Wednesday 1 September 2010

Bio Menace

The good data type Char of MFGG fame raised a interesting point the other day. There's no Bio Menace posts on Blog Squirrel. That's can't be allowed to continue.

Bio Menace for DOS computers is perhaps one of the greatest platform-shooters of all time. While many American kids with their Nintendo Entertainment Systems ran around the flickering and predictable worlds of Mega Man, cooler British kids such as myself were guiding sunburned men with mullets through sixteen colour cities, shooting aliens and saving equally red citizens. You didn't get that on Nintendo... though at the time you didn't get anything on Nintendo here until it was obsolete.

Well okay that's not strictly true, because Bio Menace was the game I always wanted to play but only seemed to work when Jupiter aligned with Mars. Despite his manly traits, Snake Logan would often cause the game to crash as soon as he donned some grenades from his broken plane, and so it took many years for me to actually see what the end of the first level looked like. The menus were great though. Practically the best menus of the early 1990s (though Bio Menace doesn't have Paddle War!).

Bio Menace was the product of Jim Norwood, an employee at Apogee who was also responsible for parts of other games that built my childhood - the original Duke Nukem, Crystal Caves and Secret Agent. The difference with Bio Menace is that Jim made absolutely everything seen in the game... except from the core engine that powers it (the same that powered Commander Keen) which was licensed from id Software... and the music which of course was done by Bobby Prince as all good games were. The design, artwork, programming and levels all came from the one man, however.

Games like Bio Menace serve as one of the biggest reasons why I have an interest in making video games. Obviously teamwork is something that benefits everyone in the long-run, but being able to make a game of this magnitude from scratch by yourself and still have it published is something that one can only dream of these days, especially if the end result is still great. These days it takes a hundred-man team to get a product out on the market, and even then it's not always likely to be good.

In Bio Menace, you take control of CIA operative Snake Logan, tasked with ridding Metro City from armies of mutants. As a 2D platformer you have the amazing power to run and jump, as well as fire your machine gun and throw grenades. There's a lot of reliance on obtaining keys to open rooms and rescue people, but there's also a lot of action to be had as well, with secret levels spread across the three chapters and plenty of challenge to go around. Bio Menace is not an easy game, especially when it comes to dealing with the bosses.

But it's another fine use of the 16-colour EGA graphics cards available to the public at the time. Though the game is slightly less pretty than some games Apogee were publishing at the time (see: Commander Keen 4 through 6) it still looks excellent, and part of the problem simply lies in the fact that Bio Menace mostly takes place in grey cities. The sound is equally brilliant, though this was to be expected. Admittedly things are starting to look a bit dated now but there are many games that have aged worse.

Bio Menace is also part of that glorious era where games with guns could also afford to have humour. Later in the game you rescue Commander Keen, and there's a secret Apogee-branded room in which you can attempt to massacre Jim Norwood and co founder of Apogee (and the man responsible for the delay of Duke Nukem forever), George Broussard (though you'll be slaughtered if you do).

There are some concerns, however. Because it was released in 1993 sales were sluggish not only because more colourful VGA platformers existed, but because id would come along with Doom later in the year and kill all PC sidescrollers. The game has therefore never got the attention it deserved (the same applies to a number of similar games published by the company), with all the focus going to Duke Nukem instead.

And it's a shame, because Bio Menace isn't an ego trip like Duke Nukem - it's a shoot 'em up with a strong 80s vibe that I believe could still work as a theme in games today. There are, after all, plenty of people out there that enjoyed 80s action movies (and The Expendables has recently come by to cash in on it), and it wouldn't be restricted by the 18+ ratings Duke Nukem likes to hang out with.

The original Bio Menace is freeware these days, so you can pick yourself up a copy on the 3D Realms website or the DOS game resource of your choice. You'll need DOSBox for it to run, but it's a great choice of game and certainly worth your time.


  1. Yes! All I ever here about is retro Nintendo games. It seems like nobody grew up with a PC, Amiga or DOS equivalent. It's a shame because there were some amazing games.

  2. I agree, 80s should be a theme. There's so much great spirit from that era to draw on, and plenty of room for parodies of all the over-the-top personalities from that time.

  3. why am I always called your datatype ;_;