Saturday, 17 January 2015
GROW: Heart of the Alien
Platform: Sega CD
Design: Jeremy S. Barnes, Michael Burton & Doug Nonast
Genre: Platformer / Action adventure
Picking up where Another World left off, Heart of the Alien puts you in control of Buddy, Lester's alien friend. At the end of Another World, Lester is carried away in Buddy's arms on the back of a pterodactyl heading for Buddy's home village. If you pay attention in the first minutes of the game, what you are shown are the events that led to Buddy being captured in the first place, how he ended up in a cage together with Lester, and some small glimpse of what he was doing while you were controlling Lester in the last game. I especially like the part where Buddy crashes through the colored glass mosaic and joins Lester, because that scene had a strong impact in Another World, so stitching the two games together in this manner is genius.
Sadly Eric Chahi, the creator of Another World, had nothing to do with the design of Heart of the Alien, and I guess that shows in a lot of ways. The storytelling is much less potent, the level and puzzle design not as finely tuned, and as a result the overall game is not nearly as strong as its predecessor. That being said though, if you're a fan of Another World, you should definitely give this game a go; and while Chahi may be missing, this game does bear the name of one of the veterans within the industry: Brian Fargo of Fallout fame. Fargo was credited as being the executive producer on Heart of the Alien. Initially Eric Chahi was on board, and was asked what he would do in a sequel. His answer was that it could be interesting to redo Another World from the Alien's point of view. The developers from Interplay may have misinterpreted this, or simply found the idea to be uninteresting, since they instead chose to continue the story where Another World left off. Subsequently Chahi made a public statement saying that the game did not represent his vision of the world.
The story of the game is as follows: Once Buddy returns Lester safely to the ruins of his village, he sets out to recover his weapon, a kind of laser whip that doubles as a laser blaster, and then returns to the prison to free his people from the oppressors. Strangely enough Lester joins you twice on this adventure, even though you just left him unconscious and badly wounded in your village... Of course Buddy succeeds in his quest to free his people, and the end scene is a happy picture of aliens enjoying life in their village which has been restored to its former glory. As for Lester though - well I'll let you find out about Lester's fate yourselves. Suffice it to say that the ending is way less open than it was in Another World, leaving nothing for the player to interpret and build new stories upon.
If you know what you're doing, and you have got luck on your side, you should be able to complete this game in about 25 minutes, but don't think that means the game is easy! This game is hard, even harder than its predecessor, but I found it to be also fair, so when you die for the 100th time you still only blame yourself and not the game. There is this one point though, where you are facing two guards at once... Boy, if I hadn't used save states for that I would never have gotten past that place. Taking care of a single guard soon becomes second nature, but taking down two guards that are positioned such that their shields protect the both of them is damn hard.
The gameplay builds on what was established in Another World, but it further extends on this by introducing Buddy's laser whip, which can be used Indiana Jones style to swing over gaps and other dangers. There are also some places where Buddy can jump upwards and grab onto ledges, reminiscent of Prince of Persia.
All in all I rather enjoyed Heart of the Alien and it is definitely a title that I'd want to find for my Sega CD, but that could just be me, a huge fan of the prequel, looking at it through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia. If you enjoyed Another World, and would like to see what Interplay could do with that license, please give it a go. You'll probably be a bit disappointed with the story, but gameplay wise it's still a good game I think. If Another World was a 9 out of 10, I'd say that Heart of the Alien is a 6 or 7. It's definitely one for the fans ;-)
Until next time... stay retro!