If you want to try Alligator Hunt yourself, we strongly recommend you do so in the most recent version of MAME available, with the "protected, World" set, for reasons explained below.
Hailing from Barcelona, Spain, Gaelco is an arcade developer you may not know by name, but if you stepped into an arcade in Europe in particular in the late '90s or early '00s, you probably saw one of their cabinets, especially their 3D racing games. From my perspective at least, Radikal Bikers, Tokyo Cop and Ring Riders were a common sight in bowling alleys and the few arcades I got to see when on holiday and the like (c'mon, arcades in the West Midlands after Sega Land in Tamworth closed? Get outta here!). Hell, Radikal Bikers even got a home port on PS1, one of only two Gaelco games to do so (the other was Smashing Drive on Gamecube, Xbox and GBA). However, Gaelco were actually founded all the way back in 1985, splitting off from Tecfri (you can read more about their general history, in Spanish, in this recrativas.org article on the company) and making their arcade debut in 1986 with Master Boy (which confused people for a while as there are two Master Boy games by Gaelco). So, they've been around for a while, and while no longer in the arcade game business exactly, they now manufacture amusement games based around darts and even these have a tie to their video game days- their machines are called Radikal Darts, a nod to Radikal Bikers. I mean, probably. I'd like to think that it is.
While their later 3D games seemed to have a decent amount of distribution across the world, their 2D output is perhaps a little less common outside their home country, but they're certainly an interesting bunch. They tackled a variety of genres in the 2D space- lightgun games like Target Hits and Bang!, quiz games with the Master Boy series, racing games with probably their most important game, World Rally from 1992 (an isometric racing game developed by Zigurat Software and distributed by Atari in the US that found itself ripped off in MAME-discovered legend Blomby Car)- and of course, a selection of action titles such as Big Karnak, Thunder Hoop, TH Strikes Back and Biomechanical Toy (developed by Zeus Software, creators of Risky Woods on the Amiga). Most of these have pretty excellent spritework (although TH Strikes Back in particular gets somewhat grotesque, that's a study for another day) and are in possession of jams hotter than the sun courtesy of the digitised guitar-shredding of in-house musician Joan Sanmarti. They most certainly stand out in terms of presentation, especially compared to a lot of other mainland Europe developers in the arcade space at the time, and so they're worth a little look if you have the inclination to fire up MAME or hunt down the boards for yourself!
... Although if you do hunt for the boards, you're looking for trouble, as Gaelco are known in emulation circles for the absolutely vicious protection on their boards, including dreaded suicide batteries that would kill them after enough time, which meant games like TH Strikes Back and World Rally were unemulated for quite some time and hard to find intact. In fact, for World Rally, Gaelco themselves supplied the internal ROM data and relevant information (scroll down a bit) to the MAME project, even offering the game as a free download on their website for a while. That said, much of the work to get these Gaelco games supported and preserved, once ruled out as impossible, was done by Morten Kirkegaard who passed away in 2019. In any case, this brings us to today's game, Alligator Hunt, which was technically emulated for a long time... Except it was an unprotected version and didn't exhibit the right behaviour that made the game considerably more difficult, which we'll explain when we get to it. In 2018, however, the protected version of the game was fixed to finally be properly playable with a lot of work and several purchased PCBs needed to make it possible, and thus another part of Gaelco's history was preserved as it was meant to be. So, let's hop to it! As with the best arcade games, there's no real plot here- evil alien lizards and alligators have invaded Earth, and the planet's only saviours are two smart-ass kids with laser-guns and skateboards. Are you a rad enough kid to save the planet?
Now, looking at these screenshots taken from the first two stages, you would assume Alligator Hunt is Gaelco's shot at the crosshair shooter, one we've talked about the death of before, but for this article it suffices to say that Tad's Cabal and Blood Bros. were very influential, and not just in terms of defining a genre. Blood Bros. in particular was big enough of a deal in mainland Europe to inspire at least two direct knock-offs, one of which (Playmark's Hard Times, from Italy) literally steals code from it, and the other (NIX's Pirates, better known as PIEASS, from Spain) has something of a cult following for its amazing voice samples. Alligator Hunt fortunately doesn't go so far as to nick stuff, but the influence of Blood Bros. rather than, say, NAM-1975 is pretty clear from a few common elements such as two different kinds of roll depending on where your reticle is, bouncing certain targets across the screen for bonuses (in Blood Bros. it was cans for points; here it's lizards for missiles) and the focus on (mostly) static screens rather than the scrolling of NAM-1975.
