Now let’s talk about the other kind of crossover.
Back in 1994, the concept of Ridley Scott’s xenomorph Alien fighting the Predator that menaced Arnold Schwarzenegger was a pretty hot commodity. We were still a decade away from the first Alien vs. Predator film, and… That’s what everybody wanted, right? Alien was a popular trilogy (I’m not being glib! It was only a trilogy in ’94!), and everyone fondly remembered Predator’s time in the jungle. These were movies that defined sci-fi features for a decade, so it would make sense that only a movie could contain the sheer enormity of their first encounter. Unfortunately, that showdown was going to have to wait, and, in the meantime, we had to content ourselves with comic books inspired by easily missable cameos in Danny Glover vehicles. But the early to mid 90’s is when things started to kick into high gear, as there was supposed to be a movie that never wound up materializing, so we at least got a novelization and videogame or two. And, hey, videogames are always great!
… Except when they’re on the Atari Jaguar. So we’re going to go ahead and ignore that game.
But Alien vs. Predator the arcade cabinet by Capcom was pretty boss, so we’re going to look at that one.
Alien vs. Predator is superficially exactly what you would expect of any given franchise adapted into a quarter muncher for ’94. We’ve got seven levels filled with monsters and mooks that all have to be punched until they flicker off the screen. There are crates and barrels that must be pummeled until pizza comes out, and a powerup or two along the way that enhances your ability to punish pursuers. Every level ends with a boss, and, by the end, of course those “bosses” have become common enemies with unreasonable health bars. And, like some of the latter beat ‘em ups of the era, there’s a complete story, with text that changes according to your chosen hero, so there’s a tiny bit of replay value beyond seeing how differently everyone performs their jumpkick. It’s a beat ‘em up. It could be The Simpsons or The X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’s Alien vs. Predator, so here are a few aliens instead of foot soldiers. They explode less. Have a fun time.
And, no matter the era, this is the crux of the problem with many crossover games: they’re only popular characters soldered onto whatever genre is available.
Back in the 90’s, it was the beat ‘em up. Shortly thereafter, it was kart-based racing. Nowadays, it seems every franchise gets a tactics game. It’s not Alien versus Predator, it’s Tekken vs. Mega Man. It’s Pokémon vs. Nobunaga. Even titles like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games take their all-star, unmistakably varied casts and boil them down to “this one is slightly faster than that other one”. Waluigi can outrun Sonic the Hedgehog! This is the greatest injustice in the history of videogame canon! What is unique about the individual characters involved must be boiled down to little more than a collection of relevant stats. Why? Because it would take far too long to flesh out complete “moves” for every participant, and then balance those skills against every other character in this crossover. So when huge, bulky Bowser and small, nimble Diddy Kong settle their differences with kart-racing, their differences barely register.
And, unfortunately, this seems to be the standard for many crossover games. Fantastic characters from multiple franchises might be interacting for the first time, but they all “play” exactly the same. And that, objectively, sucks! Videogames are unique in that they can define characters through not only motivations or physical design, but also through movements and “skills”. Mario jumps. Mega Man shoots. Sonic runs. If you smoosh all these characters together, you can either find a way that jumping is effective against shooting and jumping, or you can simply give them all jetpacks and claim it’s a jetpacking contest of champions and call it a day (obviously, I believe the next big gaming trend to be jetpack racing). It flattens all the exceptional protagonists involved into an identical, unremarkable blob. Basically, many crossover games take a wonderful dinner of roast turkey, curried chicken, and garlic shrimp, slap all the dishes into a blender, and serve up a humdrum banquet of hotdog milkshakes. Even with perfect ingredients, a hotdog is still a basic meat tube!
