B.I.O.T.A. Review: An Action-Packed Retro Metroidvania Full of Deadly Secrets
Mankind has always dreamed of exploring the stars, yet we seem no closer to achieving it now than we did a century ago. But in B.I.O.T.A., that goal is reached through a mysterious chain of events. A meteorite crash lands on Earth, and within that chunk of rock, we find a new element called Viridium. With this mysterious new element in hand, space travel becomes possible, and we start colonizing the new frontier. Then, as expected, things start going wrong. A dangerous biological agent suddenly appears on a mining colony, and dramatically mutates anything it touches into hideous enslaved monstrosities. To combat this threat and discover what’s happening, a team of mercenaries is sent to investigate. What they find is a vast and harrowing conspiracy that changes everything humankind thought they knew. And as this B.I.O.T.A. review will establish, the resulting adventure is one of the best throwback Metroidvanias I’ve played in a long while.
Your Mission, If you Choose to Accept It
While you only start the game with a few playable characters, you’ll gradually recruit a total of 8 to your team. Each one has a different primary weapon with varying firepower, attack speed, and range, as well as a special ability (you start with one, and can find alternate skills). Otherwise, your team pretty much all plays the same. Some can toss grenades, others snipe from a distance, and one can even heal herself and teleport in allies. While most of the character swapping only happens at your HQ (reminiscent of games like Astalon and Omega Strike), I still appreciated the variety of playable characters. That said, part of me wished that some were necessary for specific platforming challenges or to solve puzzles. You can essentially play the entire game as one character, other than when you need a robotic ally to run through a nuclear facility that’s melting down.
Better Stock Up
Though B.I.O.T.A. is nominally a Metroidvania, it differs in key ways. One is that you don’t really get platforming abilities that allow access to new areas. You start with a wall jump, and that’s pretty much it. Most of the upgrades that expand where you can travel are dependent on your supply of Viridium. It serves as the game currency, and you’ll need to be constantly hunting for items that expand how much you can gather. Then you’ll find a variety of black market storefronts that sell essential items for Viridium. Some boost your team’s base HP or special ability ammo. But then you’ll find weird items like cranks or oil containers, that allow you to access vehicles. You’ll also come across door keys that enable you to get through otherwise inaccessible areas. A lot of this makes the game play more like a classic handheld game than a modern Metroidvania. But thankfully, B.I.O.T.A. is enough fun that I didn’t really care how it diverged from the standard genre playbook.
At first, I got a bit lost in the early parts of the game until I discovered the in-game map. It’s only accessible from the pause screen, and, admittedly, a little clunky. That said, it does a good job of illustrating where you haven’t gone yet, which is vital in progressing. You’ll really need to explore every nook and cranny to proceed. And while most of that exploration is to increase your supply of Viridium, you can also find well-hidden Specimens. Though they serve no gameplay function, they have a neat use – they allow you to change the color palettes for the game. There are more than 30 different palettes, and I quickly found one I liked and stuck with it. It’s a sort of glossy purple and orange palette, but you can also go with sickly green if you’re craving that classic Game Boy look.
One of my favorite design choices in the game is that you start out with a teleporter device that lets you return to HQ from any safe location. Likewise, you’ll come across gates that let you fast travel to different parts of the colony. And best of all, you can manually save from any safe room as well (that’s on top of set save stations you’ll find in levels). All of these elements keep the game from getting too frustrating, since you’re always just a safe room away from returning to base, healing, and saving, and maybe swapping out your current mercenary for another. The reason this is important is that it’s very, very easy to die in B.I.O.T.A.
I’m no scrub when it comes to platforming, but even I started to get overwhelmed a bit by the game. The reason being, B.I.O.T.A. loves to use instant kill traps. For example, the first boss in the game is surrounded by a pool of noxious goo, and if you fall into it, you drown and perish. You’ll also come across tons of laser traps that will fry your mercenary. One notable level even has a wall-crawling menace that will jump on your head and mutate you into a horrifying monster, instantly ending your game. While thematically, this all makes sense, since you’re exploring a space colony being ravaged by a mutagenic menace, I’d be lying if I didn’t say all the instant death stuff started to frustrate me a little. But so long as you’re careful about saving frequently, it shouldn’t get too annoying.
Horrifying Mutant Abominations
It wouldn’t be any sort of Metroidvania without great boss battles, and B.I.O.T.A. is no exception. I didn’t encounter the first boss until a couple of hours into the game. It was a hideous puddle of goo and tentacles that I couldn’t hit with my gunfire. Instead, I had to use a series of levers to drop explosives into its open gullet while avoiding attacks. After that boss, the game starts ramping up quickly, and you’ll face a bunch in quick succession. Many are more fast-paced than the first boss, but none of them are easy. One of my favorites is a gigantic spider monster that attacks you unexpectedly as you’re traveling via elevator. All the bosses are equal parts hideous, furious and awesome.
Shut Up and Drive
Perhaps the most unexpected part of B.I.O.T.A. was the vehicular sections. You’ll maneuver gigantic mechs, swim the depths in a submarine and even fly into the vacuum of space. They each play very differently, and do a good job of mixing things up. In the submarine, you’ll explore toxic waters full of mutant aquatic life, blast gates, and make your way deeper. By contrast, the mech sections are fast-paced and full of angry critters doing their best to murder you. As for the space section, it plays a lot like a Shmup, and even features a surprising variety of weaponry to use. Overall I liked these sections, though on occasion, they overstayed their welcome.
Retro in the Best Way
Visually, I adore the game. I’m a big fan of pixel art, and B.I.O.T.A. looks like it could have existed on the Game Boy. It masterfully emulates the good old days while still featuring complex character portraits. Sure, the playable mercenaries are a bit on the tiny side, but they all exude a different style. Even better is the game’s amazing soundtrack. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten so pumped up by any game soundtrack. The chiptune magic on display keeps the action at a fever pitch, while bringing the themes of isolation and infection into focus. I honestly have no complaints about the game’s art or sound.
I don’t have much to complain about the game, though I did encounter some oddness. I should preface this by saying I very much suspect the cause could have been my own gamepad, but I am mentioning it in case others have had similar problems. Every time I booted up B.I.O.T.A. and turned on my wireless controller, there’s a good 1 to 2 minute period where it’s utterly unresponsive. Afterward, the game plays fine, at least until I turn it back on again. While I have had similar issues using this controller with other Steam games, they’ve never been so consistent or lasted so long. So hopefully, the developers can look into it and perhaps resolve the issue.
A Tribute to Classic Gaming and Sci-Fi Horror
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from B.I.O.T.A. Though it diverged from the Metroidvania genre in some significant ways, I really enjoyed this challenging throwback to games of the past. It marries a compelling and dark sci-fi plot with challenging platforming, fun boss fights, and a vast colony to explore. It’s not a perfect game, and I was definitely frustrated by the many instant death traps, but it’s still a game that retro fans should check out. And that goes double if the game ever makes its way to game consoles.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Retrovibe; Developer: tiny bros; Players: 1; Released: April 12, 2022; MSRP: $9.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.