Controls are pretty much as you'd expect for a game like this, with your character staying stationary while firing so you can move your reticle across the screen, and you also get powerful missiles as a secondary weapon, best saved for large machines and especially boss encounters. There's nothing massively outstanding in terms of mechanics, although it's missing the timer / enemy meter so levels just kind-of 'end' arbitrarily (complete with ratings for 'Brutality' and 'Efficacy' and comments like "YOU'VE GOT THE POWER", "UNGAINLY, YOU DO IT TERRIBLY" and "DO IT MORE") and there's no extra weapons beyond your standard rapid-fire gun. Its main addition to the formula is a rather nicely-implemented score system, where point icons slowly fall down the screen from certain enemies- leave them alone and you'll get the minimum 1,000 points, but shoot them repeatedly to get up to 20,000 points (!), at the risk of averting your attention from all the other threats on-screen. It's a neat way of implementing a little risk-reward into the game, and makes it rather fun to chase after high scores (although sadly there's no kind of extend system in place, so you're just chasing after glory if you go this route). These opening stages also show some real presentation chops, with a fantastic sense of scale in the outside section, especially the gigantic walkers occupying several parallax layers in the background, and there's cute details like the little lizards that scramble about and have a lot of animation when you juggle 'em for missiles. So, a strong start, in other words!
After those two initial stages though, the game goes in a bit of a different direction. Your boys clamber into some spaceships, and after a take-off sequence minigame (build up enough speed to launch into space before you run out of runway) the game changes a bit- you're now piloting a rather large spacecraft. The gameplay basics remain the same, but rather than being fixed on land, there's three large segments, referred to as Missions, with the first primarily being you travelling through space, the second being set on the invaders' planet, and the third being a final battle with the lizard leader. On the one hand, this means the game's able to mix things up, adding vaguely rail shooter-esque sections where waves of enemies attack as you travel through space, like a crosshair shooter version of Galaga, as well as the ship encountering asteroids you can shoot for bonus points. It's all in the presentation, of course- you're not really moving through 3D space, and the game plays the same, but it feels like it. However, that first section does take up a fair portion of the game, and it feels oddly empty, quite barren compared to the rest of the game. The lack of destructible elements really doesn't help- there are enemy bases on large asteroids, but that's mostly absent until Mission 2. Not an essential part of a crosshair shooter, of course- NAM-1975 doesn't have as much destruction as Cabal and the like, and that gets along fine... But NAM-1975 has other qualities that I'd argue elevate it above Alligator Hunt, but that's perhaps for another time. The other thing about the spaceship is that it's a considerably bigger target than the kids on skateboards, so it can feel a little cramped, something not helped by the energy meter- by default (it would seem, at least) you can only take two hits before you have to credit up and continue with absolutely no way to recover that health, which seems pretty mean by genre standards.
On the plus side, there's a decent variety of enemy types, although Mission 1's stages feel like they could've done with more of them to keep things interesting. Mission 2's stages definitely pick up the slack with a variety of enemy installations and environmental destruction to wreak, and the actual level construction is considerably more interesting in these later stages- some, like the sand dunes and the weapons factory, make it feel like you're slowly encroaching on the enemy's territory, forcing them back and ploughing through to get revenge! I know it seems like I'm harping on Mission 1's space levels a lot, but they did have an effect on my enjoyment of the game, and I think it's because they make the game feel a little unbalanced, quality-wise. You have two brilliant opening levels to get you in the mood to blow some lizards up, then this rather large, less-interesting-by-comparison section set in space, leading to an excellent set of levels before a somewhat damp Mission 3 that's just a tunnel-chase before the final boss. You gotta get through the somewhat weaker stages before getting back to the good stuff, which is a real shame! There's some great stuff in those later stages so it's a pain that things worked out this way. The game even seems a little gentle in terms of difficulty, so I did find myself thinking about trying for a proper one credit clear... But Mission 1 honestly put me off. So, in essence, the mechanics are pretty solid for the genre, but the level construction is perhaps not quite as tight, which brings the experience down for me. Add in the lack of extra weapons beyond limited Super Missiles that only start showing up in the latter half of the game, and you have a handful of little issues that on their own, aren't huge, but as a whole hurt the game. It's a little difficult to articulate [Definitely not a problem for a website that's just words, don't worry about it. - Ed] but playing those first few levels makes you think, hey, maybe I'm being too harsh on the game... Then you reach the space levels, and you remember. Alas!
