Review: BioMetal (Super Nintendo)

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BioMetal is a horizontal shooter developed by Athena in Japan and released exclusively on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Activision picked up publishing rights for the West, and it arrived on our shores in November 1993. The art style in BioMetal is very dark and Gothic, with hints of the movie Alien present in the enemy ships and landscapes. The Super Nintendo’s expanded color palette is put to good use here. The levels themselves start out rather Earth-like and then transgress into more organic like locations, not unlike R-Type.

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Graphically BioMetal is an artistically, and technically, pretty game. In addition to the inspired scenery, enemies are incredibly well detailed, featuring smooth gradients for a pseudo 3D appearance. The smooth gradients, rather than dithering, put this a step above what the competing Genesis could offer. The bosses in particular can be gorgeous. Just look:

The Super Nintendo’s PPU seems to be put to especially good use in the backgrounds. The first level features an impressive transparency effect for the clouds. Later levels use multiple layers of parallax scrolling (giving a great impression of depth). Finally Mode 7 is used for some obligatory warping background effects. BioMetal also plays quite fast, proving the Super Nintendo could handle twitchy shmup action. Mario would be proud. The graphics are not quite perfect however, there is some minor sprite flickers, and a fair amount of slow down.

The controls in BioMetal are excellent. The ship moves around at a quick space, and is very responsive. You start the game with a simple plasma shot. You can upgrade your primary fire to a wave shot, a spread shot, and a laser. Each of these can be upgraded once. The secondary fire is a set of missiles. These are not upgradeable, but there are three types of missiles: Missiles that fire straight forward, homing missiles, and a bizarre set the shoot in an arch towards the top and bottom of the screen.

The weapons are all balanced, and none of them ruin your game if you accidental grab them. Depending on your play style, the small but powerful laser may be just what you need, as it destroys most enemies with just a shot or two. The spread shot fires a spread of plasma, covering a larger section of the screen, but requiring more hits to kill enemies. The wave shot falls in between the laser and spread shot. It’s second upgrade also fires backwards (and forwards) which can be helpful.

The unique gimmick in BioMetal is the GAM (Gel Analog Mutant) weapon. When not in use, your GAM charges (represented by a blue bar at the bottom of the screen). Pressing the Y button engages this weapon. The GAM looks like 4 blue orbs rapidly circling your ship. Initially it is just a shield, preventing most enemy projectiles from hitting you. But that is not all it does. Pressing the R button fires all 4 orbs ahead of you like a giant missile, destroying projectiles as well as enemy ships. Pressing the A button increases the radius of the orbs around you for a brief period of time.

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You can press the Y button again to disengage the GAM and let it recharge, or let the GAM run out of energy and disengage on it’s own. This adds some excellent strategy to the game. Sometimes you need a shield (when enemy projectiles get overwhelming) and sometimes you need a heavy projectile (bosses). And when the action isn’t so hectic, you can disengage the GAM to let it charge.

The game play in BioMetal is very balanced. The first couple of stages ease you into the game, with predictable enemy and bullet patterns, and plenty of down time to recharge your GAM. As BioMetal progresses, the enemies become larger, more aggressive, and more plentiful. By the time you reach the sixth and final stage, it’s a never ending onslaught. The difficulty curve is damn near perfect.

Where BioMetal stumbles a bit is in the soundtrack. For it’s American (and European) release, Activision licensed music from 2 Unlimited, the power dance band famous for the 1991 hit, Get Ready for This, for the in-game music. The 6 remixed tracks are technically good, featuring crisp synthesized instruments and decent bass. Sadly, it doesn’t quite fit the Gothic/space theme the graphics represent. The tracks would fit much better in a sports game.

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I initially found BioMetal overwhelming, with an amazing amount of enemies, enemy projectiles, combined with super fast game play. I could barely keep up. After a few tries I started getting into the flow and really appreciated the balance nature of the title. It never feels cheap or unfair. That’s not to say BioMetal is easy. Like most games of the genre, BioMetal is challenging and requires many play-throughs if you ever hope to see the final couple stages.

Overall, BioMetal is a solid game. It takes advantage of the Super Nintendo’s graphical strengths, has detailed bosses, twitchy game play, and the unique mechanics of the GAM device. The soundtrack is certainly questionable, but it doesn’t ruin the game. This is a no brainer for fans of the genre, but if you’re looking for some fast action on the Super Nintendo, give it a try.

Graphics 7/10 - Great color, nifty background, some slow down
Sound 5/10 - Why didn’t they just stick with the original Japanese soundtrack...
Game play 8/10 - Smooth controls, unique GAM weapon, well balanced
 Overall 7/10 - Solid shmup, an original soundtrack would bump it up a point