Alpha Mission II, known in Japan as ASO II: Last Guardian, is just one of the many NEOGEO titles being brought to modern system as part of the ACA NEOGEO selection — the Arcade Archives. It’s the sort of retro treat that’s perfect to have on Switch. But how is Alpha Mission II holding up these days?
Alpha Mission II is a scrolling shmup that tasks the space fighters SYD-RX and SYD-FX (the co-op buddy) with repelling an android invasion against Earth. Throughout 7 fairly visually distinct stages you’ll make your way to the leader of the invasion, and take him down (if you can manage it). As an arcade shmup, there’s not a whole lot to it besides blasting and having fun.
Even back in 1991 a decent shmup still needed a USP (that’s “unique selling point” for those of us who begrudgingly know marketing terminology). Alpha Mission II‘s is its “Armour System”. The armour can be equipped to power up your tiny space fighter into a larger, more offensive powerhouse, but only temporarily. Different armour grants different powers, such as a series of a large laser beams, a big old nuclear blast, or even a shield.
Taking damage and using the powered weaponry from the armour wears down an energy metre (restored by “E” pickups), and once it runs out your ship returns to normal. Depending on the power these can last a while, or be over almost right away. You can hold stock of the armours in your inventory, carrying over between lives, as well as obtain new stock by trading gold in between rounds, or by collecting three armour drops of the correct type in a row. It adds a layer of strategy to the stages — both with which armour you want to pursue, and with when to bust out the armour, perhaps saving it for the harder boss fights.
Which isn’t to say your main little ship can’t be upgraded. Destroying drones will drop one of four pick-ups — speed, laser, missile, and gold. These will fall slowly down toward your ship, ripe for collection. Shoot one however, and it’ll shoot back up into the sky, taking longer to fall down, but also changing the pick-up type to the next one in the cycle, until eventually it can be switched no longer. This can make it pretty tricky to get the ones you want, as you’ll need to both avoid shooting them, and also manipulate yourself to be below them at the right time. It’s not a bad idea, but it can sometimes be a bit annoying, effectively killing off an area of the screen.
And if you die? The non-armour power-ups you’ve collected will disappear — that is, unless you’ve picked up a “K” that’ll let you retain your upgrades between death. Some areas can be pretty sparse for upgrade drones, especially the boss areas, which will leave you thirsty for both armour upgrades and ship upgrades. The basic ship can feel very weak, and the game is hard enough where you’ll end up trapped in this weak point for some of the harder sections of the game, making them feel even harder. You can toggle some game options in this ACA version to make things a little easier for yourself, such as an auto-fire, or the difficulty setting itself.
The levels themselves aren’t really anything to write home about, they’re mostly the standard shmup fare with, as already mentioned, some pretty stingy upgrade placement. As one of the earlier NEOGEO games, the graphics aren’t even as impressive as you’d come to expect from other titles in the range. But it makes up in both of these departments with some very impressive boss battles. These see your tiny ship taking on some huge opponents in dynamic battles that change strategy and situation throughout. As cool as they are, though, the lack of power-ups available in the fights mean that if you die you’ll end up having to bang your head against them a little bit to progress, which can end up just being a bit dull.
Alpha Mission II has some nice ideas, and the occasional spectacular set-pieces that were pretty forward thinking. The armour system feels fun to play around with, and provides a lot of different options to try out over multiple playthroughs, but without more of its own identity there isn’t all that much reason to playthrough it more than once on single or co-op play.