SNK’s applaud-worthy preservation efforts for its catalog of largely forgotten Neo Geo Pocket Color titles continue with Biomotor Unitron. The 1999 release was the first role-playing game for the system, so it was a big deal in Japan. It was successful enough to get a sequel, in fact, but that never got localized due to the handheld system being a flop outside of SNK’s native country. While it’s not exactly a gem, it’s an intriguing dungeon crawler with some fun mech designs and art.
There’s a solid gameplay loop for Biomotor Unitron that works well in shorter spurts on a handheld. It revolves around going into dungeons, beating up on some baddies, collecting material, and then using that to develop and purchase new arms for your mecha. Being able to customize your character and abilities isn’t entirely foreign in an RPG, but it’s a tried-and-true method that simply works. A lot of the joy comes from experimentation, seeing what each upgrade does, figuring out when you’d like to use it, and then formulating a plan of attack for your future foes. Being on the Switch, it’s easy to grind away for mech parts in some areas while on a break, even if there’s nothing truly gripping enough to warrant lengthy sittings.
There are only four main dungeons to go to, so the handheld nature and limited size and scope are definitely easy to spot. However, it smartly uses randomized floor designs to make the most of what the developers were able to put in before the game launched. There’s also not much of a story to get enraptured in, as it chooses to focus on combat, which revolves around using EP to unleash attacks. However, balancing your EP isn’t really a huge worry as it restores fully between bouts, so you’re encouraged to go all out during battles, which thankfully puts more emphasis on individual battles and over making it a tedious marathon.
There’s also a tournament going on within the city and is a nice change of pace from going through the dungeons. This costs an entry fee, but you get to go up against other Unitron units, which results in some of the most interesting battles as you get to see other loadouts. It’s a great way to make cash and improve your reputation around the town that is only explored in an adventure game style manner of menus rather than a fully explorable place.
As with previous Neo Geo Pocket Color Classics titles, there are a bunch of bonuses ranging from different filters and skins to the in-game manual, which is helpful considering the gameplay systems aren’t all explained all that well in the game. The implementation of rewind is the only sore spot, as it’s mostly useless here as you can only go back a few seconds. This means that if you get into a battle you realize you’re overmatched in, there’s no way to go back before it and avoid it altogether as the rewind just doesn’t go far enough. This rewind feature was clearly built around more action-like titles than a slower-based game, which shows the downside when all of these different games have the same set of special features.
Biomotor Unitron is the definition of a niche release, but it certainly isn’t a bad one. Granted, you have to be willing to deal with the quirks (such as shortened text and poor presentation) of a handheld RPG of the late ’90s and have to have an affinity for mechs, but if both of these qualifiers apply then you’re in for an enjoyable time. Nothing here is all that special, so don’t expect a gripping story or wholly unique gameplay systems, but as an interesting trip down gaming’s past, you can’t go wrong here.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.