Alpha Squad: It has hot chicks and it HATES you for being alive

Xbox Live Indie Developer Dragon Divide awoke one day in a cold, terrified sweat as they realized how empty of breasts the Contra franchise had been to date. It just doesn’t have enough in a way of breasts to compliment the on-screen action and the disjointed story about shooting stuff to death. Y’know, with BREASTS.

Dragon Divide recognized this horrific failure by Konami’s Contra games and decided to do something about it. They decided to make Alpha Squad, a challenging arcade style campaign of guns, explosions and breasts.

Something we’ll discuss in greater detail after the cut…

To begin with, this is the Contra no one asked for, but admittedly we all kind of needed on some level or another. The gameplay smacks more of a Smash TV homage wearing a Contra aesthetic, with rampaging hockey-masked maniacs rushing in lemming-like rows to bump your character to death amidst varying backgrounds and hard rock music that positively scream “EXTREME”.

There’s significant challenge given the copious amounts of enraged hockey fans in post-apocalyptia and their varied armed/armored/gigantic friends. It plays out a lot like classic shooters of old where half the game is tied to strategic evasion as you spray death into enemies while dodging bullets, dudes, bigger dudes, exploding dudes and more bullets. It’s just that most dude look a lot like Jason Voorhees and many of them take damage like Jason in a frustrating manner.

As you retreat strategically (or runrunrunrunrunrunrun!!!!!) all about the cramped single screen full of baddies, your are frantically shooting and dodging. As long as one thing is alive onscreen you cannot relax for risk of being bumped brutally to death by something hidden behind the visually intrusive environment like trees, cars or other nearby foliage. On the plus side, enemies absorb bullets until they pop like bloody water balloons and looting the gold bars that inexplicably are left behind leads to some very helpful purchases at anytime in a level via a store in the pause menu.

Going solo is rough — self-love jokes/references not necessary, but not entirely unwelcome given the type of boob-addled shoot-fest this game represents. It’s a chore luring baddies in your direction when some stages have partially obscured areas, often into a nest of the bastards spawning where you’re running. So expect a few cheap deaths here and there, especially if you parade through solo.

On the brighter side, there’s multiplayer via local and online co-op! A feature I have, as of yet, been unable to experiment with since the system doesn’t seem to do random pairings very well or perhaps it’s because no one plays it when I’m ready to do some shootin’. Whatever the reason, I’m going to have to encourage some folks down the line to test this puppy out with me over the internet because it’s a pretty fun game that holds great co-op promise, or just grab an extra controller or two and fire it up locally.

For a game that costs three bucks, it has a lot to offer in everything from an engrossing challenge to crazy rock music peppered with fun tongue-in-cheek humor adorning a plot as generic as humanly possible to excuse that our protagonists are heroic soldiers of fortune shooting down men engulfed in living fire. Conspiracies, Yakuza, Plagues and more stand as interesting, if not appropriately silly, background elements of this adorably mish-mashed arcade shooter where bullets pop people like balloons.

In all its attempts to sexify their product and add that extra air of gripping mercenary action I can’t help approaching Alpha Squad like an adorable barking puppy that presumes itself to be a ferocious, snarling beast.

The kind of puppy that tries its hardest to seem like a ferocious beast, but ends up looking like… well, it’s cute to see them try anyway. Maybe it’s because I’m jaded and old, but the artwork and other aesthetics just seem like they are trying too hard or just being silly. Maybe both.

Don’t let the puppy analogy hurt your perception of the game, it has strong roots in games of the good old days and has the decency to add layers of nifty features to flesh out this otherwise simple game giving it a pleasant measure of depth and a lot of replay value for a solid arcade shooter for $3. Give it a shot, it’s a lot of fun and has room enough for three friends.

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