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

1 comment:

  1. Hi there! Great review as always. I wonder how much you a like retro games.