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Heiankyo Alien – Game Boy

Heiankyo Alien – Game Boy

heiankyo alien coverPlatform: Nintendo Game Boy

Developer: TSG (old mode) Meldac (new mode)

Publisher: Meldac

Release Date (NA): 1990

Genre: Puzzle, Arcade-Style

Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10

I recently purchased a group of Game Boy games for a set price, not knowing at all what games were in the pile.  I was going through the pile and I came across classics like Super Mario Land, Wario Land, Tetris, and more.  And then I saw this little yellow faded cartridge with a red label titled “HEIANKYO ALIEN“. To say that I wasn’t EXTREMELY intrigued would be a lie. I truly didn’t know what to expect. It looked like some crazy alien action-adventure game (which I actually was hoping it would be). I figured it would be an alien-killing game or something, but I was caught completely off-guard when I powered on and saw my little character guy in a top down semi-isometric view in a set screen (similar to something like Pac-Man in the sense that everything you see is all you get). Let’s back up for a minute and start at the main screen.

HEIANKYO ALIEN : NEW

(scroll to bottom for original version review)

Power switch: ON.  The main menu title screen starts up almost right away and an alien ship thuds down on the ground and a few [aliens?] get out of the ship and run off.  The backdrop appears to be some small Japanese town in the mountains.  To the unknowing, such as myself, I was more confused than the actors on LOST reading the script for season 6. “What? Wait, I’m here… and I’m, um, there too? But I’m dead, sort of. And, wait, why do I still trust this guy? Isn’t he my enemy? Where’s JJ when I need him?!”  I digress. There are 2 options on the main menu, and 2 options only.  NEW or OLD.  I actually thought “old” meant “Continue past game” or something. But I wanted to start from the beginning, so I hit “NEW” and took it from there.

60680-heiankyo-alien-game-boy-screenshot-title-screens

The game starts right away in a small town with some little Japanese shacks, trees, and some blocks that appear/disappear (in the same location) to add some difficulty (or strategy perhaps?) to the level.  I ran around with complete confusion.  I pressed the A button and my character pulled something out and just sort of swung it. I pressed the B button and he did the same thing.  Surprise! I died. Twice. I accidentally held the A button down too long once, and I dug a hole in the ground. So I took this knowledge and thought “What does the B button do?” It doesn’t do anything… not unless you’re standing facing a hole you dug.  I dug a hole, and waited, and an alien fell in it.  Then I waited too long and he came out.  With trial and error, I discovered how to play the game! (it sucks not having the booklet or even an inkling of a clue WTF you’re supposed to do).

With this new found knowledge on how to kill the enemies (dig a hole, alien falls in, bury alien, alien now dead, do it until all aliens are buried and dead, win the game), we can now play Heiankyo Alien! Each level’s layout is way too similar and provides very little variety in what to do.  You dig a hole, an alien falls in, and you bury him.  You do this for ALL of the aliens until they are all buried and gone. I found it all too easy to get in a corner, dig holes around me and just wait for the aliens to fall in.  I was able to do this for the first 5 or 6 rounds, but quickly found myself playing a dodging game and struggling mightily to avoid the aliens. The quantity of aliens, stage layout, alien A.I., and alien speed all begin to play major factors in your ability to survive and advance.

heiankyo alien new gameplay

Through the first 5 rounds, I began to wonder if it would EVER change or get harder! But then my own tactics began to work against me.  If you set up a hole, and an alien falls in, he is stuck there until enough time passes OR if another alien passes over their hole.  If an alien passes over the hole and lets another alien out, that alien can now be on the other side of the hole. SO my strategy of standing in the corner with multiple holes surrounding me put me in a trap. You can’t walk over a hole so it is now an obstacle that can only be moved if you bury the hole. In the time that it takes to bury a hole, an alien could be coming at you and kill you before that hole is buried completely. It’s truly frustrating, but it’s all part of the strategy.

heiankyo alien new

The longer I play Heiankyo Alien NEW, the more I fall in love with its ingenuity and unique style of play.  At first it seems like some silly little simple game that needed much work. But after spending some serious time with my Game Boy Pocket and this copy of Heiankyo Alien, I noticed that standing in a corner and digging holes would not be enough to truly succeed. It took some time to figure it out, but Heiankyo Alien requires quick-thought processing where you have to decide “Do I run or do I begin to dig?” It requires strategy where you have to put the holes in the right places so as to trap an alien, but not let it hinder your path of retreat or attack.  I’m not sure if these necessary strategies were deliberate by Meldac, or if the game gracefully fell into itself this way, but I was wonderfully pleased and I think Heiankyo Alien is up there in the ranks of great puzzle & maze games such as Tetris, Dr. Mario, Pac-Man, and Head-On and stands strong against other trap-em-up titles like Digger, Lode Runner, and Mouse Trap.

Overall, if you’re a fan of puzzle / maze games (or maybe you wanna play some wacky game you’ve never heard of), then Heiankyo Alien is just the game for you.  The animation is simple yet pleasant and reminds me of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy.  Not to mention, this is the original version of the updated game (the version that Super Famicom and Windows 98 would receive) which at the time was unique to the Game Boy.  Throw this game in with Tetris and you’ve got yourself a solid cross-country plane-ride stacking tetrominoes and burying aliens in Japan. It’s a pleasure to come across a game I’ve never heard of (which is rare, but still happens more often than you would think).

HEIANKYO ALIEN: OLD

The Game Boy cartridge offers up the NEW version of Heiankyo Alien, which I detailed in full above.  We will now discuss the OLD version.

heiankyo alien old

The old version is actually the original version developed by TSG, a group at the University of Tokyo.  It was originally sold for home computer use, but quickly made its way to the arcades.  This original version has color, but due to the dot matrix color system in the original Game Boy, the only color is black (no, there are no shades of black. Just solid black color.).  The level layouts are from a top-down aerial view and the gameplay and concept is exactly the same as the new version.  The graphics are obviously lacking any advancements in this handheld port of the classic, but for those who want to enjoy the original, this is a welcome addition.

I highly doubt anyone would purchase the original version for the Game Boy if it were sold individually, but by including it packaged in the same cartridge as the new version, the developers can please new and old fans alike.  The new version is by far the superior he-alien arcadeversion (debuting 11 years later has its benefits) but the old version gives us a look into the past.  It gives us a look into an era when video gaming was thought of as a competitive sport and players would dump dozens of quarters to be the top dog on the scoreboard and have the privilege of inputting one’s initials and telling one’s friends to “Come down to the arcade tomorrow night. I’m going for the top spot in Heiankyo Alien!”  I find it extremely difficult to play more than one level in this original version, but nonetheless, it’s fun to travel back in time.

*The colored picture is from the original arcade version, the black and white picture is from the Game Boy.

OVERALL Nerd Rating for the entire cartridge experience: 8 out of 10

Reviewed by NerdBerry

Written by Nerdberry

Nerdberry

What’s up yall? David “Nerdberry” here! I am the founder of Nerd Bacon and the current co-owner (and CEO) along with partner David “theWatchman!” I hail from North Carolina, hence my love for all things pork! Oh, you’re not familiar with NC? Well I’m not 100% sure, but I am pretty confident that NC and VA lead the nation in pork production. I could be wrong, but even if I am, I still love bacon!

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