Tuesday, 5 December 2017

BioMetal - Super Nintendo review

BioMetal's USA/PAL title screen
Game: BioMetal
Format: Super Nintendo
Developer: Athena
Publisher: Activision
Year Released: 1993
Also Released on: Nothing
Now Available on: Nothing

One thing I've learned during my almost forty years on this planet is that developers of video games really don't like aliens. Why I don't know, but but whatever the reason is, programmers have a habit of depicting extra terrestrial beings as violent and aggressive, usually intent on harming Earth or representatives of said planet by sending wave after wave after wave of their own species to carry out death by bullets, lasers and whatever other projectiles they have hidden in their weaponry. It all started with Space invaders and has been the case ever since. Galaxian, Gradius, R-Type, Darius, Galaga, Xenon and Xenon 2, the various Thunderforce games, and countless others all followed in the footsteps of Taito's 1978 space-based shooter. In every instance, a whole compendium of alien beings are shown to be rather hostile. Maybe it's the first thing wannabe game developers are taught when they start coding club. The first rule of coding club is that aliens are evil. The second rule of coding club is that aliens are evil. Maybe they know something that the rest of us don't know. Maybe they hide secret messages about non-Earth-based creatures in the source code of games. Maybe it's just an irrational Donald Trump-like fear of strange creatures from far away places. Who knows?

This looks a bit like my Vax vacuum cleaner. Same colour scheme too.

Alien types are spitting out spaghetti. 
One other thing that those games also have in common is that, despite your own species having mastered space travel, so seemingly it must quite advanced and intelligent, whoever is in command of whatever mission you're about to embark on, seems to think that it's a good idea to put you up against the upcoming onslaught from the alien hoards in a piddly little spaceship with a shitty little gun. Oh, don't you worry, you can improve on that by picking up power-ups as you go on your journey. On your own. By yourself. Yes, that's how you win wars. Send you out defenceless and hope you find stuff to improve your odds of survival while you're in battle. Maybe it's a metaphor for, um, I dunno. Something.

There must be a parking space here somewhere

BioMetal for the Super Nintendo is no different from the many hundreds of other space-themed shooters out there. It features you in a piddly little spaceship with a shitty little gun, and swathes of angry and ugly alien types who want you dead. In fact, the game is about as generic as you can get. That is, apart from its soundtrack. Its soundtrack is as nineties as you can get, featuring music from the Euro chart-topping techno-masters themselves, 2 Untalented, I mean Unlimited. 2 Unlimited. Oh, how I used to make people laugh back in 1993 by claiming that 2 Untalented were at number one with their hit song, No Lyrics. No no, no no no no, no no no no, no no there's no lyrics. Hilarious.

A shot from the ending. Maybe I should check where I
insert these screenshots before inserting them.
BioMetal was released in 1993 for the Super Nintendo (or Super Famicom in Japan). The European and US versions of the game open with a static title screen featuring a spaceship and an alien in combat with each other. Or they may be in conversation. Or possibly both. Maybe in the future, humans and aliens settle their differences through confrontational conversation. Perhaps the UK and EU should take heed when trying to figure out whatever Brexit-related thing they're arguing over this week. Playing in the background is a not-too-bad rendition of 2 Unlimited's 1991 hit Get Ready For This. Americans may recognise the track as one used during many of its sporting events, especially baseball and basketball, and also in the movie Space Jam. However, as the title screen vanishes, the plot of BioMetal is revealed. And <<SPOILER ALERT!!!>> it doesn't feature baseball, basketball, animated Loony Toons characters, Danny Devito or Michael Jordan. Shame. Turns out that it also doesn't feature humans and aliens in conversation. Instead, it features the below, the actual full text of the plot behind BioMetal. Live and exclusive to this very website. And also in the game just after the title screen.

G.C. 232
                           TO FIND RESOURCES

                     "BIO-METAL"     (BM).



