Review – B.I.O.T.A.
It can be a bit too easy to lean on nostalgia and nostalgic factors to try and make a game sell nowadays. We’re in a state where late stage Gen X and very early Millennials are at the forefront of the consumer base, and many will be naturally drawn towards games that mimic those of their youth. Brilliant strategy: I sincerely believe half my love for Infernax came from the NES spirit that permeated throughout. However, part of that game being one of my favorites of the year also came from brilliant execution and balance. If you put too much weight on one side of the scale (throwback identity) or the other (modern gameplay), you end up with a game that’s disingenuous overall.
B.I.O.T.A. is a metroidvania love letter to the games of the 90s pixel era, developed by Italian team Small Bros and published by Retrovibe. The premise is straightforward, as you might imagine for a game trying to capture the ideas of the old school environment. Aliens have invaded a mining colony, because we’ve all agreed at some point we’re going to stop harvesting this planet and head elsewhere to harvest the other places. Was Agent Smith right? Is humanity just a virus? Anyways, the solution, instead of abandoning the mining colony and doing something else, is to hire a team of mercenaries to dive in and eliminate the alien menace at the core. Choose from gruff old guy, meat head soldier, creepy assassin, or alien (different kind) with shotgun. Run in, find weapons, shoot the hell out of aliens and eventually blast their bosses in the face. It’s just that easy!
On the surface, this has the perfect formula to be everything that a retro-inspired title could be. First and foremost, the aesthetics are top notch. While I normally don’t enjoy a huge number of palette choices, the sheer variety of colors and simulations really adds to the atmosphere of B.I.O.T.A.
You could keep it simple and just wash it over in Game Boy monochrome green, or mix it up with a series of inspired tones that keep the game feeling fresh as you move around. Purples give it that really sick feeling of putrid aliens, whereas the more neon tones let you embrace the idea of a dystopian future. The addition of the CRT filters helps you forget that your modern screen is twelve times bigger than what you used in the 90s and also a tenth of the weight. Go back and try to carry around a twelve inch television from Sears that you bought in ’89. You’ll throw your back out.
Also, the approach to the game has a lot of promises out the gate. The sheer variety of approaches with the different protagonists is a good step forward in the “old meets new” approach, allowing more customization and player identity in a game that could easily have just given you a single choice and told you to get to it. There are different extras that you unlock along the way, such as time trials and target practices to both enhance your main gameplay experience and also to give you something else to do when you’re waiting for your temper to cool down before diving back into the mines. There’s so much potential right on the surface that players will find themselves eager to dive in and get straight to many of the promised experiences, like unique boss fights, different craft arcade levels (submarine, mech, and starship).
This is going to be one of those games where you’ll live or die based entirely on your setup, and I don’t think that bodes well for B.I.O.T.A. I love the Game Boy chunky pixel approach, I really do, but it looks terrible up on a large screen. Everything gets blown way out of proportion, and instead of appreciating the details that are put into the individual sprites and levels, you find yourself getting lost in a muddle of steam vents, errant projectiles, random items the enemies may or may not be dropping, not to mention having to remember where your character is.
I had an awful time trying to play it up on my widescreen television, and actually had to install it on a work laptop so I could see what it looked like in a smaller, denser fashion. Why the hell isn’t there an option to change the screen size for a game that is deliberately trying to emulate the appeal of an era that was from a smaller screen? Even messing with the launch options didn’t work, so I had to use an archaic HP laptop just to confirm that the game didn’t look terrible everywhere. It doesn’t, it’s brilliant in smaller resolutions, but that’s not the point.
Besides the look of things, there’s a massive imbalance between what the game seeks to do and what it accomplishes. Like I said before, B.I.O.T.A. wants to marry classic design with modern gameplay, but neither comes across well. The older pixel art means that some hit boxes for things like platforms and enemies are off, but contemporary creation means you need to be spot on with your shooting and jumping in order to not die.
The controls fluctuate between tight and floaty. They sometimes allow you to stop on a dime, but sometimes they let you meander into propeller blades or enemy bullets because the adjustment factor doesn’t properly take in input lag. The biggest thing I can say here is that the controllers are laid out well, and players should 100% be playing this with their favorite controller instead of a keyboard. Nothing about this feels like a keyboard approach, except for keeping it on your lap to either quickly grab screenshots or quickly get the hell out.
But the biggest issue is that B.I.O.T.A. is just too much, if that makes sense. The chiptune soundtrack doesn’t feel like it matches the tone of the era. It feels like a parody that screeches too loud or too quiet to evoke this idea that classic games were hampered by poor sound cards.
The pixel explosions sometimes look great, but often look messy and uncontrolled, as if nodding to the idea that developers back in the day were just peppering in effects everywhere in order to distract from bland level design or boring sprites. If the screenshake is set to anything higher than “off,” you get positively rocked with each and every moment of havoc that unfolds in the game. You end up needing to rerun the same places again and again because it takes a while before you find a proper respawn point in the game. Oh, and the “save anywhere” promise of the game? Total horseshit. You can only “save anywhere” where they want. Which is called “save points,” and isn’t modern, we’ve been doing it for years.
In the end, I just had a bad time playing B.I.O.T.A. I should have been thrilled to be fighting my way through aliens and mutants and blowing things up, like when I was a child. Instead, I was watching the clock and figuring out if I’d put in enough work to stop, like when I’m an adult. A game should never feel like a chore, and there was just too much being asked by B.I.O.T.A. for me to have a good time. If this is your cup of tea, great, but I personally felt it was too much for too little. Get yourself an old rig, or find a way to play it on a handheld system, that could help. Steam Deck users, have fun and go nuts, maybe. But for everyone else, take a pause and let B.I.O.T.A. try to get itself sorted before diving into the mines.
Fantastic palettes and great moments of pixel art balance out otherwise bland and repetitive sets.
Solid metroidvania approach and ideas, really middling execution due to odd choices in control and presentation.
Too imbalanced: it hits the right notes, but it hits them too hard.
Simultaneously too hard and too simple, the excitement became a chore in no time flat.
Final Verdict: 5.0
B.I.O.T.A. is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of B.I.O.T.A. was provided by the publisher.