I have a confession: I’m not much of a pinball player. Maybe I was born in the wrong era. Don’t get me wrong, the local bar/pool hall that my circle of friends and I diligently haunted every weekend for years has a High Speed table, and I always gravitated to that instead of Golden Tee. I’m not Anti-Pin, just personal preference. The concept of Pinball-as-video-game always seemed odd to me, from Atari’s Video Pinball (which my girlfriend always finds time to play whenever we make it up to FunSpot), to the RPG-esque Pinball Quest on the NES, out to this weeks game, Alien Crush, on the Turbo-Grafx 16.
The concept of Alien Crush, one of the initial releases for the TG-16 in the US, back in 1989, is to rack up the most points, typical of any pinball game. As the name suggests, there is a space alien theme. You’re greeted with a choice of two speeds of game-play, with ‘slow’ feeling like a training mode. You’ll find yourself launched onto the playing field by an organic looking metal… thing, that I think I saw in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Like any late 80’s pin table, there’s gates that allot bonus points as you pass through them, and the typical ‘ball catchers’ (I’m sure I’ll get blasted for this, I don’t know the technical term) that hold the ball and fire it out. Being a video game, some of these catchers, shaped like a brain, or a creature’s jaw, transport you to another bonus room filled with aliens. You must kill them with the ball and paddles or fall out of the room. The game then continues on the initial play table. Unlike a real pin, you can pause this, which sounds minor until you need to take a bathroom break.
If you took H.R. Giger renderings, some enemies from the arcade game / NES game Life Force, and a pinball machine, tossed them all in a blender and pressed ‘puree’ for ten seconds, you’d probably get Alien Crush. The game looks better than many SNES /Genesis games. My only quibble with graphics of the game is that the main play field is fairly.. well.. pink, like a medium rare steak. I get it, the machine is alive, and the color reinforces this fact, but it looks pretty bland in some places. The multiple eyed Aliens looking creature will instill fear in small children. The main play field is actually cut in half horizontally, and as the ball rolls from one half of the table to the other the view will instantly change. It can be mildly disorientating at first, but you’ll learn to deal with it. Or you’ll lose.
If you do lose, you’ll at least have a nice soundtrack. Alien Crush offers two music tracks that are both very good and arcade quality. I prefer the second, Demon’s Undulate. The actual sound effects are passable. They sound like a pinball table, which is the point, but they are not a strong point. Luckily, the music more than makes up for it, and to be honest, the game moves quick enough that you won’t cry about sound, you’ll cry about the ball going down the center missing both paddles (which I seem to do in real life and in this game.. WTF!)
You never realize how much you miss the shoulder buttons of a SNES/PSX controller until they aren’t there. To control the right paddle, you press button II (the far right button), while the left paddle is the directional pad. Shaking the machine is button I. If I were in the controller modding business, I’d make some shoulder buttons.I can think of three pinball games that would instantly benefit from these. The as-delivered control scheme works with a Turbo Tap pad, but I can’t picture it being better with the TurboStick controller. I mean, if Arkanoid on the NES can have its own dedicated controller, why couldn’t the Crush series?
Did I say series? Yes, there are two sequels, Devil’s Crush, an obscure Japan only release, Jaki’s Crush, and more recently, an An Alien Crush remake on WiiWare, the PSP and PS3! You have no excuse to not try this game in some form! If you haven’t picked up a TG-16 yet, why not? Even though it’s one of the system’s initial releases, Alien Crush is one of the best TG16 games, and since I picked up a system last summer, I’ve finally had some time to explore the library.