In Space, No One Can Hear You Waka Waka Waka – ‘Alien’ for the Atari 2600

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While the movie Alien was released in 1979, the first video game adaptation of the science-fiction horror experience came three years later with Alien for the Atari 2600 home console in 1982. Developed and published by Fox Video Games, a subsidiary to 20th Century Fox, the game can be described in generous terms as being within the “Maze Chase” genre, or in more accurate terms as a “Pac-Man clone.” Alien does not feature power-pellets or ghosts, but it does feature a Flame Thrower. I sense your tracking device is pinging with questions, so it might be best if you read the narrative set-up from the back-of-the-box first:    

Ever since you left that last planet, you’ve been bothered by eerie sounds coming from somewhere in the hull of Nostromo, your giant transport cruiser. After setting the ship’s controls on autopilot, you descend to have a look.
Yow! Every hallway in the entire maze-like hull has been lined with the grotesque eggs of some gruesome space creature. Quickly, you sprint down the corridor crushing the eggs as you go. Then, you see it! A hideous being with jaws like a beartrap. You run away from this brutal beast, not wishing to end up as an intergalactic snack. You turn a corner and stare unbelievingly. Another alien is just ahead.

I can’t read “Yow!” without it sounding like Cat from Red Dwarf, with him pivoting and James-Brown juking out of danger, but in Alien we are not informed who “you” is. It could be Ripley, in a dozen pixels or so, with none left for her pre-scalped head; it could be anyone on commission from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, given that the plot does not match with the unfolding of events from the movie, where there was only the one sizable monster to deal with. In Pac-Man, there are four variously coloured ghosts that stalk the titular figure; with Alien, there are three xenomorphs, each one cotton-candy-coloured like Care Bears. The box narrative also mentions “beartrap” jaws, which isn’t a definition one might use for the monsters in the movie (they don’t unnervingly unhinge, like say, Pac-Man’s do), but within the video game they appear to be lumbering masticators with a nubbin tail and stocky legs for counterbalance; although, if I was going to have a Dali-esque nightmare about a xenomorph, I suppose it would be all about those nesting-doll gnashers.

In Alien, smashing eggs is an interesting motivation for the removal of “dots” from the game arena. This is before the Alien Queen was introduced and her mucous-lubed birthing canon/cannon was established in later lore. Also, it’s quite something to imagine the eggs before they reach a point of maturation in this variation of the incubation cycle, because why you would run down a corridor stomping seven bells out of primeval pumpkins more threatening than Humpty Dumpty’s sweaty cousin I don’t know. Pac-Man’s “power pellets,” enabling him to munch on the pursuant ghosts, are now “pulsars,” turning the player character into presumably some kind of solar-powered rage-robot, all atomic fists and nuclear kicks, at least for a couple of seconds before the natural order is restored. Plot-twist: Maybe the protagonist is Ash…    

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