Review: Aliens in the Attic (Nintendo DS)

Aliens In the Attic
Developer: Playlogic
Publisher: Playlogic
Genre: Action
Release Date: 08/04/2009

I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t this the guy who complains about movie tie-ins every time he reviews one and then tells everyone not to play it?” Yes, I am. Still, it appears I don’t learn from my mistakes, as I saw no problem whatsoever with volunteering to review this game.

Now, if you haven’t heard of the movie, that’s probably because it is the latest kid-oriented movie by Fox to fail epically at the box office. Apart from Ice Age, those boys have got to be scratching their heads about how badly their kiddie films have been doing.

Anyway, since it’s a kid film, we have the obligatory video game release on the Nintendo DS. What ends up being surprising is the game isn’t nearly as bad as you might expect it to be.

Story

The story follows the basic outline of the film: a group of kids are on vacation with their family when they discover the house is secretly being used by a group of minuscule extra terrestrials bent on world domination by way of using a device that grows them to massive size.

The kids are a small group of cliches. You have Tom, the 15 year old whiz kid who knows way too much about weapons. Naturally, he’s picked on because of his intelligence and resents being called a nerd. His cousin Jake is the polar opposite. He’s popular, athletic, and teases Tom relentlessly. Finally, the youngest of the family is a seven year old named Hannah. She’s the super friendly social type who’s willing to make friends with just about anyone. You can see where this is going.

The plot unfolds with small dialogues between these three characters at the beginning of each mission. Other characters are occasionally mentioned, but don’t really show up on screen or have any lines. Huge sections of plot are glossed over. The kids find out things seemingly by magic, and there are apparently bits that happen between levels that you never hear about. Hannah befriends one of the aliens, yet you never see that interaction. She kind of just mentions it. Also, in one of the more stupid plot twists, the aliens are able to befuddle the minds of the adults. This is basically just an excuse for the kids to be the heroes of the story.

Basically put, this is your typical kid movie where the kids are all heroes and save the day while the parents are oblivious to everything. The kids even brush off the whole thing as a game of pretend at the end, completely nullifying all of the work you put into it. Even still, the story might have been some goofy fun if not for the poor telling of it.

Graphics

By far the game’s weakest point, the graphics look like something out of a rejected SNES game from nearly twenty years ago.

The characters are featureless shapes with little detail, and their outfits tend to be one or two colors. The enemies feature a little more detail, but more often than not they’re only one or two colors themselves, and most are palette swaps. The best looking things in the game are the aliens themselves. They might not look all that different from each other, but they have detailed faces and actual expressions when things happen.

Regarding the effects department, the game features mostly your typical laser blast effects for gunfire and aliens rays, which generally amount to nothing more than a shaped blob of color flying by. The screen can at times be filled with hundreds of these things, and I never noticed any slowdown. If there’s one thing you can say about the game, it runs smooth.

The backgrounds aren’t so bad, but they come off as a bit bland. The whole games takes place in and around the house, so you’ll see a lot of similar colored rooms and grassy areas. There’s some detail in the backgrounds, such as staircases and trees.

Apart from the character models, there’s nothing overtly bad about the graphics. They’re just bland and far below what the DS is capable of.

Audio

Aliens in the Attic could teach lessons about generic action game score. The music is hardly remarkable at any point, though none of the tunes are offensive to the ears. At times, the music can add to the action, but more often than not, you won’t be able to hear it over the endless gunfire.

Since you’ll be shooting nearly every moment in the game, you’re going to be hearing the same handful of sounds over and over again in rapid succession. When it comes to Jake’s laser blasts, this is fine, but a couple of weapons, such as the ray gun, sound annoying. Worse off, the ray gun is the weapon of choice for all of the enemies, so you’ll really want to kill them fast before the sound of their guns drives you insane.

That’s all there really is to talk about. Its your standard audio package for a licensed game. There isn’t any voice acting to worry about, and there aren’t any glitches to mention. It’s pretty simple and bland.

Gameplay

You might be surprised to learn that Aliens is in fact a shoot em up in the style of Contra or Metal Slug. You take control of one of the three children at a time and blast your way through enemy hordes in order to reach the end of the level. Occasionally, you’ll fight a boss who’ll require some sort of strategy or special ability to defeat.

At any point, you can switch between the three kids. Jake is the strongest, and he can move heavy crates as well as wield a spud gun later in the game. His weapons are also stronger and have a faster rate of fire. Tom’s special ability is to wield alien gadgets. These include a machine that paralyzes enemies, one that allows you to control them with telekinesis, another that allows you to reflect enemy attacks, and finally an ability that allows you to generate large sound waves that confuse the enemy. Hannah is the most agile of the group. She can double jump for greater distances and can crawl through tight spaces. She is the only one incapable of wielding a weapon.