My Vax vacuum cleaner specs in full. Going to try to
find its plasma rifle in a bit.
And, erm, that's the plot. How it's written above makes it look like it's a song. Maybe it's the actual lyrics to one of 2 Unlimited's tracks? So, from the story, we can deduce that the Milky Way has been at war, the Galactic Council wants to plunder the resources of a planet called UP457, and some half-machine, half animales, seem to have destroyed the Council's fleet. Did the Galactic Council not consider that maybe UP457 is a planet inhabited by the BioMetal species and the so-called BM's (with apostrophes in the incorrect place!) aren't too pleased that their resources are about to get harvested? Eh? Eh? If there's anything I learned from the movie Pocahontas, it's that indiginous populations don't like people coming over and taking what isn't theirs. As Pocahontas herself beautifully put it, "You think you own whatever land you land on, The Earth is just a dead think you can claim, But I know every rock and tree and creature, Has a life, has a spirit, has a name." Ok, maybe she was talking about the English attempting to colonise her people's land, but I bet the BMs would sing a very similar song.

I'm exhausted too. 
A bit of computer analysis reveals that the number of BioMetal aliens are increasing, and that they'll somehow take ownership of the entire Milky Way within 32 hours, unless you manage to destroy their home planet beforehand. It does make you wonder why, if it would only take 32 hours for the BioMetal populace to take over the Milky Way, why they haven't thought about doing it previously. Especially while the rest of the Milky Way were fighting whatever war they were fighting that resulted in their supplies becoming exhausted. They could have caught the galaxy unawares, launched an attack and become commanders of the galaxy in little over a day, Maybe the truth is that the BM's (gah!) are actually a peaceful non-aggressive species who only attack when idiots sent from the Galactic Council try to steal their resources. Maybe you are actually working for the enemy.

Regardless of whether you're actually on the side of good or of evil, you take to the skies in your little spacechip, nicknamed Halbard, which is crewed by two, um, crew members. There's 25 year old Kid Ray, a pilot by occupation, whose blood group is B. Keeping him company is 21 year old Anita, a biologist whose blood group is A. Now, I understand sending Kid Ray to take on the aliens, what with him being a pilot and probably being able to drive the spaceship. But, what is Anita doing there? Does WASP not have anybody else more suitable? An engineer? A medic? Another pilot? Somebody with fighting experience? And why is the blood group important? Incidentally, in the Japanese version, Kid Ray is called David Onizuka and Anita is called Cynthia Matthews. Dave's still a 25 year old pilot, blood group B, and Cynthia is still a 21 year old biologist, blood group A. Of course, those who know their 90s techno bands, will know that the two main members of 2 Unlimited were Ray and Anita, so apparently in this game, you are controlling 2 Unlimited on their quest to defeat the species known only as BioMetal, or BM for short. So you could also refer to them as Bowel Movements, or Bobby Moore, or Best Man.

Your crew for the USA/PAL version of BioMetal, named after Ray and Anita off of 2 Unlimited

The crew in the Japanese game, with different names, same occupations and blood types, and paler skin.

Pow pow pow! Beans appear to be flying everywhere.
Within seconds of beginning your mission, you come under intense attack from the aforementioned Bowel Movements. If this game was actually reality, you probably would be having some bowel movements of your very own if you were to witness the horrors of the BioMetal alien beings. They really are ugly mofos. Even more ugly than Ugly Kid from Magic Pockets. It does take a few goes until you are able to adjust yourself to figure out how to take on your enemies. Also only a few seconds in is your first opportunity to obtain some power-ups. These are carried by some, er, things. Not too sure what as you really don't get much chance to see them. But shooting them causes them to leave weapon canisters. These flick through various letters representing the weapons that you can use. Collecting multiples of the same one enhances your weapon. Hehe.

Great balls of, er, something.
Your Halbard can make use of three different types of main weapon, and three different types of missile. Collecting a canister displaying the letter "L" equips you with a laser which enables you to shoot laser beams directly ahead of you. Upgrading this weapon causes your laser beam to grow wider. Then there's a wave weapon, found inside canisters displaying the letter "W", which shoots a series of waves in front of you. This has a wider range than the laser, and although it fires slower, it shoots out multiple waves of waves, one after the other. Upgrading this will enable you to shoot the wave in front and behind you, the only weapon that has this ability. Finally there is the V weapon. Not sure what V stands for, but it fires plasma shots in two diagonal directions. Upgrading this increases it to a five-way weapon. Of the three weapons, you'd be best avoiding the laser as its rate of fire isn't great and as enemies will pretty much surround you, only shooting a narrow beam directly in front of you isn't much use at all. The V weapon is good when you're surrounded by several of the smaller enemies, but when it comes to larger and more powerful nasties, you'll need the wave.

