With the NES nostalgia urge not quite having left me yet, I decided to jump into Environmental Station Alpha next. ESA is a “metroidvania” game, with a hint of Bionic Commando and Air Fortress.
Despite all it’s obvious NES influences, I’d compare its mechanics more to a SNES game and its look and feel are more like an old DOS game. The graphics kind of remind me of the original Duke Nukem now that I think of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Anyway, you do the typical metroidvania exploring, secret finding, and boss killing. Yes, quite a bit of all 3 of those to be found here. Many challenging bosses and interesting upgrades to find.
There is also a significant amount of post-game material to find if you dig deep enough (or search hard enough for guides…). Let me tell you the story of how ridiculously convoluted getting the extra areas and endings of this game is.
First you beat it once normally, then to get the 2nd ending you go back and find all remaining secret items so you can unlock the final secret super dash item, which you need to be able to get through the secret instant kill spike maze. On the other side is the 2nd ending, but then you have to go back through the same horrible spike maze again (though its actually not so bad once you figure it out) and fight a new secret boss for the 3rd ending, I mean assuming you found the four secret terminals throughout the game that activate the pillars in that room that let you do so, which by the way, does not actually give you the 3rd ending yet, just gives you 1 of 4 keys needed to do so…
So now you need to run around and find those other 3 keys and guess what? The only way to do that is by finding secret clues written in an alien language that you have to find the secret cypher to and manually translate. Then you find the 3 secret areas described by those clues. Then you use those keys to open a new area. This area has a big clock room, where if you pass it with more than one item equipped, you enter an infinite hallway and are chased by a giant invincible ghost until you die!
This is where I almost quit, because naturally, what you need to do is pass that room 13 times or so, once with each item equipped, which takes you to a different terminal each time and one locked area. Each terminal tells you a vague clue in alien language. These are 12 places you need to go find throughout the world and stand in the right place and type ESA! Doing this unlocks the ghost door, which lets the ghost out to come chase you through the world. You have to do this so you can kill the ghost so you can fully explore THE MAZE, and of course the clue to how you kill the ghost is INSIDE THE MAZE…and THE MAZE IS STILL LOCKED!!!
To enter the maze you need to find ANOTHER secret room somewhere else where you need to enter a four letter code, so now you need to find four other special rooms with letters on the wall that make up the code, then go back there and type in the code, then the maze is unlocked, then you can find the clue in the maze that tells you to lead the ghost to a specific room to be killed…THEN you can go back and finish the maze, which is still a fucking maze that you need to find your way through, THEN YOU GET THAT FUCKING 3RD ENDING AND NO OF COURSE YOU’RE NOT DONE YET! As ridiculously convoluted as this all sounds, I found myself compelled to continue though. I took it as a challenge and I really wanted to see the rest of the game, and the crazy things that would happen next, so I carried on…
Now you start special glitched out NG+, where you have all your upgrades still, but have to go through and kill all the key bosses to unlock the final boss room again so you can beat the final boss again, so you can get the 4th ending, which is probably the real ending, right? WRONG. SO FUCKING WRONG.
Next you have unlocked the extra tough new Research Outpost area. You have to fight your way through there with some of your best items handicapped, find and solve the 3 orb puzzle, then beat an extra tough boss, all just to be given MORE CLUES FOR MORE SECRETS.
First there is the crown room. You are given a set of directions, but no indication of where the starting point or ending point are, and a clue that hints that you go back to the final room of the maze for another clue. You go all the way back there and it tells you to find the room with the blue cross and start there. I have no fucking idea where that is. I looked it up like I looked up everything else past the first few endings! Eventually you are led to another place to stand and type in CROWN, which opens a door to an insane area with a crown in it, which doesn’t really seem to do much of anything except make weird guys fly around on the screen on your next ending. Hm.
Finally though, there was one more area, which contained the final secret super boss, which I couldn’t get to work for a while because I didn’t realize that those damn four pillars had been reset and needed to be reactivated for this to work. It seems that so few people have gotten this far that no one on the internet had included this, or almost anything else past the 4th ending, in any kind of guide or comment that I could find, so that was quite a journey finding someone who knew to do that. In the end though, I beat that fucker up and conquered all things Environmental Station Alpha. Fuck you, space.
So…this game was pretty crazy and some of those endgame things are a bit intimidating in their complex obscurity, but for the most part I enjoyed myself and found all the craziness pretty interesting. Looks like a sequel is already in the works. I’m all for it.