The game does its best to make up for some of these deficiencies with that amazing presentation, mind. Enemy ships and creatures have had a lot of love put into them (my particular favourite is the mecha-suit lizards that explode when the suit's destroyed due to being in the depths of space) and when the game does have destructible elements, it goes all-out on it with excellent effect. There's also the music- Joan Sanmarti provides some dynamite guitar-shredding for this game, and while some of them get inevitably repeated, they're just amazing, delivering the perfect soundtrack to an alligator-fuelled end of the world, and they'll stick in your head for a while afterwards. Finally, of course, there's the cutscenes, little breaks after each boss that offer a preview of the next few stages accompanied by a detailed look inside the cockpit... And some of the most amazing arcade game dialogue ever committed to digitised speech. Your character has a bit of back-and-forth with a commander giving you orders, leading to classic lines such as "NOW I'LL BREAK DOWN THEIR DEVIL PLANET", "HO GIRL! ALWAYS WITH THE SAME BORE!" and "STOP THE FLOW AND TELL ME WHAT'S ON", a line I think about on a regular basis. Again, I think playing those first two stages, and their amazing presentation, makes you forget about some of the less-great later bits. Always important to keep the whole picture in mind.
I hope it doesn't seem like I'm ragging on Alligator Hunt too much, but after extensively playing it, I still feel a little torn on it. On the one hand, the first stages, Mission 2 and the amazing presentation make me want to heap a little more praise on it than I do! Then, however, I have to go back to the things I don't like about it, and the things it perhaps lacks compared to other games in the genre. But hey, don't be too down about it, remember, three stars on this website ain't bad at all! Regardless of what I personally think about it, it's fair to say that of the bizarre genre of 'European Games Inspired by Blood Bros.' it is absolutely king of the pack (sorry, Pirates) and that unique Gaelco presentation makes it more than worthy of a look. A good thing, then, that we even can fairly easily these days- it's thanks to the tireless efforts of arcade emulation engineers that make rediscovering games like Alligator Hunt, that could be lost to time otherwise, even possible. Bless emulation!
For there being no beast to stop it, Alligator Hunt is awarded...
In a sentence, Alligator Hunt is...
A solid, if unbalanced, blaster.
And now, it's that time, folks!
A couple of notes about the different versions of Alligator Hunt currently in MAME, including that pesky 'unprotected' version.
First, there's a Spanish version- of course- but what's interesting here is the voice samples are still in English!
Instead, subtitles are provided with the English voices playing over them.
Next, there's an alternate title, Lizard Hunt, hiding in the game's code, as demonstrated by Haze.
This is controlled by a byte in the game's code but doesn't seem to have any dip-switch setting tied to it. Odd.
Finally, yes, that 'unprotected' version that's been in MAME a long time, what's wrong with it, then?
When you reach the spaceship stages in this version, the controls don't work properly- you can't move your ship when not firing!
Instead, you're only able to use rolling to move. This isn't how the game is supposed to play, and is fixed in the 'protected' version.
And to end, a tiny thing, but Alligator Hunt has an odd homage to Gaelco's roots as splintering off from Tecfri.
That weird launching sequence that shows up before the spaceship stages...
It's taken pretty much wholesale from Tecfri's first game, Ambush! It's the first thing you do here, and plays pretty much the same as in Alligator Hunt.
Guess they wanted to pay tribute to this but couldn't find a place to do it in World Rally.
Gotta do the Thunder Hoop games at some point.
Please look forward to me Photoshopping my site mascots to cover some of the wilder bits of TH Strikes Back.