|System: X360 (XBLC)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Novaleaf Game Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: N/A||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 22, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: N/A||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
When a game launches a whole new genre or brings one back to popularity after a long time out of the limelight, it always puts developers in a tight spot. Do they clone the top-seller (Saints Row, in response to Grand Theft Auto)? Or do they try to add new dimensions to a formula that already works (Half-Life, in response to Doom)?
The new Biology Battle, an Xbox Live Community game from an obscure Thai development company, walks the thin line between the two approaches. It's clearly in debt to Geometry Wars, the smashing 2005 success that brought back the arcade-shooter genre, but it introduces a number of intriguing ideas. It's quite an accomplishment for an upstart company developing for the Community (where anyone can publish games, with oversight mainly from the Community itself).
Let's begin with the familiar. The left joystick moves your ship, the right joystick shoots in whatever direction you push it, and you have a number of special weapons. One of these weapons is a screen-clearer you can deploy in emergency situations, but the ammo is limited. As you shoot your way through waves of enemies, bigger and bigger waves come until you run out of lives. There's a score multiplier that changes based on several factors. You can't "beat the game," so the only goals are to have fun and out-score other players.
Biology Battle is far more than a clone, however. One fun twist is that you're not in space battling alien ships; rather, you're a nanobot that's been sent into a person's body to destroy a diseased cell. All the action takes place in that cell, a fact that limits the action to a much smaller area than Geometry Wars' bigger-than-the-screen rectangle. There's an interesting new weapon, Blast, that doesn't kill enemies but pushes them back, giving you a little room to maneuver. Waves of germs attack you until the cell's nuclei show up as the game's bosses.
Once you defeat the nuclei (rather tricky enemies that fire long electric charges), you'll get the Armageddon power-up. If you want, you can keep on fighting waves of germs to rack up a high score. Or, you can hit the X button to kill the cell, thus accomplishing your mission, and transition into "Death Mode" to start scoring points there. Death Mode is a bit harder, with clusters of enemies that break apart when shot (they sound like firecrackers when you hit them) and big worms that take a lot of damage.
You can play this single-player mode offline, where there are three difficulty levels, or on leaderboards, where there's only one. (The existence of leaderboards is a new thing for the young Community: Microsoft doesn't allow Community developers access to the regular leaderboards, so this game's makers had to create their own.) In the leaderboard mode, you can win trophies by meeting goals (scoring a certain number of points, or staying alive a certain amount of time, etc.).
The best part about Biology Wars certainly isn't the single-player action, though; despite its innovations, it does play a bit too much like Geometry Wars. The game's most clever bits are in the multiplayer: Hand a friend or three your additional controllers, and the Biology Battle experience becomes quite intriguing.
If you want, you can simply play the game cooperatively, with the terrific feature that all players get to set their own difficulty levels, and the A.I. enemies treat them accordingly. There are also six competitive modes available. You can play five of them in Life Mode or Death Mode, and there's also an option to pick a random game. You can mix and match one to five games in tournament mode, and try to win a series of matches instead of one at a time.