capsule machines, there’s also plenty of other secrets and easter eggs to find. Eagle-eyed players might spot Mario and Luigi caught in a spider web in the background, or find John McClane while traveling through an air vent. There’s even an homage to the horrifying eye surgery scene in Dead Space 2 that is almost as gory as the original. Alien Scumbags certainly doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore, unless players choose to enable the optional censorship mood. Doing so not only tones down the blood and gore, but also bleeps out the swearing and removes some of the pixel nudity. Yes, even on an alien-infested spaceship your character can run into scantily clad ladies!
Alien Scumbags features four difficulty options, with the harder ones unlocking after completing the easier ones. The easiest mode shouldn’t give anyone any trouble but will mock you for being a wimp. Bumping up the difficulty makes the whole experience a lot more intense and requires players to pay more attention to their surroundings as well as their ammunition usage. Only your default handgun has unlimited ammo while other weapons, such as the pump-action shotgun and grenade launcher have a limited number of shots. Enemies range from standard zombie scientists to larger aliens and monstrous spiders, so it’s best to save the big guns for the big foes. The Nostrami is also dotted with lockers that can be used to hide in while reloading or to wait until foes turn their backs to shoot them. This is something that becomes very useful on the higher difficulties as getting grabbed by enemies in this game results in them immediately begging to snack on your face.
Visually, Alien Scumbags features a very chunky, pixilated look that retro fans, in particular, will enjoy. As the entire game is set onboard the Nostrami there’s not that much variety when it comes to the background visuals. However, there’s plenty of different enemies, lots of screen-shaking explosions, destructible environments, and some nice lighting effects. The pop-culture references in the easter eggs are also immediately recognizable. Alien Scumbags also features a great soundtrack with tunes that range from eerie to energetic. To make the action even more intense the music is tied to your health bar, so the lower it drops the more frenzied the tunes become. The sound effects in the game are surprisingly terrifying, with monstrous growls coming from all directions. The weapon sounds are just as good with the shotgun, in particular, being very satisfying to fire and reload. Even the standard of voice acting is very high for such a small indie title, which is a nice bonus. The volume levels of the music, sound effects, and voices can be adjusted independently to your liking.
The developers recommend playing Alien Scumbags with a controller, but the keyboard controls are not too bad either. There’s a handy reticule to show you which direction you are shooting in, but your options are limited to left, right, and up. Interactions with the environments are limited to computers and vending machines, although your character can also climb ladders or use moving platforms. Apart from jumping and shooting players can also hold down a button to sprint, but this is tied to a stamina meter that quickly depletes.
Even with thirteen odd levels Alien Scumbags is a relatively short game and can easily be completed in one sitting. However, the number of unlockable characters and difficulties does add plenty of replay value. There are also plenty of reasons to go back and find the secret areas, data discs that reveal more of the backstory, golden eggs for higher scores as well as “pro coins”, which are only available on higher difficulties. Death can come swiftly in the game, but players can continue from the start of the level by sacrificing some of their score. Watch out, though, as the amount goes up every time you make use of this option!
Overall, Alien Scumbags is a great game that really scratches that nostalgic itch for run and gun platform shooters. The art direction might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely has plenty of charm. For players who grew up with games such as Duke Nukem, Commander Keen, and Alien Carnage, this game comes highly recommended. For everyone else, we suggest checking out the free demo available on Steam.
Review based on version 11.1.0 of the game.
- OS: Windows Vista
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: Integrated
- DirectX: Version 9.0
- Storage: 50 MB available space
- Sound Card: Integrated