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BIOTA review: an inoffensive Metroidvania that occasionally leaps to greatness

It's a slow burner

BIOTA (or, technically, B.I.O.T.A.) is Metroidvania 'em up with a hot-swappable retro sheen. And it's pretty fun! Not, like, groundbreaking or anything, but hey, not everything needs to be. BIOTA has some platforming, some shooting, some bits where you drive mechs and submarines. It keeps things simple and it largely works, making for a game that's an inoffensive 8-bit-style romp with flashes of greatness.

In BIOTA, you command a group of eight mercenaries on a quest to investigate a mining colony infected by an alien plague. In typical fashion, a dodgy conglomerate called V-corp might be behind the big bad, and its scientists hold the key to the mystery. So, you must Metroidvania your way around the blight and track them down.

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From the off, you get to choose from four characters, all equipped with a primary weapon and a special ability with limited uses. There's a sniper, a shotgun man, an all-American commando, and a regular soldier person. Sure, they have different weapons - rifles pew pew in straight lines, while shotgun man's weapon pew pews in a short range spread - but they don't feel all that distinct. You'll find yourself sticking with one or two for most of the game. I mean, I use shotgun man almost exclusively as his special ability is a shield that also incinerates any enemies I bump into. Easy mode, baby.

As you explore the world, you'll unlock new characters tucked away in the depths of a dingy reactor or ensnared in gunk, and there's one who acts as an early momentum shifter. He's a robo-dude for sale in a black-market shop, who you need because there's a nuclear reactor on your map that's too dangerous for human activity. But! Your wallet only holds enough cash for 200 poops (the currency in this game seems to be literal shit) and robo-dude costs 375 poops. So, your checklist grows: find a way to expand your wallet to accommodate more faecal matter, then buy robo-dude to enter the nuclear reactor and God knows what's next.

Like most Metroidvanias, BIOTA takes a while to get going. From your hub world on the surface, you delve into rooms that lead to other rooms. Early on, you're just sending out the feelers and looking for anything to latch onto. Eventually, things start clicking into place. You learn that elevators let you fast-travel between areas and act as checkpoints. If you collect bottles with smiley faces they increase your wallet size - but only if you're brave enough to go out and find them. You'll settle into a nice rhythm of clearing every last room, hoovering up the goodies on offer, and taking note of what you can't reach and why. Soon enough you'll backtrack to unlock the robo-dude. Or you'll remember finding a mech in the depths of one area that needed a key – the key you spotted in that other black market...

A miner exclaims, "We're gonna die! Waaahhhh!" in Biota.
True Colours
Collect Specimens scattered around BIOTA's map and you'll unlock Palettes. These change the appearance of the game from blue, to grey, to illegal rave that's utterly blinding. Some look cool but others limit your vision and make things harder to see.

The game's Metroidvania loop appeals to your completionist side, that's for sure. And it's helped by platforming that handles well, with precise hops and satisfying wall jumps a-plenty, though the enemies you try to evade aren't all that threatening, as they often mooch around more than they attack. There are some large killer bees and giant dudes with flamethrowers that present more of a threat, but with a few pew pews they're down in seconds. Bosses also fit the same bill, with predictable patterns that won't take you long to unravel.

Still, I don't think weaksauce enemies are exactly a bad thing in this case. BIOTA wants to be more forgiving than either its contemporaries or the old classics. At any point you can whisk yourself back to the surface to heal up fully and swap characters if you wish. There's also a "save anywhere" system (as long as there are no enemies around, so it's more of your standard "save anywhere-so-long-as-the-coast-is-clear" system, which works a treat if you actually remember to hit the save button between rooms). I appreciate the way BIOTA caters for folks who'd rather progress than get stuck in a rut.

Biota - a small pixelated player in a yellow and navy 8 bit palette stands behind a large turret gun looking at two enormous bee enemies.

At times, BIOTA goes from a good time to a great time. One area eschews basic enemies for tricky platforming, where you've got to dodge flying gunk and time your bounces off anti-gravity barrels. Another levek has you race to turn off a reactor before it melts both you and itself down. At one point you pilot a mech and barrel through grubs and flies with rockets and grenades. The levels are perhaps not as sprawling or complex as in other Metroidvania games like Hollow Knight, for instance, but they're simple, hearty, fun.

And that's BIOTA for you. It's a forgiving Metroidvania that doesn't surprise all that often, but hits the spot for platforming fans and those who enjoy carefully considered backtracking. I'd also say it's not a bad starting point if you're looking to get into Metroidvanias but don't know where to start. It'll teach you the ropes without overwhelming you, with plenty of room to save and switch things up if you're struggling.

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