End of level nasty throws ravioli. Mamma mia!

As well as your main weapon, you fire out two missiles at a time. You can collect missiles that fire straight ahead (identified by "S" on their canister), in two arching angles (B), or, the only one you will really want, the homing missile (H). As its name suggests, this homes in on targets.

The G.A.M. (the blue ball thingies) in action. 
Finally, your Halbard also has the G.A.M., described in the game's plot as "Living Weapon that is presently being tested." I'm not too sure what a living weapon is, but it really is a useful thing to have on your spaceship. When I get a spaceship, I'm going to ensure it has a G.A.M. installed on it, although only if it's finished being tested. After my experiences with my Samsung Galaxy Note's dodgy battery, I'm not taking any chances. As you meander through the levels, your G.A.M. charges itself. Releasing the G.A.M. causes it to circle five balls around your spaceship. It has two modes - attack or protect. Attack will attack enemies that come into contact with it as it spins around your ship. Protect causes it to act like a shield and protect you from several of the game's enemies. It won't protect you if you collide into enemies or walls, or sometimes if they collide into you. And some projectiles can still penetrate your defence so it doesn't quite make you completely invincible. The G.A.M.'s charge depletes as you use it, so it's important to stop using it when you can so it can recharge. It's also possible to direct your G.A.M. in various directions so you can target certain enemies, or you can spread out its range of orbit from your ship, although this leaves you more vulnerable to attack. Getting the hang of the G.A.M. is essential to get you through some of the stickier patches in the game.

Enemies sometimes attack in a fancy formation that they've
been made to rehearse and perfect our of fear of humiliation
from their leader. Probably a bit like North Korea's army.
The Super Nintendo wasn't known to have a massive offering of shoot 'em ups. If the console had one weakness, it was that its processor was slower than that of its competitors. Although it was able to excel in graphics, sound and fancy scaling and rotation effects, it apparently struggled a bit if it was asked to do too much. And as shoot em' ups feature a lot of stuff going on, it stands to reason that not too many games of that genre would be developed for it. That's not to say the SNES couldn't do shoot 'em ups, as there are a number of quality shooters on it. Just not quite as many as on other consoles. And they could still feature quite a bit of stuff going on in them. In fact, in the case of BioMetal, there is perhaps a bit too much going on. Throughout the game, you come under constant bombardment from enemy fire. Or just the presence of enemies. And some of the enemies are rather large, reducing the amount of space you have to manoeuvre around the screens. Sometimes the only way of getting through is to use your G.A.M. and escape from the chaos, although this would largely result in you running into something else somewhere else. In a way, it emphasises the importance of having the G.A.M. and understanding how it works, but it takes something of the fun out of a shoot em' up if all you're doing is running away when things get tough, rather than the battle being something you have a reasonable chance of beating through your shooting skills alone. Having to use it on occasions would be okay, but as the game progresses, it feels that you need to rely on it too often. Another issue is that when you are using the G.A.M. to help you out of sticky situations, the game suffers with slowdown. Yes, the SNES copes most of the time with what BioMetal throws at it, but there are times when its weaknesses show. Still, the slowdown actually makes bits of it easier, so it's not all bad. Unintentional perhaps, but useful.

How dare you throw bananas at me! And blue things.
Keeping with the theme of the game being about as generic as you can possibly get, each level features a boss at the end of it. And each one has its own unique attack pattern which means you can defeat them once you know how. Some of the end battles go on for far too long though. Once you know what you've got to do, you just have to keep repeating the same process until the boss nasty is dead. Fortunately, losing a life in this game puts you in exactly the same place as you die rather than having to backtrack and start again.

