Remember when NES-Hard (or “Nintendo hard”) was a thing? When a video game didn’t have Dark Souls to be compared to when it was ridiculously challenging and resulted in a lot of tedious deaths? When you had to use a ridiculous amount of trial and error to progress because there was simply no way of knowing how or where the next death would come from. It’s such a refreshing thing that we don’t have this to deal with as much these days. Now video games add in side quests, extra content or little nice additions to extend gameplay length with the philosophy being that ‘nobody willingly chooses frustration’ (except Death Stranding obviously) Biolab Wars reminds us that just because a game looks like a classic from that era there was something very special that made completing those games rewarding despite being NES-Hard.
The style of 8-bit retro graphics really does bring back the archetype of run and gun 2D platformer shooter games doesn’t it? Biolab Wars with its Ocean looking logo and retro fonts and style really does its best to hearken back to a more basic time in video games. Unfortunately it really doesn’t bring back any of the best parts. The shooting is weak, the platforming frustrating and the 7 stages of the game are single player only. The character select screen seems trivial as the ending is always the same oddly drawn picture with strange English that doesn’t quite make sense. The only difference is your characters sprite. The guns, the layout of the game and the frustration is always the same.
Multiple times I found myself dying in Biolab Wars but not in a fun way. Often it would be because the same pink bat enemy had gotten too close and your character shoots out from a space meaning it can easily fly between you and the gun. Biolab Wars also has knock back so expect to be clipped by a tiny bullet or enemy that looks exactly like the background, be knocked back off a platform and unceremoniously killed off instantly. Back to the start all over. There’s no continues but you are given 3 lives and there is a stage select meaning you can brute-force progress with trial and error. This does result in a Mega Man feeling, patiently taking your time through the game but it makes the final end bosses frustratingly cheap affairs and not worth the effort it takes to kill.
Visually Biolab Wars just reminds me of how much better other games of the time looked. There’s little nice touches with a level on a bike/scooter and riding a cargo train but these are little highlights in a game that looks like it was released before enough polish was applied. When you screenshot the game it looks like a classic retro title but that’s not how it plays. Little animal power ups break up the tedium a little but they are very simple sprites and barely last or provide any worthwhile advantage, simply firing smaller shots in a set direction next to you. As with all the weapon power ups, it’s a simple change from shooting peas to slightly larger peas, nothing really stands out or comes together in a satisfying way. There is a stage where a giant laser blasts continuously through the middle, insta-killing anything it meets. It seems odd then that there are multiple stationary turrets and monsters happily standing in its way until you come along and they get insta blasted as well. It’s fun the first time but when a tiny bat hits you up into the death ray or a moving platform doesn’t quite connect to the floor and you lose your lives and start at the previous section it becomes incredibly tedious.
Typically with retro themed games the music is always great but Biolab Wars manages to be mediocre. There are a few ok tracks but mostly they get buried under the repetitively annoying sound of the gunshots. Everything sounds like it’s been hardened just to make the game more uncomfortable to play. There are nothing really that creatively interesting in the audio work and it all sounds a lot like a knock off NES game or one rushed out to meet a licensing deadline. Everything just either annoys or is underwhelming. The explosions are the most satisfying aspect to the design and they tend to be reused throughout.
There are 7 short levels of Biolab Wars and that’s it. There’s a highscore to obtain but don’t expect to takeaway anything other than a sense you should be playing something more enjoyable. There are bosses that are incredibly cheap, levels full of tedium and some of the most frustrating enemy placements I’ve seen in year. Cuphead is difficult but fun, Contra is a NES-Hard but multiplayer and tightly designed. Biolab Wars is just a game that could have been so much better than the frustrating boring game it is. If anything Biolab Wars has reminded me how much I miss watching Gamecentre CX and watching Arino challenging himself to clear really bad NES games. Best avoided unless you really enjoy retro titles that force you to memorize the entire game.
2/10 – Back to the lab. The war is over and this bio isn’t working.
Review code provided by Forever Entertainment S.A check out them out here
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