So here’s Alien versus Predator, one of the earliest crossover titles in gaming. It may not be a crossover title between strictly videogame-based characters, but it is a crossover between two huge franchises. And, even if we want to ignore how badly everyone wanted to see aliens and predators fight back in the 90’s, you could even consider Alien versus Predator a crossover between three franchises: Alien, Predator, and the surprisingly well-defined “90’s Capcom Aesthetic”. The two humans starring in Alien versus Predator could have been Final Fight characters (and one arguably swiftly inspired both Resident Evil and Street Fighter characters), and, give or take a gun-for-an-arm, they’d be comfortable in any other beat ‘em up in the Capcom stable. So how do these “three” franchises interact? Well, the aliens are the persistent enemies of the game… but they’re indistinguishable from typical beat ‘em up opponents in all ways save their iconic visual design. The “facehugger” alien babies even operate exactly like TMNT’s mousers! And the differences between the “unevolved” Capcom humans and their advanced Predator compatriots? Barely worth mentioning. Yes, there are variances in speed or skill between the four playable characters, and every fighter gets a unique weapon, and there are a handful of “subtle” differences amongst the cast in things like firearm-usage… but they’re essentially interchangeable. The entire point of the original Predator film was that humans are at a slight disadvantage when combating an alien threat that happens to have advanced weaponry and the ability to become completely invisible, but you’d never know there was such a gulf in capability from playing Alien versus Predator. Apparently Lt. Linn Kurosawa has a greater “skill” stat than either playable predator. Does that mean she’s a thousand times more skilled than ol’ Dutch? And why couldn’t Ripley punch her way across a xenomorph invasion? Was it just because her stats were too low for anyone to hear her scream?
Is Aliens versus Predator a fun arcade game? Of course it is. It’s one of the best beat ‘em ups out there, and it’s a genuine shame that it was not available for home play for decades (well, legally, at least). But is it a good crossover game? No. It irons out everything unique about the franchises involved, and offers a smooth, indistinct product that is indistinguishable from any other beat ‘em up of the day. The gameplay of AvP is great, but it is gameplay that could be featuring Captain Commando as easily as Predator Hunter. In the end, the very diverse stars of these very diverse franchises only add up to “look at that thar alien”.
And an entire generation of gaming crossovers followed suit.
And when that happens, whoever wins, we lose.
FGC #493 Alien vs. Predator
- System: Initially only arcade, but now available for the Capcom Home Arcade. You know that one, right? It’s that “mini console” that looks like a giant Capcom logo/arcade stick? I’m sure it actually exists. I think I saw it in England one time.
- Number of players: Three simultaneous players. Why they didn’t just allow for free reign with a full set of the four selectable characters is beyond me.
- Favorite Character: Predator Warrior is the obvious best, despite the clear disadvantage of deciding to bring a pointy stick to an alien fight. Linn Kurosawa gets second place for being nimble as hell. Predator Hunter and Major Dutch don’t even rank.
- But Dutch is supposed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger with a gun arm, right? Oh yes. Certainly. That is the eventual governor of California running around and pounding aliens. I wonder if Arnold ever gets residuals for all the videogame characters that aped him for a solid two decades…
- The beauty of Aliens: Thanks to the attendant franchise, this is one of those rare beat ‘em ups where you don’t fight a single “generic guy” until around the fourth level. It’s all aliens until you kill the queen, and they return again later when it’s revealed that the big secret of the story is that humans are breeding their own aliens. Who would have suspected that humans were the real aliens all along? Or… something.
- The ugly of Aliens: Unfortunately, the flip side of the alien army is that the majority of the bosses are just “alien with a new skill”. Spitting alien. Hard-shelled alien. Make space great again alien. When the inevitable boss rush occurs during the final level, you can barely tell the big boys from the lil’ dudes.
- Bonus Time: There is exactly one stage where you’re granted unlimited ammo, and are asked to gun down every last alien from the back of a moving truck. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. And now I want an AvP shootin’ game (not on the Jaguar).
- Conventions of the genre: A predator eating hot pizza off the floor never gets old.
- Did you know? Lt. Linn Kurosawa likely inspired Ibuki from Street Fighter 3, who debuted three years later. There’s a distinct similarity in hairstyling there, and there’s also the minor fact that Ibuki has a classmate named Sarai Kurosawa. There might be a connection!
- Would I play again: Hopefully this arcade game makes its way to modern consoles, as it would be an ideal budget beat ‘em up for the Switch or PS4. I would spend five dollars to play through this again with friends. Maybe even ten!
What’s next? Crossovers continue with another game featuring humans and aliens playing well together. Please look forward to it!