If you've played R-Type before, the end boss may seem a little familiar. In fact, a lot of the game feels like it is a rehash of R-Type. It features similar baddies, a similar difficulty level, three main weapons and missile types, plus a secondary weapon. On R-Type it is the little detachable bit that will go off and attack things for you, or offer a bit of defence if its attached to you. In BioMetal, it's the G.A.M..

Now where have I seen you before? Or was it your uglier brother?
Although the graphics in BioMetal are mostly good, with some nice background effects early on, and some of the SNES' obligatory scaling and rotation tricks sprinkled throughout, they aren't always that attractive and seem a bit drab. Of course, the enemy aliens are meant to be ugly, but overall the graphics don't stick out and blow you away. That said, there is variety on offer in each level and plenty of detail, but nothing to make your jaw drop. Not that you'll have much chance to take anything in anyway.

Some fancy SNES graphical effects going on in the background here, with an effing great
big green laser thing coming from the mouth of whatever thing you're up against, distracting you
from the spectacle.

As far as music goes, and as has already been mentioned several times, BioMetal's US and PAL releases saw it feature a soundtrack from 2 Unlimited. And although the renditions of some of their tracks are quite good, they don't really suit the game. Plus they all sound a bit samey. Now, I'm not sure if that's because the same tracks are reused in different parts of the game, or if it's because there really wasn't a lot of variance in 2 Unlimited's music, but after a while, you kind of want to hear something a bit different. I could imagine dance music working in a shoot em' up game, but in probably one with a different theme - not one featuring part-organic alien creatures. Probably something a bit more futuristic and colourful. I guess hearing familiar licenced music was quite a novelty back in 1993, and it's still interesting to hear it now, but it does grate after a while. The Japanese release has its own soundtrack. It's not memorable at all, but definitely suits the game better and isn't anywhere near as nauseating. Sound effects in both versions are the same, but sound a bit week, and some of the noises the larger enemies make when defeated or even when they're present on screen are very annoying. Maybe a few explosions would have been nice.

As well as soundtrack differences, there are some other changes that were made from the original Japanese release of the game. All of these are cosmetic. Some enemies flash a different colour when shot - blue in the Japanese version, green in the US/PAL version. The title screen appears before the background story in the US/PAL version, whereas it's afterwards in the Japanese version. The title screens are different too. Plus the skin tones of the two crew members are also different in each version.

The title screen from the Japanese version of the game. Pretty, isn't it?

Despite some of the criticisms above, BioMetal isn't an awful game at all. It is a game that takes a bit of practice, and offers a satisfying and meaty challenge, although its difficulty level means it can be frustrating in several places and it feels like there is an over reliance on shielding yourself to avoid confrontation which reduces some of the fun of it. It is probably one of the most unoriginal games to have been released for the SNES, and one of the most unoriginal shoot em' ups of all time, but it's worth a blast if you're into the genre. Or if you like listening to nineties dance tunes.

Presentation – 80%
A static title screen, static images accompanied by a scrolling story and wireframe images of your spaceship plus a couple of pictures of the crew. That's your lot. All pretty standard stuff. 
Graphics – 74%
Nothing that will make your eyes feel like they're being treated to anything special but they do suit the theme of the game. 
Sound – 70%
Using a soundtrack from a successful 90s group seems like a good idea, and the versions that the SNES produces aren't bad, but it doesn't really suit the game. Sound effects are average.
Playability – 64%
You are thrown into the action pretty much straight away, and there really is no let up. Deaths are frequent, with there perhaps being a bit too much enemy fire to make the game enjoyable, plus the ability to G.A.M. your way out of situations is welcome but a bit too necessary.
Overall – 66%
A very very bog standard shooter. Unoriginal and bland but offers some fun, although there are much better shoot em' ups out there.

