Insert Disk collects Heart of the Alien for the Sega CD.
Today’s retro game review is Heart of the Alien for the Sega CD. This retro gaming classic is the true sequel to Another World / Out of this World. Picking up where Another World left off you’ll control Buddy in his ongoing quest to escape the city. Described best as a cinematic adventure puzzle game Heart of the Alien will give most gamers a real challenge. It’s often cited as one of the most difficult games on the Sega CD and also one of the hardest to collect in mint condition.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. In the last episode we took a look back at Another World, also known as Out of this World for the Sega Mega Drive and Genesis. If you haven’t done so already it’s worth watching part one first as today we pick up with Out of this World’s sequel. Heart of the Alien. Eric Chahi’s Another World set a new standard for cinematic action puzzle games. It followed the story of Lester who was set to Another World due to an accident during a particle accelerator experiment. Along the way he meets Buddy and the two set off together to escape their captors. Action packed right to the end, the game quickly developed a cult following with gamers.
As great as Another World is there were many questions that were simply never addressed in the original. What was the nature of the other World? How did the city become a dictatorship? Exactly what is the backstory to the events leading up to another World? Then of course the all important question: What happens at the end of the game? Did Lester really survive and what happens next?
Here in the UK, wider Europe and Asian territories we never got to find out. Another World stood alone as a stand-alone sci-fi episode. For our friends in North America though the story continued in an exclusive release on the North American Sega CD in the form of Heart of the Alien. The game is technically a compilation with the sequel Heart of the Alien included but also an edition of Out of this World. If you are looking for a version of Out of this World to play I have to say that you can do a lot worse than this Sega CD version. Unlike the 16-bit Genesis and Super Nintendo versions the Sega CD edition has much more detailed presentation and also a revival of the original soundtrack in CD quality. If you had to choose between the standard 16-bit editions and the Sega CD edition, this is a clear winner.
However, it Heart of the Alien that is the main draw here for gamers. A chance to continue the story of Lester and Buddy in their on-going sci-fi adventure. I have to say that when I bought this title some time ago now I had really high hopes. The game starts very promisingly directly following on from the events of Out of this World. In a part continuation / part flashback buddy recalls the events of last few hours. This is really well done, without doubt this opening sequence answers so many questions fans must have had about the original. We learn that the peaceful planet was subject to an uprising by a group of the planet inhabitants to take power. Buddy is alerted and goes out to battle the group of enemies usually represented by red eyes. He picks up his trust whip and holds off the invaders as far as he can before his capture. We then pick up on Buddy remembering the events of Out of this World. You’ll now see how Buddy’s story is interwoven with Lester’s during this time. It explains most of the time that he was absent from screen including how he helps Lester, avoids the beasts, appears in the air ducts and finally reunites towards the end of the game.
At this point I remember being really excited as the game clearly sets its stall out as a true “Part 2” of the story and not just a generic sequel. You’re very much led to believe that the story line from Out of this World will underpin this next instalment. In terms of animation the opening sequence is also fantastic, the sound, graphics and distinctive aesthetic are back. You’ll then begin the game for real controlling Buddy. It’s not long before things go a bit awry. Step off the first screen and already you’re being mauled to death. Ok so that was a cheap death but second time around we’re good to go. It’s a bit trial and error but I’ll let it slide. There’s a running jump to master. A blank screen. Then, Oh good grief! So, if you simply walk to the next screen it’s almost an instant kill by poisonous plants with a rather disturbing animation. Ok, so you just have to learn from your mistakes. Pass the bats. Pick up the whip. Swing across the gorge. Jump the poisonous plants. and then… That’s right, get mauled down again.
I won’t show the full solution here as it’s a bit of a spoiler for anyone that would like to play this through themselves. It is quite challenging though. You’ll then walk off a screen in to the first cave. Nothing too bad here. Until… That right the water is actually the most powerful acid ever. One drop and your flesh literally melts from your bones. Good luck working out the timing on this but it can be done. There’s some more swinging over boiling acid and then a poison gas elevator section that requires precise navigation. At the top you’ll charge your whip turning it in to a whip/gun arrangement with all of the features of the original weapons from Out of this World. You’ll then be one shot killed on the way down. By this point you may be noticing a theme. Heart of the Alien is brutally difficult.
