Bio-Hazard Battle (Genesis) review
"For all the good that scientific advances have done for our planet, there is a dark side to this technology. Whether it be pollution, the threat of nuclear war, chemical weapons such as anthrax or something else, the possibility that our world’s progression could lead to its downfall is present. "
For all the good that scientific advances have done for our planet, there is a dark side to this technology. Whether it be pollution, the threat of nuclear war, chemical weapons such as anthrax or something else, the possibility that our world’s progression could lead to its downfall is present.
So, what does that have to do with video games (not counting eco-friendly efforts like Captain Planet) -- especially the Genesis horizontally-scrolling shooter Bio-Hazard Battle? Well, maybe not a great deal, but look at it this way -- if you think this planet has problems, thank whatever deity you worship that you're not a resident of the planet Avaron.
You see, that fine planet apparently had a civilization even more advanced than Earth’s, but things got a wee bit messed up. Messed up as in the planet was taken over by genetically superior species of insects, fish and other slithering creatures that go bump in the night.
Fortunately, due to their high degree of technology, the Avaronians were able to regroup and mount a counterattack. With only a handful of potential fighters available, it’s not a large counterattack, but it’s a counterattack nonetheless. And thus begins an eight-stage shooter that will impress you at times and challenge you with regularity.
Players get to pick from four spaceships, all with a different appearance and different combination of possible special weapons they can utilize. Well, to be truthful, the ships don’t actually get to use these weapons -- all they’re equipped to do is fire regular and charged shots straight ahead.
Fortunately, each ship comes (free of charge) with a l’il helper-buddy pod. While this device starts out only able to shoot a couple of bullets in whatever direction it happens to be facing, it can get far more effective attacks. After destroying a wave or two of enemies during the first stage, which is simply your plane dropping from a large spacecraft down to Avaron’s surface, you’ll notice a number of colored globes. These are your power-ups.
The green ones are the same for all four ships, simply doubling the firepower of your pod. Two separate attacks can be unleashed by picking up the red, yellow or blue globes. Which attack you get depends on which ship you’re controlling. For example, let’s say you pick up a yellow globe. Two of the ships (including the one I played through the game with) will suddenly be backed up by a powerful laser weapon designed to cut through anything in front of it. The other two will gain the ability to fire a beam of yellow balls in any direction.
Needless to say, having the right globe attached to your pod at the right time can have a huge effect on your chances of survival. That yellow globe laser is wonderful against a number of the bosses, but can make you as helpless as a newborn baby during the many sections of the game where enemies are bombarding you from the back, top and/or bottom. Other weapons are wonderful against enemies attacking from those awkward angles and a couple are very useful in enclosed locations, such as a red globe attack that sends out large donut-shaped projectiles that bounce off walls.
Luckily, that first stage gives you ample opportunity to test your ship’s special weapons in a non-threatening environment. The enemies here are easy to mow through, allowing you to experiment without being in danger of suffering a quick, embarrassing demise.
That’s a good thing because the game’s difficulty dramatically increases from here on out. Even in the second (city) and third (jungle) levels, there are a few instances of sneaky enemies coming up on your rear and blasting you out of the sky while you’re distracted with the hordes of enemies engaging you from the front. Like many side-scrollers, memorization can play a huge role in victory in Bio-Hazard Battle, as it definitely pays to know when a tough enemy is going to pop up behind you, so you can be properly prepared.
From there, the action continues to heat up through the fourth (cave) and fifth (underwater) levels, before you get a bit of a break with the sixth level, a dogfight with a huge plane. The comparative ease of that level can be misleading, though, as the difficulty rises back up with the final two (factory and base) levels.
In the factory, you have to spend a good deal of your time maneuvering around walls while fighting off a few million enemies. Then, in the base, there are several instances in which the game will start scrolling in a different direction. Let’s just say that from personal experience, I found out that it’s not fun to have the yellow laser when the game decides to reverse direction.
Fortunately, this is the sort of game that has enough going for it that the challenge never really gets frustrating. That can be attributed to a combination of good play control, excellent music and attractive 16-bit graphics.
As far as the play control goes, not only does your ship control well, but the hit detection also is excellently designed. You might die more times than you care to count, but they won’t be of the cheap, “That bullet never touched me!!!” kind of death that can put the typical person into a control-throwing rage.
In somewhat of a rare occurrence for me, the music in this game really jumped out and grabbed my attention in a good way. Most retro console shooters I’ve played tend to have music that ranges from okay to poor, but this game’s soundtrack fully seems to capture the mood. The music tends to be slow-paced and moody -- which is perfect for what could best be described as a desperate last-ditch effort to save a doomed planet from the parasitic organisms that have been destroying it, even though the odds are dramatically against you emerging victorious.
Visually, this game is very well done, with many large and detailed enemies combined with some beautiful backgrounds. The jungle stage is a work of beauty in itself, with a few wonderfully animated insect-like enemies combined with a lush, green background that includes a number of gigantic bean pods -- the product of biotechnological research gone haywire. In another example, what would be a generic battle against a gigantic plane on the sixth level is spruced up by nice graphical touches. After blowing away sections of the plane, you see tentacle-like growths protruding from the other parts of it -- making it obvious that nothing on Avaron was spared from the organic onslaught.
The game does have a few flaws, though -- mainly on the creative side. The game simply doesn’t take full advantage of its premise. This isn’t a game with a generic “alien empire is approaching” plot. Bio-Hazard Battle is a story of a planet being destroyed by its own technology. However, the levels of this game follow the formula of most shooters of the “alien” style. Large battleship level? Check. Underwater level? Check. Flying over civilization in ruins level? Check. Alien base level? Check. While it looks better than many games, it doesn’t break new ground, which is a bit disappointing, as a little more originality would serve to make this game a true classic.
There are also a number of dull foes serving as boss battles. The large slug-like beast of level two is a decent first boss and it’s followed by a wonderful entry for level three. After fighting through a long level with a couple of sub-bosses, you are confronted with an enormous tree with a pair of holes in it. Out of one hole comes a number of small insects to distract you from the main objective -- a long worm-like parasite with a skull face that protrudes from the other hole. Your mission is to destroy the tree by killing the worm. While it’s not the most challenging encounter once you learn the pattern, it looks wonderful and really created a sense of anticipation as to what the designers would send after me next.
Sadly, none of the remaining bosses amazed me anywhere near as much as Mr. Treeworm (name not official) did. Whether it was the aggressive manta ray of level five, the slew of minor enemies on level seven or the overlord of generic shooter bosses on the final level -- they all just seemed to be anticlimactic encounters after struggling through the level itself.
Such flaws are fairly minor quibbles in the long run, though. During this age of videogames, the market was deluged by a neverending sea of shooters, many of which were unoriginal AND of low quality. While Bio-Hazard Battle does have its unoriginal points, its innovative weapon system, rewarding gameplay and excellent graphics and sound do plenty to set it far above the pack of mediocrity that so many of those shooters found themselves in.
Community review by overdrive (February 05, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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