The controls are fairly standard. You move with the directional pad and the face buttons allow you to jump, fire, lob a grenade, and use the alien gadgets. You’re able to switch characters on the fly with the shoulder buttons. If you need more precise aiming, you can hold the stylus down on the touch pad in the direction you need to fire. You won’t fire as fast as if you were just tapping the face button, and it can feel awkward jumping when aiming this way, but it allows for greater accuracy.

Levels are pretty straightforward. For the most part, you’ll move in one direction, clearing enemies, making a few jumps, and even solving a handful of environmental puzzles. There’s nothing overly complicated here, and if you keep pushing through, you can avoid a significant amount of a level pretty easily.

One of your goals is to find and free the adults around the house. Once you find them, they’ll hand you an upgrade for one of your weapons. However, you’ll need to have collected bolts along the way. After you’ve collected an certain amount of bolts, the amount of upgrades you’re able to equip at once will increase. Upgrades include allowing your bullets to bounce off of walls, giving you a spread fire, and simply just increasing the speed or rate of fire.

The game has a simple formula that anyone should be able to figure out: what it all boils down to is a kid’s version of Contra and/or Metal Slug. It plays pretty well and offers enough variety thanks to the weapons types and special gadgets. You don’t have to simply tap the fire button to progress, but you’re more than welcome to try.

It’s great for young kids.

Replayability

It took me a mere two hours to play through the entire game. I missed a couple of the adults, but it didn’t really mater.

Once you’ve beaten the game, you aren’t given the choice to hop to whatever level you chose or continue through the main adventure with all of your weapons and upgrades intact. Once you’ve beaten the game, that’s it. There’s nothing left for you to do. There aren’t any difficulty settings. The most you can do is fiddle with the volume.

This is as bare bones a single player adventure as I’ve seen on the DS.

Balance

This game is incredibly easy. Enemies barely do any damage. Heath and grenades are everywhere. There are frequent checkpoints throughout every level and you have an endless number of lives to work with. The only time I died due to loss of life was when I was being an idiot during the final boss fight. Apart from that, I made a few stupid jumping decisions, but unlike most games, there are so few of these where you’ll actually be in danger that you have nothing to worry about.

It all becomes even easier when you upgrade your weapon so that it destroys enemy fire in mid air. This pretty much gives you free reign over every enemy in the game, and even helps you defeat bosses with ease.

This game was meant to be played by kids, plain and simple.

Originality

There isn’t an original bone in this game’s body. Everything it does can pretty much be traced back double-digit years to action or platforming games back on the NES. There are some neat touches when it comes to the alien gadgets, like the sound gadget requires you to make noise in the mic to work, but that kind of thing has been done before.

The game is simply derivative, even if it does a good job at what it does.

Addictiveness

It’s pretty easy to want to continue when you’re playing the game. Levels aren’t too long, and the upgrades are actually worth it in this game. You won’t want to push on for the story’s sake, but you might be having just enough fun to continue on anyway.

The game is really short, and you’ll be able to finish it in one sitting if you’re like me. If not, this is a great game if you only have a few minutes to spare and want to get something accomplished.

It might be too easy, but the gameplay is good enough to make you keep going for a little while at least.

Appeal Factor

I’ve already mentioned how the movie is a bust, so it isn’t like children will be begging mommy for this game much at all. Fans of Contra won’t be going near this because of the lack of difficulty.

This pretty much means the only people who will enjoy this are young children who want something they can beat. Parents can feel safe buying this game as its light-hearted, a great gateway to better shoot-em-ups, and pretty fun when you get into it.

The only turn off will be the game’s price tag. Thirty dollars for two hours worth of entertainment just isn’t feasible.

Miscellaneous

When it comes to licensed games, this fits neatly into the “decent” category. It’s not bad, it doesn’t disgrace the film it’s based on, and it won’t be on anyone’s worst game of the year list.

What’s on the cartridge is solid, even if it isn’t much. Had the game been longer or featured a few more modes, it would have been a pretty good game. As it is, its a good example of how to make an inoffensive movie tie in.

The final score will reflect the value of the game, if not its overall quality based on gameplay.

The Scores

Story: Poor
Graphics: Very Poor
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Poor
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:
diehardjackAliens in the Attic for the DS is a game that leaves me with mostly good vibes. It’s a solid kids game at best, and plays better than most licensed games I’ve played. The problem lies in that it is incredibly short, far too easy, and doesn’t offer nearly enough value to justify its price. Its a safe bet for kids, and as far as I’m concerned, a great buy for parents hoping to introduce their kids to the shoot-em-up genre without all of the frustration of Contra or Metal Slug. If you can find this for cheap or in a discount bin, don’t turn it up because of the movie license. If I had children, I’d encourage them to play this.

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