ALRIGHT, WHAT JUNKY MALARKY DID YOU BRING US THIS MONTH?
Oh, snarky overseer, you know I don't always bring you misfortune. Last month's look at Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Sea Hag no Maki wasn't that terrible, was it?
NOBODY LIKED THAT ARTICLE. GIVE US SOMETHING INTERESTING. MAYBE SOMETHING WITH ROBOTS.
...You are in luck, dear friend. I happen to have with me a game that does, in fact, feature robots. Mechs — known as Unitrons in this game — to be more precise. This month, let's take a quick look at Biometal Unitron, a game released in 1999 for the Neo-Geo Pocket Color. Remember that little handheld console? One of the many portable systems that was trounced to death by the Game Boy like a wild puma on a steaming plate of Hamburger Helper?
YEAH, YEAH, I REMEMBER THE NEO-GEO POCKET COLOR. IT HAD THAT AWESOME GAME, "MELON CHAN'S GROWTH DIARY", ON IT. COVER THAT ONE NEXT MONTH.
Dear goodness, no. But let me tell you a bit more about Biometal Unitron. The story goes that, about 199 years ago, the planet Elscea was suffering from a world war, at a time when the people of that planet had been thrust into an age of difficulty and hatred. Then, out of nowhere (well, out of somewhere), a meteor came from the sky and landed amongst a lake. They would later call this meteor "The Unitice", named after a popular Mickey Rourke film at that time. The lake was instantaneously vapourized, but left behind were many crystal shards, remnants of the meteorite, which contained special energy that offered unlimited power. That's a pretty nice deal, considering that any crystals we burn tend to be used up quickly and then end up in the ozone layer. The people of the Kingdom of Rhafiace, the civilization closest to the lake, used the crystals to develop their own mechs, called Unitrons, which they then used to wipe out the opposition and win the war. Fast forward to the present, and everybody has now mended the once-broken ties, and now they use the Unitrons for tournaments and garbage collection on Wednesdays. In these tournaments, people battle their Unitrons for the purpose of becoming the clichéd title of "Master of Masters". Will YOU be one of them?
SO, THIS IS GOING TO BE JUST ANOTHER UGLY PORTABLE FIGHTING GAME, EH?
You'd think so, but no. Actually, this is an RPG! SNK had to put their foot into the RPG market somehow, so Biometal Unitron was their answer to all the fame that Pokemon games were devouring for Nintendo. The name didn't have an anime behind it or some sort of movie tie-in, so it had to carve its own niche based on the game's own merit alone. The first thing you'll notice is that, and this was a bit to my dismay, the interface in the first city you visit is actually pretty damn ancient. You don't even get to walk around town; you only get to navigate using text commands. Wherever you want to go, pick from a list and go that way. If I wanted to talk to people and move around that way, I'd whip out a copy of Carmen Sandiego from twenty years ago, because that's what it is. And there wasn't much to do, aside from interact with some dull or sexy people. The town shop was closed while they were doing a frickin' inventory check! Seriously, what game designer thought that having characters complete inventory when you need items would be of even remote interest?
The only places where you can actually wander around are in areas outside the town, accessed via a pretty static world map. This is where the standard dungeon crawling aspect kicks in. You're basically wandering around various areas (with those ever-so-wonderful randomly generated level designs), encountering random enemies for battle for experience points and gold pieces, all the while sniffing around for treasure chests and anything else you can get your grabby hands on. And on occasion, you can head back to the Arena and see if your level grinding was worth the trouble on other Unitrons. This game seems to do nothing particularly special to try and lure you in, or to at least say, "Hey, those other games are cool, but I'm just as unique because..." I could have made a game this banal. So could a monkey on minimum wage. I can do the same job as a monkey. The graphics are pretty fair for the NGPC, but there are occasions when there is no music playing, particularly in parts of the main town... made me think something was broken! But no... just a bit of laziness.
WELL, IS IT WORTH MY TIME TO LOOK FOR IT?
Mmmm, that's pretty much up to you. Of course, most of us don't even have a Neo-Geo Pocket Color, so you'd have to hunt one of those down first. But I don't think I'm going to declare this game as a "must-have" item. But it's not a terrible game either, so the choice is up to you. But be prepared to NOT be blown out of your socks and into Grandma's bedroom with Biometal Unitron. Maybe the name is the best part. And the nice thing is that this game is entirely in English and WAS released Stateside in the summer of 1999, so if there really isn't a dire need to import it!