Arcades seemed to have a great track record when it came to certain media adaptations and Konami was one of those that did an exceptional job at it, especially during the late 80s and early 90s with hits like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) and The Simpsons Arcade Game (1991). Even lesser known titles like Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa (1992) and Bucky O’ Hare (1992) were solid games in their own right.
Four years after its debut in the theaters, Konami’s adaptation of Aliens came to arcades in 1990. It was powered by one of the hardware boards derived from what System 16 referred to as Konami’s “what CPU have we got a lot of today” approach to building cabinets. Konami had a spaghetti shotgun smorgasbord of hardware over the years chucking out old boards and developing wholly new ones for a batch of games and the one behind Aliens was no exception.
It was also the same hardware that ran their TMNT title in ’89 along with others such as Gradius III in the same year. The brains for it was a custom Konami chip numbered “052526” with a Zilog Z80 as the sound CPU and a Yamaha YM-2151 chip for sound generation.
For Aliens, Konami turned the film into a run ‘n gun starring Ripley. A second player could also co-op as Hicks, apparently healthy and ready to wage war right beside her as the two go in with smartguns to wipe out the Alien threat across eight stages which includes a final battle with the Alien Queen aboard the Sulaco in a power loader.
Konami’s artists went all out with this adaptation. Even though the movie only had one kind of Alien and then multiplied it by the hundreds, Konami decided that wasn’t enough and not only brought that Alien into the game (albeit a purple version so it can stand out) but created a plethora of variants to throw at the player. Aliens now came in all shapes and sizes from face huggers galore to flying versions, Aliens coming out of the floor (though the floor doesn’t get filled with holes), zombified humans using machine guns, tossing explosives, or floating in water like ticking traps, Alien slugs bursting from them if you get to close, and even liquid puddles turning into Aliens and then back again.
The bosses were also some of the craziest seen in a run ‘n gun. There’s a mini-boss with floating orbs, another that spits out giant Alien eggs, and a duo double teaming the player like twin Blankas thanks to their electric attacks. None of these were in the movie except for the original version, but as an arcade game, they made for an incredibly creative palette of baddies.
Flamethrowers, rocket launchers, three-way guns, and even bombs that you can toss out popped up in each of the stages to try and give you a fighting edge. There are even two points in the game where the player can use a power loader to punch Aliens in their way though it doesn’t offer a lot of protection and can feel a bit like a liability versus just having a good weapon by your side. Players had a generous life bar, but the game compensates by zerging the player with so many Aliens. Continues pick up right where you died but reset your score to zip, so if you want to put yourself up on the leaderboard with more than just the final score for beating the game, players will have to exercise more than their quarter tossing skills.
The game seems to jump right into the action from when Ripley discovered Newt to the final battle on the Sulaco against the Queen. Konami’s designers followed the tried and true formula for adaptations like this by ruthlessly exaggerating even casual scenes from the film into full blown Rambotrons of relentless action. That struggle through the vents from the movie as they were escaping those Aliens? Now it’s a fight through vents filled with hot steam, zombified humans behind grates tossing explosive surprises, face huggers, and even a flying Alien or two just because. The trip in the elevator down into the fusion reactor? Now it’s a fight for nail scraping survival in trying to keep the Aliens from breaking the elevator cable too soon causing you to fall to your death.
There are also stages where the player will be fighting Aliens from the back of the armored transport as you speed forward into a tunnel racing to Newt’s rescue. The game also occasionally switches up the player’s facing 90 degrees to fight bosses in the background. Players also have a full eight-directions of movement for most of the stages, though in others like the vent, it’s understandably a strictly 2D movement affair.
The final battle against the Queen is a tough slog and where you need to use a power loader to finally finish her off just like in the movie. None of the bosses have life meters other than flashing colors, or turning a shade of red to indicate that they’re about to die which came make fighting something like the Queen a bit tough to guesstimate just when you need to deliver the coup de grace. But doing so rewards you with a neat ending screen and restarts the whole thing from the beginning if you still have lives left.
The weird thing about this game is that it never left the arcade. It just stayed there though it’s probably licensing that’s to blame for why it couldn’t escape from the venue and play on other systems. Most players would have to content themselves with Activision’s Aliens instead which wasn’t a bad game, either. Just not quite as hyper packed with shooty run ‘n gun action as Konami’s version was. It was truly a run ‘n gun proving that Konami had a certain magic touch in those days. And it was also another quarter munching demonstration of how the arcades could take a walk from point A to point B and turn it into an explosive battlefield of flying Aliens, acid rain, screaming missiles, and heroic players.