BioMetal (SNES) review
"Sometimes you just have to wonder what goes through the minds of video game designers and programmers. "
Sometimes you just have to wonder what goes through the minds of video game designers and programmers.
Let's say you're working on a rather routine horizontally-scrolling Super Nintendo shooter such as BioMetal. There doesn't seem to be much that stands out about this game. A couple of its stages definitely are prettier than the average SNES game and the difficulty level can get brutal at times, but overall, this game has nothing special about it to make it stand out from the extremely large pack of shooters released on the SNES, Genesis and Turbografx-16 during this time period.
So, as a programmer for Athena and/or Activision (who ported this particular game to the United States), what are you going to do to give this game an identity? How are you going to ensure that this 16-bit shooter makes a name for itself -- possibly even reaching the stature of an R-Type or Gradius? Just sit back and think about this dilemma for a couple of minutes.
What did you come up with? An involving series of cool and innovative levels? Nope. A collection of special weapons the likes of which you've never seen before. Sorry. A soundtrack consisting of dance music from the early 90s? That's the winning answer!
Okay, okay -- I know what you must be thinking. How in the world will this run-of-the-mill game be improved by inserting a soundtrack that seems more appropriate for the title and menu screens of a basketball or hockey game? Well, after much deliberation, I may have come up with the answer to this intricate problem. Players will be so stunned and confused by the soundtrack that the overall mediocrity of this game will be beyond their comprehension. I mean, who can focus on generic bosses and enemies, tons of bullets that can blend into the background at times and a quite unforgiving degree of challenge when that horrendous dance music threatens to evaporate your sanity?
So, how do we solve this problem and exactly take a good, long look at the game itself? Turn the volume down -- WAY DOWN. You won't be missing anything spectacular. While the music does improve a bit in a few of the game's stages and the sound effects are decent, nothing really stands out in this particular game as being noteworthy.
Okay, the game is booting up. Look at that title screen! Amazing, isn't it? Uhhh...maybe not -- unless you are enthralled by the sight of a plain little spaceship blasting some sort of critter that apparently missed the cut to be in one of the Alien series of movies.
But, if you wait on the title screen for a little while, you're in for a treat. Unlike most shooters, this one actually has a bit of a story behind it. Sure, it's nothing exceptional or particularly in-depth. In fact, to sum it up, all one needs to say is, ''The bad 'ol aliens are coming. Hop in your super-duper Halbard ship and beat them before they beat us. You're our only hope!'' In other words, the same plot that virtually every single science-fiction shooter in the history of video gaming has delivered -- just in more words than the norm.
During this little scene, you're also introduced to the two characters that will be piloting the Halbard. The female (Anita) seems to be somewhat normal, but I really have to wonder about the mental state of the male pilot. With a name such as ''Kid Ray'', one really has to wonder if he'd be better equipped to babble with delight over a multi-colored bouncing ball rather than fly the most sophisticated piece of military equipment in a last-ditch mission to save humanity.
Enough of the preliminaries, though. We want action! Pick your difficulty level, hop in and start fighting. Level one, which is among the clouds, proved to be especially challenging for an opening level. First, a number of the enemies seem to take a good deal of damage while showing no reluctance to scatter bullets all over the sky. Second, the rapidly scrolling background really seemed to provide a distraction, especially when combined with all the bullets, ships and explosions from destroyed ships. After the first few moments of playing, this level turned into an extremely chaotic mess where the main challenge seemed to be to keep track of where my ship was as compared to where the enemy bullets were.
But fortunately, I was able to survive the chaos and make it to the boss. While this big laser-toting ship did purge enough ammunition into the air to fuel a third-world dictatorship, it did eventually fall, sending me to the next level.
The second and third levels were my favorites in the game. While the basic enemies were still (for the most part) generic and drab, the actual levels were beautifully drawn. The second stage has the Halbard flying above a desert with multiple moons in the background. The third level places you in a gorgeous, purplish jungle setting. Maybe desert and jungle levels are nothing new to shooters, but with the exquisite care taken in creating these levels, they felt like new and wonderful experiences. Unlike the first level, the backgrounds here didn't prove to be a distraction in battling the enemy forces. Heck, the third level's boss (a vine with four lethal flowers) was even pretty innovative! Things were really looking up in this game.
Only to come crashing back to Earth. The final half of the game was a tour of level designs done far better in other shooters. The fourth level is a trip through a cave, climaxing with a battle against a big, ugly snake-like mech. After the previous two levels, this is quite the letdown. The best way to describe the fifth level is ''insanely difficult''. During this jaunt through the enemy base, you'll be running into vast numbers of enemies (many in awkward positions for you to shoot), tons of bullets, walls to move around and moving walls that threaten to trap the Halbard -- with many of these obstacles accosting you on a constant basis. A combination of memorization, lightning-quick reflexes and luck are required to survive this gauntlet and take on the boss. Fortunately, beating this three-form ship is far easier than getting to it.
And that takes us to the final level. It's a short one, but it will elicit an equal number of groans and profanities as anything else you've done in this game. First, you have to dodge tons of kamikaze critters that seem to be just a bit too durable to risk killing in most cases. After surviving an eternity of avoiding those beasties, the final boss appears -- straight out of R-Type! Well, maybe this particular villain wasn't actually in one of the R-Type games, but he looks the part. All I'm saying about this guy is that it is one tough....whatever the heck it is. Prepare for a lot of frustration before beating him and conquering the alien force -- earning you the right to watch the obscenely short ending before putting the game away and attempting to forget you ever played it.
By this point, you probably are thinking that this game must be pure dung. Well, that's not quite true. This game does have one true saving grace that will give it some value for the typical diehard shooter fan. Nestled in among a number of typical shooter weapons (spread fire, laser, missiles, etc.) is a shield system that's built into the Halbard. By pressing a button, you cause four glowing blue orbs to rotate around your ship. The orbs serve as a fairly effective shield, protecting you from bullets (but not from collisions or certain special attacks). While the shield is activated, a ''charge'' bar at the bottom of the screen will slowly go down. Remove the shield and the bar will charge up again. You also can use the shield as a weapon by shooting it out at enemies -- however, the wise player saves this device for the many areas of this game where the enemy fire is so thick that avoidance becomes an impossibility.
The shield adds an element of strategy to BioMetal -- something that is very welcome in this game. If you use it to make a somewhat difficult area of a level easier, you may not have any shield power left to get through an area where it is crucial. Timely use of the shield can easily become the difference between success and failure in this game.
While no amount of fancy shields or other gizmos could completely make up for the flaws this game possesses, that particular device does make the game playable and even somewhat fun at times. BioMetal's shield is an idea that definitely works -- it's just too bad that so many of the other ideas used in creating this game failed to impress.
Community review by overdrive (March 16, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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