A new 2D Metroid-like landing on my screen has that same vibe as a fresh cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Sure, I had a cup of coffee yesterday morning too, but I want this one no less. Biota (as I shall so rudely be calling it), is just that – a welcoming mug of exploratory platforming that just hits the spot.
Which is another way of saying, this isn’t anything stunningly original. Much more important is that it’s incredibly rewarding to control, frequently mixes things up and keeps its ideas fresh, and is delivered with a fistful of confidence.
This is super-retro in its art, but importantly, not in its physics. It’s presented with a Game Boy aesthetic (although you can change the colour palette to dozens of different hues, with many unlocked as you explore), and its native resolution is a weeny 256×144, but scales up to 1440 with no issues at all. (Right now it defaults to fullscreen, but the dev has added a quick-n-dirty fix to get to windowed, with ctrl-1.) The idea is to evoke that era, but thankfully without its clunkiness – instead this is a very smooth, extremely refined platformer, with controls so good it even delivers slippy-slidey-ice-world levels that don’t make you want to tear the developer’s hair out.
There’s a whole bunch of story here, which plays out in the intro and main camp which acts as a hub. Beyond that, thankfully, that entertainingly silly bluster doesn’t leak into the levels themselves. These are, instead, the collections of interconnected single rooms familiar to the format, packed with enemies, spikes, jumps and collectables: the standard stuff.
Little twists away from the norm appear in vehicular sections. The first is a giant mecha, available for a sequence of levels once you’ve found fuel, with each that follows also requiring you find an item first. Items are generally in the in-level stores, costing varying amounts of the game’s currency, Viridium. Rather than unreachable platforms, or unlockable doors, the game gates progress via how much Viridium you can carry at once, pricing those vital items above what you might have, forcing you to seek out the pick-ups that expand your wallet. The same shops also sell useful upgrades that let you get a sliver more health, or more powerful ammo, the usual sort of thing.
Oh! But you have a bunch of different characters you can play as, with different strengths and weaknesses, special skills, and distinct abilities that allow them to enter areas others can’t. At the start you can choose between four, with others gained as you play. You’ll obviously fall in love with the first one you use, but then the game usefully forces some changes later.
It makes the interesting choice to let you quicksave in any room that doesn’t have live danger. There are sporadic checkpoints, and if you choose you could play using these alone for a more authentic Metroid-like experience. But screw that. I hate that. It’s great that you can just tap a button and not have to keep retracing miles of game because you slipped.
I should stress, I’ve nowhere near finished Biota. But that itself is another reason to celebrate: this sizeable game costs just £7, which is a real bargain. I really hope this can eventually make its way to Switch, which would be a very natural home, but for now it plays superbly on PC. It’s just the cup of coffee I was craving.