Game Review: Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! (PSP Mini)

Shoot-em-ups… one of the oldest game genres around and even today, there are publishers still releasing side-scrolling shooters. The basic format hasn’t changed that much since Konami released Scramble back in 1981 and despite the genre evolving over the decades with the addition of power-ups, bosses, games owe a lot to that old arcade classic.

So Laughing Jackal have come along to make their contribution to the cause, with this game for the Minis range. In Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! you take on the lead role of a legendary star fighter pilot who have to protect the Earth from an alien invasion. Now, have you ever wondered why – with all the planets in the universe – aliens always seem to target us? That aside, this 50’s B-movie inspired shooter puts you up against hordes of alien invaders across several levels with the usual end-of-level bosses to defeat. Now, not being picky here again but why are all our heroes in these games sent out – against entire invasion fleets – alone? Surely if we want to defend our planet against a hostile force then we’d throw everything imaginable at them to ward off our assailants, not one man in one ship? But I digress…

You have little more that a trusty laser mounted on your ship, although you are aided by a Recycl-o-Ray that is conveniently fitted to your craft. As you destroy the oncomming aliens, you can use this ray to extract essence from their remains and use it to create more powerful weapons to use against them although its use is temporary until you run out of essence (so keep using the ray to top it up or it’s back to your plain old laser!). In a nutshell, that’s it – blast your way through each level, take on each boss and turn their weapons against them, all set against cartoon backdrops, with nicely animated graphics displaying a somewhat quirkly sense of humour from the developers.

I’m not really sure what to make of this one to be honest. The power-up-system is certainly original, but I have to say that it is also one of the game’s weaknesses. By using the shoulder buttons to activate the ray and then separate buttons for normal and recycled fire it makes playing the game unnecessarily frustrating. In most shoot-em-ups all you need to do with any power-up-system is fly over the new weapon and it’s immediately activated and set to your default weapon making the game more intuitive but this system gets in the way of playing the game. Whether an automatic collection, or automatically defaulting to the new weapon would have made a difference, I don’t know but certainly it would have been far less frustrating. As it stands, it is all too easy to lose a life while trying to collect essence or even swapping between weapons.

Then there are the graphics. While they work well and the cartoon style fits the game’s humour perfectly, it does present some problems. Multiple layers of scrolling add depth to a game and can enhance visuals significantly… when done properly but here they become a hinderance. I mentioned Scramble earlier for a reason. Part of the background in the game in indestructible and contact with it will cause your ship to explode. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem but there are times when an additional layer of graphics scrolls past in front of the main game screen blocking your view of the playing field. It only obscures your view for a moment, but in that time it’s easy for you to have collided with the background, an alien craft or a missile that they have fired at you.

The game is tough at the best of times, especially with the end of level bosses who seem to take forever to defeat but the weapon systems just add insult to injury. While the game offers continues which do help, I get the impression that some gamers may be put off playing this for any lengthy period of time which is a shame because this game deserves to appeal to a wider audience than hardcore shoot-em-up veterans.

If you can cope with that and the frustrating controls for the power-up system then I’m sure that you will be able to get some enjoyment out of this, but it’s certainly a game I’d suggest that you try before you buy if at all possible as it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It’s possibly worth considering as part of the twin pack with the superior Stellar Attack but I’d have reservations about this on its own.

Simon Plumbe

At A Glance


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