Here's footage of the game in action on Google's most excellent YouTube video entertainment service

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Action Fighter - Sega Master System review

That car doesn't really look very suited to fighting action
Game: Action Fighter
Format: Sega Master System
Developer: Sega 
Publisher: Sega
Year Released: 1986
Also Released on: Arcade, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga
Now Available on: Nothing

Is it a bike? Is it a car? Is it a plane? No, it's Supermer, Action Fighter. That's Action Fighter, not Superm Action Fighter. Action Fighter is one of the Sega Master System's earliest games, a conversion of an arcade game with the same name. It also appeared on a few home computers too, something I didn't know until I took a look at the Internet a few seconds ago. Then again, I didn't even know it was originally an arcade game until Wikipedia informed me. Now I'm curious to see what it looked like on other systems. Might find out after I've written this. I really don't know what's going on with the formatting on this page. Blogger seems to have a mind of its own today.  

What happens if I push 3? The game explodes?? I'll try that then
Action Fighter is an overhead vertically scrolling drive 'em, fly 'em, shoot 'em up. A Drflshmup to give it its made-up modern name. The idea of the game is to drive, fly and shoot things. I'm sure there is a purpose for all of this reckless behaviour, and I'm sure that purpose is explained in the instruction manual or on the back of the box. So, seeing as my fancy has been well and truly tickled, I shall find out. Exactly why must I drive, fly and shoot things?

Hang On! Is that the bike from, er, what was it?
Hmmm, so according to the text on the European box, you "Take the motorcycle from "Hang On," equip it with hi-tech weaponry and give it the ability to transform itself into an aircraft or car - and you've got ACTION FIGHTER!" Well I never, it's the Hang On bike! I still don't know why it needs equipping with hi-tech weaponry and or why it has the ability to transform itself into other vehicles.  Maybe the American box has more info. Here is its text in full, and I'll put it in italics to make it stand out:

Get ready to play a starring role in the incredible world of international espionage. You receive five different assignments. All action-packed. And all extremely dangerous. Your secret weapon? A vehicle that transforms into a dozen different deadly devices.  Your high-speed motoscycle can turn into a customised car and then into a sound-barrier breaking 
jet plane. All in a matter of seconds. The real test? To know when to use which weapon. Because the wrong machine, at the wrong time, can prove fatal.  

That reminds me, I need to watch the People vs, OJ Simpson.
Everyone tells me how good it is
Oooh, so it's espionage then? Spy games and the like. A bit like being a spy hunter of sorts? Original. No mention of the bike from Hang On though. Maybe being a vehicle used for spying, it doesn't want its true identity revealing. Instead, it's just described as a motorcycle that can transform into a dozen different deadly devices (nice use of alliteration there, Sega!). Unfortunately, the box only mentions two of the transformations, the car and plane, and they are the only two in the game too. I feel short-changed now. What are the other ten, and why aren't they in the game? Why mention a dozen if you're not going to let us see them? And what's all this bullcrap about knowing when to use which weapon? Yes, you can switch from bike to car and back to the bike if you want, but why would you? Once you've gained the ability to change to the car, you'll never ever go back to using the bike as it's horrible to control. And you change automatically from car to plane and back again depending on where about you are in the level. Yes, I think that whoever wrote the box text hasn't actually played the game.  

Red Two. Get back in formation. That is an order. Red Two!! Just you wait until we get back to base.

Your president certainly gets straight to the point. Either
that or he can't put together full sentences yet.
But I have. In Action Fighter, after picking your name, a message from the President of wherever you are tells you to unleash fire and fury on whichever place has pissed him off. You then set off on your little bike, whizzing along a road at stupidly fast speeds, avoiding other road users - or just shooting them - and collecting letters. For some reason, many of the vehicles you can destroy are ambulances. I did initially think that doing so would result in some sort of penalty, but apparently not. The sick and injured are clearly not worthy of your consideration, so need dealing with accordingly. There are quite a few parallels between this game and the modern-day policies of a certain orange President. You speed up by pushing up on the d-pad, slow down by pushing down, and fire with button 2. Every now and again, you'll spot a Sega van. Driving into the back of it causes your vehicle to become enhanced with faster and more powerful weaponry. After you've collected the letters A, B, C, and D, which apparently correspond to the four corner sections of your vehicle, your bike transforms into a car. The car is easier to control than the bike, but operates in pretty much the same way. You can switch from bike to car and car to bike by pressing button1 and 2 at the same time. Go on to collect the letters E and F and your car will eventually stop at a checkpoint, gain wings and take off. 

