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Aliens in the Attic

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 2, Wii
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Playlogic
Developer: Engine Software
Release Date: Aug. 4, 2009

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NDS Review - 'Aliens in the Attic'

by Dustin Chadwell on Aug. 26, 2009 @ 4:57 a.m. PDT

Aliens in the Attic follows the storyline of the adventure-comedy film about a group of kids on a family vacation who must stave off an attack by knee-high alien invaders with world-conquering ambitions; all while trying to keep their parents from finding out!
Developed by Engine Software, Aliens in the Attic is based on the summer kids' movie of the same name.  Having not seen the film, I can't really tell you how closely associated the game is with the plot (it probably didn't feature kids running around a huge house with laser slingshots), but I can tell you that it was surprisingly better than I anticipated, at least for the first couple of hours of gameplay.  Unfortunately, the idea that this game was a children's version of Contra wore off after a bit, and I found the whole thing pretty repetitive and vapid, lacking any real semblance of difficulty or diversity over its many, many stages.

Apparently, the idea is that three kids get caught up in some alien invasion, and these extraterrestrial visitors resemble … robots.  During most of the levels, you'll fight little variations of toys, like a small tank and a UFO.  The kids are all swappable on the fly, so you can cycle between the three using the right shoulder button, and as you might have guessed, each kid has a particular set of skills that come into play.  The blond boy, the smug and somewhat arrogant one of the bunch, is also the powerhouse and is able to push large objects, which becomes necessary for some light puzzle-solving (i.e., placing blocks on switches).  The dark-haired boy is the brain of the group, and he's able to hack doors using a strange lock mini-game that has you spinning a wheel in the middle of the touch-screen and dropping colored balls into various slots according the pattern in the middle of the wheel.  The girl, who is obviously younger and about half the size of the two boys, is surprisingly the one with the highest jump; she's able to perform a much-needed double-jump to reach higher platforms, and she can also crawl through smaller vents and passageways. 

I'll give credit to Aliens in the Attack for trying to add some variety to the three characters.  They're all absolutely necessary, and while the two boys are the only ones with any offensive capabilities, you'll still find yourself reverting back to the girl to navigate the majority of the stages.  She's just far more intuitive for platforming usage with her double-jump ability.  The title tosses a fair amount of enemies at you as it progresses, so it becomes more important to play as one of the two male characters toward the end of the game. 

The combat starts off as an interesting throwback to old 2-D action titles, but as you spend more time with the game, it really shows you how stale the concept can be without a certain level of polish or design attached to the concept.  Obviously, the developers were hamstrung by the license, and I do wonder what Engine Software could pull off with this concept without being hampered by a kids' film license, but at the same time, there could have been a bit more variety in the stage design than what we ended up with.

Since the title of the movie includes the word "attic," you might have images of an older, quaint-looking house, middle America-ish, something that your grandparents might have lived in.  I'm not sure why this imagery pops into my mind with the use of the word "attic," but it does — perhaps because I've been an apartment dweller the majority of my life.  It appears that each level in the game takes place within the same home, so that's got to be a pretty impressive house. Some of the stages feel positively sprawling in scope, even if they are incredibly linear. 

Unfortunately, every stage looks and plays out in the exact same way; the path might be different, but you never feel like you're truly seeing something new, even when it's suddenly presented to you, like the locked door mini-game.  Each stage is bland and filled with some type of "Home and Garden" decor, and there's nothing about the visuals that really stand out as being particularly interesting.  It's worth noting that the characters are low-key 3-D and not sprite work, so they stand out against the more detailed background work — and I don't mean that in a good way.

The soundtrack starts off surprisingly strong, but then you realize that the one solid tune is pretty much the only song in the game.  You'll get a change when you encounter a boss fight, but there isn't a boss encounter at the end of every stage, so you're generally stuck listening to the same track loop over and over again.  It's a pretty good track when you considering the source, but even the best music will wear thin after you've listened to it for a few hours over and over. 

Altogether, Aliens in the Attic was surprisingly better than I anticipated, even if I was pretty down on it in this review.  The idea to take the license into a Contra-lite style experience is interesting, but it doesn't end up being that fun to play after a couple of hours.  Maybe the developers were hamstrung by the license, but it certainly needed more refinement before I could recommend the title for purchase.  If you enjoyed the movie and are curious about this game, it might be worth a rental, but just barely.  I'm hoping that we'll see something more interested from these developers later on, but for now, Aliens in the Attic is a pretty bland affair. 

Score: 5.0/10

 


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