Like any form of art, video games build on each other. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, this was especially apparent to anyone paying even moderate attention. Games were starting to take quite liberally from those around them, which sometimes resulted in lawsuits.
To follow one specific strain, in 1986, Enix released the first-ever Dragon Quest game, an RPG in a fantasy world setting. In 1987, Technos released the first-ever Double Dragon game, a massive beat ‘em up hit about two brothers taking down endless hordes of bad guys. Elements of both were pulled for Sega’s 1989 arcade game Golden Axe, a beat ‘em up set in a fantasy world where you can ride dinosaurs and stab enemies.
In turn, elements of Golden Axe inspired Sega’s 1990 brawler Alien Storm, another beat ‘em up, this time set in the midst of an alien invasion. (The game came to the Sega Genesis home console in 1991.) It’s available right now if you’re subscribed to the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.
Alien Storm offers three characters: man, woman, and robot. They’re all pretty similar, except the robot fights with an electro-whip as opposed to the flamethrowers and electroguns the humans are packing. But you’ll dodge attacks from gross aliens while waiting for the right moment to burn them to a crisp. They’ll drop out of the sky, crawl from under trash cans, and from off-screen to poke and prod you.
Removed from its 1990 context, Alien Storm benefits from players not having immediately seen Golden Axe right before playing through. The game keeps a fast pace, rarely letting a player get bogged down in one fight after another. And it keeps gameplay fresh in-between levels with fun first-person shooter minigames that resemble later arcade fare like Time Crisis, with creepy aliens glomming onto the screen.
The enemies in Alien Storm are likely the game’s biggest draw. These pull a bit from Ridley Scott’s Alien, which might be expected, but the game evolves H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph style into something a touch more playful. We see bodies and heads straining to break free of being trapped in an alien, sure, but it’s a lot of fun to burn them alive regardless! Getting attacked can mean ending up in an alien's mouth, which is a visceral gaming experience, but everything is pretty light.
The game straddles the line between arcade and console pretty well, giving a mix of rapid-fire gameplay and building up strength. Energy and weapons upgrades can be picked up from aliens, which like the minigames offer up a little bit of variation.
But variety is ultimately not what the game’s creators were going for. They were going for something that looked different, but felt very similar to titles that early ‘90s audiences had experienced before. Some games are innovators, others follow a trend as best they can. Alien Storm would spawn no sequels, and resides mostly in the memories of players who happened to pick up the game as children and remember its freaky designs.
It would become one in a long string of beat ‘em ups, helping to build up the legacy of the era’s gaming. It’s a fun one that plays well, a great game to explore if you’ve already got the Expansion Pack — even if it isn’t the most original of the bunch.