Bio Menace - Classic action game from the 90's gets a Cola Powered Gamer review

Apogee during the early 90s was considered the king of platform games. While most of them can be considered family-friendly, Bio Menace is more action-oriented and definitely not PG-13. Developed by Jim Norwood, with help from id Software (mainly John Carmack), and published by Apogee Games, it was released in 1993. The game was developed under the working title “Bio Hazard”, it was supposed to be released in November of 1991, but due to modifying the engine (the same one used in Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy), it spent two years more years in development. Excluding the engine and the music (by Bobby Prince), the majority of the game was created by its designer, Jim Norwood.

As with most platformers, there isn’t much of the story, but Bio Menace unlike most games of its time ties the story with the game via dialog boxes and several cutscenes. The plot follows a top CIA agent, Snake Logan (probably inspired by the iconic Kurt Russell character), as he’s sent to investigate Metro City, which is being invaded by mutants. While Snake is doing a recon flight over the city, he’s shot down and must continue his mission on foot. Your mission is to find out who released theses mutants and who wants to take over the world and stop them. The goal of each level is to rescue hostages and unlock the exit. The exit is usually blocked by an energy field, which can be disabled by a key, which is obtained by rescuing a hostage, and on several levels by killing the boss.

The gameplay is rather simple. You jump on platforms, kill mutants and collect items such as power-ups, health, ammo, etc. You have several weapons at your disposal, the first one being the default machine gun (which has unlimited ammo), and it can fire in bursts of one, two or three depending on the difficulty setting. You can also pick up, machine guns ( for automatic fire), a supers gun bullets which do five times the damage, and plasma bolts, the most powerful ammo in the games, but is a single shot only. Expect for the plasma bolts, all of the guns are hitscan, and this includes the default gun. Some enemies in the game can only be killed by explosives, and you have several choices at your disposal. The first ones are the green grenades, (which are your standard grenades that explode on impact), red grenades (the incendiary grenade, that create a fire even if you miss a mutant), and a landmine.

This also creates a major problem in the game. Bio Menace, allows you to collect and stockpile your ammo, but there is no way to switch to different ammo. So if you want to use a grenade, but currently have landmines, you must use all of your landmines before you can use your grenades. This, unfortunately, creates the same problem for the machine gun ammo, and it forces the player to think before he picks up a power-up.

During the course of the game, you will find keys that unlock various closets scattered throughout the level. Most of these closets items, that will just up your points, but occasionally they will have power-ups, extra lives and keys or crystals needed to rescue hostages. You also collect gems throughout the levels, and collecting 50 of them will give you an extra life. Some levels also have trapdoors, that can only be opened by entering a correct color sequence. The color sequence is usually written on a wall somewhere in the level. If you enter the correct sequence, you will be rewarded with gems, extra lives, and other power-ups. However, if you enter the wrong sequence, you will die instantly (usually by falling into spikes or a toxic pool) and you only have one chance of entering the correct sequence.

One of the best things about the game is its enemy variety. At the begging of the game you will encounter, snail-like mutants, green mutants (that look like they came from Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure), snakes, fire devils, and many more. They are all distinctive, and you will immediately know which weapon and tactic to use against them.

The graphics in the game are beautiful, and they are rendered using the EGA graphics. The game’s attention to detail is amazing, and you can see wrecked cars, buildings and for the time a large amount of gore. For instance, you can see dead people, their skeleton and once you kill a mutant, they will explode large pieces of gib.

The music is composed by Bobby Prince who is probably best known for his work on DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D soundtracks. The tracks in the game, ranging from catchy tunes to much more ominous music.

Bio Menace is also hard and at times impossibly hard game. Depending on the difficulty setting you will have eight or four health bars (the normal and hard difficulty, give you four health bars). The game can be quite difficult, considering that some enemies can kill you in one hit, and most boss fights will have you shooting and dodging, the moment you hit them. It’s also useless to save your game, during the level, as restoring it will take you back to the beginning of the level. There are, however, restart beacons, that once activated will respawn you in that place if you die.

The game was initially released as shareware, like most Apogee games at the time and it contains three episodes: “Dr. Mangle’s lab”, “The Hidden Lab” and “Master Cain”, and each one has 12 levels. The first episode has the easiest levels, while the second and the third episode are excruciatingly difficult. Rumors at the time were that Jim Norwood had a hard time designing the later episodes, which is why there is a large difficulty spike in the game.

Apogee released the game as freeware on December 23, 2005, as a “Christmas present”, and is available on GOG(link) and directly from Apogee’s website. The decision to make the game freeware, likely resulted from the poll on the 3D Realms forums, where people could vote which discounted game, they would want to see as freeware. There are also Easter Eggs and references to other Apogee games, like Commander Keen and Duke Nukem.

Bio Menace is mostly an OK title, and it may be the hidden gem that you were looking for. As for its designer Jim Norwood, he later went on to create bigger and better games (he was the lead guy on Shadow Warrior) and can serve as an inspiration for many “one-man army” developers. So, in conclusion, give Bio Menace a try, as it’s a testament of one man’s dedication and, hey it’s free!

My Reviews (Cola Powered Gamer)

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