Alien Cruise is a sci-fi side-scroller developed by Cotton Gamer, in which your protagonist embarks on a journey to discover another planet, due to the deterioration of the Earth’s environment. Hence, the world’s leading minds train a series of elite astronauts, who must venture into the unknown.
There’s very little else in the way of narrative here. However, from there on out you are led through a brief tutorial section, and then given free rein in choosing any of five different worlds to explore and shoot your way through, all in order to find a new home.
The levels included in Alien Cruise consist of a few stages each, where you must plough through a variety of creatively designed enemies, and some boss battles here and there. Thankfully, the controls are fairly simple, as they generally tend to be with any side-scroller. You move from left to right, shoot enemies and dodge their attacks; nothing too out of the ordinary. Rewarding you through the various stages though are a number of power ups, which help make things a little bit easier. You can be granted an extra life (although these are somewhat rare), a shield, and more powerful weapons, to name a few.
For the standard fare, it is the enemies of Alien Cruise who are the real standout feature. There’s a wide variety of different foes to contend with, all of which have different methods of attack. They are often very specific to each of the different planets you stumble upon and all are fairly distinctive in their own right; with visuals that are bright and colourful, each world has its own unique feel which makes it easy to separate one from another. One such planet is called Land of Neptune, which sees you travelling through an ocean, taking on various aquatic creatures, while other more traditional planets feature a bizarre mix of strange aliens, all of which have their own unique flavour. The enemy AI seems to be well programmed as well, with different types utilising various methods of attack. There’s a fun challenge in quickly improvising a way through the hordes of enemies, although unfortunately, the enemies are sometimes too much.
The tutorial section of Alien Cruise on Xbox One really doesn’t prepare you for just how frustrating this game can be. To me, the difficulty spike feels a little absurd, but then maybe that’s just because I suck. The tutorial is slow paced and straightforward, introducing you to the game’s mechanics in a fairly relaxed manner. However, once you get to the regular levels, things become a lot more difficult, fairly quickly. The first couple of stages of each planet are quite beatable, but after this, they become absurdly difficult. Now maybe I’m just not great at side-scrollers, but the amount of different missiles and shots you’re expected to avoid while simultaneously killing waves of enemies starts to feel a little ridiculous after a while. I guess some may enjoy the frenetic chaos, but I have found it quite overwhelming, and a bit maddening after a while. The level of challenge almost seems a bit unfair, if anything, particularly when checkpoints are only handed out between each stage, which are separated by loading screens, so it can be extra frustrating to fall at the last hurdle after several minutes of progression.
Another issue I have with Alien Cruise is found in the inconsistency in the deaths. It turns out brushing against any kind of rock or piece of debris can kill you instantly, which admittedly isn’t entirely unfair. But there have been occasions where I was sure that I had hit a rock and nothing happened, whilst at other times hovering safely has still ended in trouble. The hit detection here is strange, and frustratingly inconsistent.
Another significant problem is the fact I’ve seen the game crash, throwing me right back to the Xbox dashboard. This is especially frustrating as you are required to complete each planet in one sitting, due to the game not saving your progress. This leads to losing large amounts of progress and if it had only happened once, it would be easier to forgive, but it hasn’t. There can be bugs and glitches in any game, but having the crashing happen multiple times is quite demoralising. Aside from all that though and the game seems to run relatively smoothly.
There is also a two player option for those who have a friend on hand that wishes to help you battle through the Alien Cruise struggles. The mode is virtually identical to the single player, but with an extra helping hand, which can help mitigate the difficulty somewhat, but if you are on your own, then it’s really a test of your own skill… and patience levels.
I’m sure there are probably some out there who will pick this up and have an enjoyable time with it, but my time with Alien Cruise has been frustrating, maddening, and in the end, not an enjoyable experience. It’s a shame, because the enemy design is superb and the visuals are bright and colourful, but unfortunately, that just isn’t enough.