In our Change The Channel series, we explore the history of video games that are based on TV shows, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1989’s ALF for the Sega Master System…
The concept of “family” is pretty much the foundation for your average 1980’s/1990’s TV sitcom. From Diff’rent Strokes, Webster and Family Ties to Married… With Children, Full House and Growing Pains, these shows all shared the same theme with varying degrees of dysfunction; and nothing screams “dysfunction!” more than introducing a cynical, sarcastic alien into the mix.
For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it follows the culture shock-filled misadventures of a friendly, wise-cracking (and cat-eating) alien from the planet Malmec nicknamed ALF (his real name? Gordon Shumway) after he crash lands his spacecraft in the garage of the suburban middle-class family, the Tanners. The show ran for 4 seasons between 1986 and 1990, and spawned a TV-movie, an animated series, a short-lived talk show, a run of comic books and more merchandise than you can shake a stick at.
The game, released exclusively for the North American market on the Sega Master System in 1989, sees players take control of the titular character as he searches for the parts to repair his spaceship. There are several locations in which ALF can explore, while having to avoid obstacles in the process.
One of the first things that is noticeable about ALF is the lack of sound effects. Instead, the game’s obnoxious soundtrack is played on a loop. While the music does change depending on which area of the game ALF is in, it is still irritating beyond belief across the board.
Finding the required items to repair ALF‘s spaceship is a hefty task, even for fans of the show. The game lacks any sort of hint system or instructions, so expect to wander around each area aimlessly for a long time.
Once you do figure out how to progress through the game, things don’t get much better. The salami item that you find in the fridge turns out to be a weapon, though it is only really effective in a single area of the entire game (and it’s still pretty unreliable there as well).
Throughout the game, ALF must avoid bumping into a handful of different enemies, each of which can kill ALF with a single hit. Ranging from kids on bicycles, rats, bats and sinister figures clad in shifty-looking suits and hats, these are all pretty easy to avoid, and some can even be fended off with the salami. This lack of threat makes wandering around feel even less challenging, and much more boring than it needs to be.
With the sheer amount of poor gameplay mechanics on show here, can the game’s graphics bring ALF back from the brink of being totally unplayable?
By the skin of its goofy Malmecian teeth, yes.
The character sprites for the titular character aren’t awful, and actually do a good job of representing the alien for the most part. The enemies don’t look too bad either, and the inclusion of catfish during the swimming section even got a slight smirk out of me. The same can’t be said for the level designs though, as they look like they’ve been half-done in MS Paint by a kid.
Overall, ALF doesn’t come anywhere close to being an enjoyable game. Almost everything about the experience is poorly executed; there’s no sound effects, the music is immensely irritating and the game’s lack of instructions will have players that aren’t too familiar with the TV show wandering around aimlessly for ages.
While the controls are somewhat acceptable, it’s just not enough to redeem ALF. It’s like putting a set of wheels on a turd; it moves around pretty well, but at the end of the day, it’s still crap.
Were you a fan of ALF? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!