The good old PS Minis, what potential they had, they even look good on the Vita’s screen. Who knew there were still devs out there supporting this format? In fact I’d go as far to say that with the demise of PSM, some of the top games on that format SHOULD be made into Minis, as it seems PlayStation doesn’t look like it’s planning to kill those off. We all know that the Mini programme was there to combat the increasing bite-size gaming that was coming from the mobile side. These little games for PSP allowed smaller developers to join the PlayStation family, pretty much like how PlayStation now embraces indie devs on the Vita and PS4, so why not ‘re-launch’ this format again?
Luckily, Team Stendec could be onto a winner here, and judging from their new full-on pixel perfect shooter, perhaps there’s life in PS Minis after all.
Initially, it shows how critical a game’s title and design can make or break a game. If you don’t know anything about it, Angus Hates Aliens is one of those games. I say that as it just doesn’t do the game any justice. Even the basic premise of the game, your generic ‘Redneck’ trucker and the stereo-typical Alien invasion of a stereo-typical southern U.S. State didn’t really fill me with much promise. But the game had an ace up its checked-shirted sleeve. Aside from the sumptuous 16bit graphics, and the on-the-money soundtrack, think Borderlands crossed with Firefly/Serenity crossed with Rebel Galaxy and you’re somewhere near. Angus Hates Aliens is more than your run-of-the-mill side scrolling shooter. TACTICS. INVENTORY MANAGEMENT. WEAPON UPGRADING! Am I still playing a PS Mini???
The controls (being a PSP game essentially) are rock solid. Think twin-stick shooter, for a single stick console. In a heated battle at later levels you can get lost, as in the beginning most of the enemies come from the right, so you get used to shooting right with the R1 button, but as you can run around the enemy and later they come from behind you (left), you have to remember facing an enemy on you left, you need to press L1 to shoot or stab in that direction. At times I was still pumping away with the R1 thinking “just die, you helmets!” and cursing yet another death Bloodborne would be proud of. Like I say, twin-stick shooting for a single stick platform. On paper it might sound fiddly, but to be honest once you get dialled in, it becomes second nature as it obviously allows you to back away, be it left or right from whatever is attacking you, yet still attack without any unnecessary targeting controls. All other controls are what you’d expect, from your inventory screen (circle) where you can set up your quick inventory that is controlled via the Dpad (running on the Vita, I have my right stick emulating the Dpad for even quicker, quick inventory control) and your manual reload (square) with the reload timer for that extra fear factor when under attack.
The first few minutes of the game run you through a very simple story introduction and training area. Once past that, it becomes apparent that we have a damn good retro yet modern arcade game on our hands. You would be forgiven for thinking at this point, all you need to do is run right, killing the hordes of Zombies (yeah Zombies, not Aliens, more on this later). But it’s not ‘that’ arcade. Starting with only a combat knife for some CQC, you’ll quickly discover a hand gun, followed by the undead’s favourite jam spreader, the all-conquering Boomstick, cheers Ash (Shotgun). It is here you will have been presented with your first mid-level shop.
I’d just like to say at this point I was nursing a semi, and not the sort our bugger-gripped antihero would be seen driving…
My love of all things retro and indie will become apparent over the coming reviews, but these graphics could have so easily jumped straight from a Game Boy Advance. They are really well-drawn, gorgeous chunky sprites ala Halfbrick’s Age of Zombies or SNK’s Metal Slug series and very reminiscent of the classic point and click Lucasarts games in many ways. The backgrounds haven’t been ignored neither, detailed and offering plenty of variation within each level. The shop though is something else. Again the same early Lucasarts spritey feel is there, but the sound design in this one section is absolutely brilliant. It has that Fallout 3 wasteland radio feel. Now we know what’s going on in the world of Angus Hates Aliens; it appears the Aliens in question have obviously turned the local populace into the undead – undead of varying types from your standard docile-until-poked, the ravenous Olympic sprinter Zombies we have seen used in modern movie and Zombie games, to the archetypal vomiting ones. It’s amazing that by this point into the game, I’ve lost that negative reaction to the name of the game, the design of the main protagonist and even the story. It’s an absolute gem, and I’ll say it again, I still can’t believe this is a PS Mini! It could have so easily been released as a native PS Vita title, and as they are looking to release on PC too, it wouldn’t have been out of the question to see it as a PS4 game.
The difficulty curve is as nice as the presentation. Each area within each level will have you facing off against the different types of Zombies I mentioned earlier, and you’ll soon see the importance of deciding what to upgrade, or whether you should spend your money on buying health or ammo? There is always a chance to pick up ammo from the fallen undead, along with the all-important money, but its finely balanced, so make your choice well, because once you do, that’s it. The game features check points as well as auto and manual saves. So if you’ve spent your coins and pass a check point, there’s no changing your mind, unless you load in an earlier save. The game also features a neat storage system which also adds another tactical element as you can only carry nine items, including weapons. At times you will need to store extra ammo and health packs and even weapons, hoping you’ve made the right choice before you find the next store room (or Mr T’s GMC van!) to resupply yourself, as whatever you leave in one store, is available in any store you then discover as you progress. This I like, a Rogue-like twist on a retro looking game. It’s super addictive, and very replayable.
Later levels will finally see you battling the titular Aliens the game refers to, and not only aliens, but droids and good old space bugs. All in all, this game for me has come out of nowhere and it took me from a doubter to a total convert without needing any alien probes probed anywhere.
Tip top quality indie gaming from an unlikely source and a near perfect blend of strategy and run-and-gun action with resource management thrown in. So the question remains, could PS Minis actually be regarded as a viable option for devs out there who were PSM devs, or devs that are somewhere between pure indie and full native PS hardware? Angus hates Aliens certainly surprised me and clearly shows that there is an opportunity here. Although the PSP has been and gone, the future could be very bright for PS Minis once again. Lastly, I’d just like to amend an error on the PS Store, this IS compatible with the Vita, despite what it says on there.
…that title though.
Northlander Rating – 9/10