It’s not long before you find yourself fighting your way out of the prison cells again, in scenes very reminiscent of the original. When escaping via the elevator you are required to whip the switch to turn off the electrified field. I have to say that this is incredibly difficult to get the timing just right. It’s possible but one of the most awkward moments you’ll find in a game. Also, don’t forget the one hit death gas cloud at the bottom before taking on yet more guards. There’s then yet more gas clouds to avoid with precision timing. Oh yeah, don’t fall down this hole. When you do get across you’ll need to whip this chap hanging from the ceiling, Before, you guessed it, some more poisonous gas. You’ll soon be on your way through to one of the key events in the story.
You’ll meet up with the red eyed aggressor and as you might expect things really start kicking off. By this point I was just thankful for a cut scene. Lester also gets in on the action as Buddy is injured on the floor. There’s a rather intense fight scene and it becomes clear that Lester is quite badly injured by the red eyed attacker. From there you’ll need to battle guards. Avoid bats. Fight more guards. Collect energy sources. Destroy a power generator. Not get instantly eaten by a monster. Avoid more poisonous gas. Bats. Electric grid. More guards. Its then time for the final showdown. Run through the prison complex. Through the exits, and then… Bump on the noggin.
By this point in the game you’ll be angry… very angry. That red eyed freak has killed you for the last time, it’s time to make him pay. You’ll go all Indiana Jones on him with your whip and teach him a lesson in not fighting back. I’ll save the final ending for you to discover yourself. You see, I don’t want to take away any reward there is for actually battling through this game. There is a satisfying end animation and you’ll feel immensely proud of yourself for enduring this far. As I mentioned at the top of the episode Heart of the Alien is an incredibly rare game to own here in the UK due to it being a North American Sega CD exclusive.
Here it is though, a mint condition box version of Heart of the Alien. I have to say that the artwork is a little underwhelming. The graphics on Buddy have just been reused from the Sega Genesis Out of this World box design and in truth doesn’t really look too much like the in-game character. The background skull does act as a nice warning as to the amount of death to expect though. Inside expect to find the sponge dampener to stop the CD coming loose and also a full length manual. The manual is fit for purpose but not overly extensive. If you’re in the UK looking for this game be prepared to stump up some serious money. Finding a copy here in the UK is practically impossible. I’m lucky enough to have invested in mine some years ago. I also try pick up anything I know I might want in the future any time I visit the US. Your best bet for finding the game is on the online auction sites. Recently a mint boxed edition similar to the one in my collection went for $63.02 with an additional $23.08. That’s just over $86 all in. That’s around £65 at today’s exchange rates.
If you are looking to import you may be better off picking up the phone to our North American cousins when it comes to collecting pricier collectables. Retro games stores often hold back certain items from their online auctions if they also have a physical store as they tend to have a base of regulars that come by looking for items of interest. It also saves them auction fees on the more expensive items. If not, why not try emailing the store with a hit list of North American games that you’re after? In return you may also have some obscure gaming items or exclusives from your region that you can help them out with. Although retro gaming has become somewhat of a business in recent years don’t forget that it’s also a hobby where gamers will help each other out to complete their sets.
As for Heart of the Alien it’s with mixed feelings that I can’t in good faith recommend this game to the masses. Since Eric Chahi had no involvement in the project this was the first big blow. His vision of a mysterious world combined with action puzzle solving made sense in Out of this World because it was combined with balanced game play. It was challenging but a fun challenge. Heart of the Alien starts with so much promise and I truly believe that the developers had the best of intentions to make a further reaching game than the original. The cut scenes are great, the story is true to the world and the game also looks and sounds appealing. What Heart of the Alien lacks though is not the effort by the developers but the understanding that games need to be fun. Full marks for the vision and technical know-how but when a game is so brutally difficult you instantly alienate almost all of the potential gamers that want to enjoy the game. This isn’t to say that you won’t appreciate the challenge of the game. However, you’ll be very aware when playing this one that it’s a war of attrition and a feeling of “I must complete this” rather than “I enjoy playing this” game.
It’s sad as I really wanted this game to be so much more than it turned out to be. I don’t believe that it was a ruthless cash in as many believe (there was just too much effort put in to it for this to be true). If the designers had just play tested this one, someone should have stuck up a hand and said “maybe the process of making the game is more fun than the end result will be for the gamer” . As it stands you will appreciate that the game’s opening and ending sequences really do wrap up a lot of unknowns and stay true to the story. This doesn’t excuse the harsh difficultly but it does offer some sort of story closure.
However, it’s the endless beatings, mailings, spikes, acid drops, bat bites and electricity that will remember most. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the poisonous gas.