Biomotor Unitron Review: A Product Of Its Time
Context can matter a lot when discussing a video game. To this day, fans of the Neo Geo Pocket Color (there are dozens of us) tend to speak glowingly about Biomotor Unitron. It isn’t hard to see why, with nice animations, colorful visuals, well-designed characters, and gameplay that will feel very familiar to anyone who has played the early Pokémon games. There are definitely things to like in this Neo Geo Pocket Color RPG.
However, the issue is that little about Biomotor Unitron is memorable or stands out compared to similar titles. There are a few exceptions, but this is a very by-the-numbers attempt at a handheld RPG from the late 90s. Looking at the RPG lineup on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, though, you can see why that perhaps didn’t matter to fans at the time. There weren’t exactly a lot of options for fans wanting an experience like this. Japan got a few more choices, but US players’ only other choices were Dark Arms, Faselei! and Dive Alert, none of which were traditional RPGs.
The Master of Masters
Biomotor Unitron has you playing a Unitron Master, someone who gets to pilot a cool mech. There’s a little backstory about a war they helped win, but that’s all over, and now everyone just uses them to compete in tournaments in the city of Rhafiace, trying to become the Master of Masters. I’m into the title, at least.
There’s a central town, where you’ll meet various characters. You can enter tournaments, shop for new items, craft new equipment, update your mech, or just move around talking to people. There’s a little bit of a story, but it’s extremely front-loaded. Once you get into the game, this is a far more gameplay-focused RPG than most, for better or worse.
Fighting in the arena is fun and can get challenging pretty quickly. You’ll face a wide variety of enemies, which definitely keeps things fresh, even if the combat is pretty basic with you only having a few attacks worth using. Initially, you’ll be locked out of higher-level events anyway, but as you work your way up, more will open up to you.
Once you reach the point where you can’t progress any further, you’ll then need to head out into the world and level up. Four dungeons surround your main town, each with a different elemental type. You can equip different elemental-type weapons to your mech, so picking the right attack for the right dungeon makes things a lot easier. That’s really the only level of strategy involved as you fight through seven increasingly difficult floors of each dungeon.
These dungeons have nothing to really stand out or make fighting through them interesting. Combat is competent but very basic, and random encounters are so frequent that they get old pretty quickly, though the solid soundtrack helps this not become too intolerable. As with most of these Neo Geo Pocket Color Switch releases, there’s a rewind option, but this is a game where I’d kill for a fast forward. It would make these random encounters a lot more palatable. Between the fights, you’ll have randomly generated areas which are all really basic, with you just searching for chests, which mostly have money or the occasional item, and the stairs to the next floor. There’s nothing interesting about any of the areas you explore. It’s all very competent but not memorable.
My favorite part of Biomotor Unitron is customizing your mech. The money you find can combine with resources you gather or buy to build all kinds of upgrades for your mech, the main way to improve your character. There are a ton of ways to make your mech your own, with your character even looking different in combat depending on what you do. It’s very cool to see the different changes, and I found working towards new upgrades to be fairly addicting. Enemy designs look good, too, so while most of the game looks pretty basic, it’s never ugly. I was far more driven to see what I could build next than I was to see through the attempt at a story or to get through the dungeons, but it all works together relatively well.
Biomotor Unitron is a competent dungeon crawler and mech-building RPG. Little about it is bad, but little is interesting, and it’s very much a game of its time. The biggest issue with recommending it today is that the Switch in 2022 is not the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999. That system desperately needed a competent RPG, and Biomotor Unitron was able to fill that hole. The Switch doesn’t need that, though. Between classic releases and new titles, it has one of the strongest RPG lineups any system has ever seen. In that context, it’s hard to recommend it to many players today.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: SNK; Developer: Yumekobo; Players: 1; Released: May 25th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Biomotor Unitron provided by the publisher.