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Destructoid review: Biology Battle

2008-12-18 09:40:00·  4 minute read   ·  Jim Sterling@JimSterling
0

Yesterday, I announced a new review initiative, the Community Game Review Challenge. To summarize, Destructoid is now offering reviews of XNA games that appear on the Xbox 360's Community Games channel if the developer comes to us and arranges it. As Community Games are a little-covered area of the 360's library and has a reputation for poor-quality titles, this should help struggling games get the attention they deserve.

This initiative was inspired by Novaleaf Game Studios, developer of Biology Battle. The studio gave me the required Microsoft Points to download the title and deliver an honest, fair appraisal on Destructoid. 

As the first of our Community Games to get the official Destructoid review treatment, how does Biology Battle hold up? Is it a medical triumph, or a does it require surgery? Read on to find out.

Biology Battle (Xbox 360 Community Games)
Developed by Novaleaf Game Studios
Published by Microsoft
Released on November 27, 2008
Read more about our Community Games Review Challenge

Biology Battle is a good old fashioned shoot 'em up, but set in a microscopic world where your enemies are germs and microbes. At least, that's what I can ascertain from the name and the visuals, I could be quite wrong since it's not thoroughly explained in-game. Of course, the fact that one doesn't know what's going on conforms to the shmup genre quite nicely. We're here to shoot, not ask questions.

The first thing you'll notice when you first fire up Biology Battle is just how high the production values are in comparison to the majority to Community Games out there. The music is quite excellent and the visuals are actually pleasant to look at. It doesn't look like it was made by some art student in five minutes, which is a nice bonus.

Speaking of visuals, the game appears to borrow quite heavily from Geometry Wars, with your enemies usually resembling stylized shapes and the colors being bright and trippy. The slightly psychedelic look and out-of-place pop culture humor that shows up from time to time is also reminiscent of Space Giraffe. A game that blends elements from those two titles might sound jarring, but BB makes it work quite nicely. 

Biology Battle is as tricky as they come, as you soon find yourself swamped by a hail of enemies that don't care much about charging headlong into your craft. Foes are randomly generated, and while that makes for a slightly different experience each time, it can often lead to frustration. Far too many deaths are had thanks to enemies randomly popping up in front of your Medical Drone as it whizzes across the screen, totally without warning. This is irritating, but generally the game's challenge is fair and rewards practice with progress, like all good shmups should. 

Fortunately, you're not totally defenseless in the world of Biology Battle. The usual gamut of powerups, from shields to weapon upgrades and screen-clearing attacks are all in play, and pop up at regular intervals during the course of a game. When you grab a powerup, a piece of text appears that shares a random pop culture quote, videogame reference, or simply an obscured piece of nonsense. Again, this is where the Space Giraffe comparisons come in, except the quotes in this game can actually be quite funny. It's amusing to grab a weapon upgrade only to read about the "sugar in the marmalade."

Unlike most XNA games, Biology Battle has both a regular and a ranked mode, the latter of which allows you a place on a worldwide leaderboard. Novaleaf has employed P2P technology to make up for the fact that Microsoft doesn't allow XNA games access to its own leaderboard servers. 

As well as the main mode, BB also has local co-op and versus modes which allows for up to four players. There is a lot of content here, with eleven versus games to choose from, each one providing a different twist on the formula, be it a maze race, or a game in which your Medical Drone has a tail with which to kill opponents. If you have four shmup fans in the house, there's a lot to be getting on with. 

As if that wasn't enough, the game makes up for its lack of Achievements with its own Trophy system, one that is actually quite well implemented, with a nice range of easy challenges and near impossible accomplishments. 

Taken as a whole, Biology Battle is definitely one of the hidden gems on the channel. Its production values are incredibly high, the gameplay is solid, even if the main game is a little derivative, and the amount of content on there is sure to keep players amused for quite a while. This is the type of game that shows what XNA developers are capable of, and puts to shame the lazy, slapdash, amateur offerings that currently plague Community Games.

It's no throwaway title. Novaleaf has created a fully fleshed out game, one that is packed full of replay value and keeps the old school "one more try" spirit alive. Some gamers might not want to drop 800 Points for a Community Game, but there's more value here than some of the 1200 Point XBLA games out there. If you're a fan of space shooters and their kin, you should at least try it out, but I think it's worth the money for shmup lovers out there.

Score:  8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)




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