We'll fight them on the beaches, we'll fight them on their
freshly mown lawns.
When in flight mode, the game becomes a standard vertical shooter. Just shoot everything or dodge them. Button 2 remains your fire button,  but button 1 becomes your bomb-dropping button. Use it to drop bombs on objects situated on the ground or in the sea. This includes some of the end of level bosses, which are the ones that your President requested you to destroy. 

The game continues in the same way throughout the remaining levels, only sometimes you begin the level as the plane which will thelater become the car with the boss battles taking place on ground rather than in the air. Eventually, once you've switched your vehicles around enough times, and used them to take out whichever nasties are stupid enough to get in your way, you'll complete the game. 

The magical transforming Hang On bike doesn't really look the most aerodynamic vehicle, even when it has wings

Old Hang On finds the 14th hole, but has put the ball in the
water hazard. 
Action Fighter is very samey. Although changing from one vehicle to another should offer some variety in gameplay, both gaming styles are fairly similar to each other, and just repeat one after the other. As well as being repetitive, Action Fighter is also extremely tough. On the ground at top speed, it's impossible to react to the presence of other road users and to make turns when you need to. And constantly having to press fire tires out your fingers very quickly. Your vehicle does have auto-fire which works by holding down the fire button, but it fires so slowly that it's pointless. Of course, you can slow down, but you'll either slow down too much and need to speed up again, and then back down again, or you'll just decide to drive like a snail, which only results in you getting rear-ended. Finding that happy medium (Russell Grant?) isn't very achievable. The constant shooting, dodging, slowing down and speeding up, combined with regular deaths, just makes the game a pain in the ass to play. And when in the air, although you no longer have to deal with controlling your speed, you get bombarded with enemy aircraft and their bullets, some of which are hidden from view in the clouds. And those that aren't are hidden from view because of the Master System's flicker. You really have to shoot and hope. Kind of like having unprotected sex. Or perhaps not. Perhaps to rebalance the odds in the player's favour a little, a bit of variety to your firepower would have been nice. I don't mind hard games, but I don't like games that are only hard because they are unfair. The only saving grace in this game is that you have unlimited lives as you play against a timer. It starts at 999 and counts down. If it reaches zero before the end of the level, it's game over. The game really is a typical example of what early Master System releases were like, being just the same game on a loop. I can't even imagine it being much fun even if you do persevere with it and get good at it. Unless you have a weird ambition to become an Action Fighter master, it's probably not going to keep you entertained for very long.

Their are some enemies in those there clouds. Somewhere.

Have you seen my chopper? Hehe
As far as graphics go, everything is nice and colourful and ok to look at, although the aforementioned clouds and flicker only add to the overall frustrations that the game seems only to happy to serve up. To offend your ears, two or three nasty-sounding tinkly "tunes" play in the background, They're not even good for Master System standards, and don't even sound in tune. And the sound effects are just awful. Like everything else in this game, the graphics style and music don't change as you play through it. There really is nothing that signifies to you that you are progressing through it. Even some colour changes would have helped a bit. And any change to the music would have been good. Maybe different notes. Or no notes. Yes, no notes at all would be best. 

You can bog off if you think I'm carrying on
with this shite Mr President
So, um, yes, I can't think of anything else to add. That's Action Fighter. Pure garbage.

Presentation – 70%
A car whizzes into the foreground, flashes its lights and the title is displayed. A few intermissions give you your objectives for each level, but there's very little else.
Graphics – 65%
Graphics are ok. The roads are grey, fields are green, water is blue and the clouds are white. And they fudging hide enemy aircraft in them. I hate those clouds. 
Sound – 45%
Turn it off. Turn it off now. Horrible.
Playability – 38%
At first, the game feels like it might be fun. But it quickly turns out that it isn't. It's not fun at all. It's hard, repetitive, frustrating and is about as enjoyable as visiting the dentist. Actually, my dentist is quite tasty so I don't mind doing that. 
Overall – 40%
Not the Master System's finest hour, or even 15 minutes. Quite horrendous. It might improve with practice, but there really are more worthwhile things to practice getting better at. 

Possibly the best part of the game, entering your name