Sunday 3 April 2011

Bio Force Ape

I'm not one to monkey around with Nintendo products (yes I did just post that sentence), but check it out, it's BIO FORCE APE for that entertaining Nintendo system, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Shown to the world in 1991, hidden from the world by 1992, it's come back to the world in 2011. And this time you can actually play it. But do we want to?

Yes you do. But you don't just want to play it because Bio Force Ape is a nice game, you want to play it because the good people of the internet dished out in excess of $2000 USD for this cartridge, before giving it to the general public for free. It's like David Cameron's Big Society, except nothing like it. Labour would be fools to oppose Bio Force Ape.

Bio Force Ape comes from the hands of Seta Corp, a company known for... not much. Their choice to back Nintendo's products in the early 1990s means they're not a company I was familiar with until Bio Force Ape's public release, and given the notability of their other works, it's probably not a name you'll see re-appearing on this blog some time soon.

North America's Nintendo Power magazine previewed this game in 1991, claiming they'd stay on top of developments and inform their users of any changes. Predictably, Bio Force Ape's cancellation the following year wasn't noteworthy enough for them, and I don't suspect they'll be too thrilled by this 2011 release either.

Nobody outside of Seta Corp is entirely sure why this game was cancelled, though I'd put good money on the fact that by 1992, the NES wasn't seen as a particularly profitable console to release games for. Faced with Super Mario Worlds and Sonic the Hedgehogs, it's unlikely that anyone would have spared a thought for Bio Force Ape as the 1983-spec hardware bleeped its way along in the early 1990s. Though it's turned out to be a decent game (even in this prototype form), it's a game that's a generation behind its rivals and it shows.

The game sees the player take control over a genetically altered monkey out for revenge. Run and jump your way through levels, punch similar freaks in the face and swing them around the stage for kicks. Why Seta decided to arm this monkey with a variety of wrestling moves is a mystery, but they've turned out surprisingly well on Nintendo's 8-bit machine.

The game is nicely animated, and although I'm still put off by the NES's limited 16-colour on-screen palette, it still fares better than say, Nintendo's Urban Champion. However, as it's a prototype I feel many areas are still unpolished. The introduction sequence for example looks very bland and strange, and I don't care too much for the title screen. Had this been released in 1985 I'd be nitpicking, but in a world of 16-bit consoles Bio Force Ape looks noticeably dated. It's territory that I think only Nintendo and the strongest of third-parties could cope with (see Kirby's Adventure).

But of course, circumstances have changed. Today, everything looks old, so it doesn't matter if one game looks older than another. I'd have liked to have seen Bio Force Ape released because it seems to have some nice ideas - you're navigating a maze and it's not as clear cut as "run to the right". Though the game is relatively short compared to games such as Metroid, I think it may have had the potential to outclass Nintendo had the effort and time been put in to make it so. And if the NES wasn't suitable, go for the SNES... or if you wanted me personally to care, the Sega Mega Dirve.

Because Bio Force Ape's short length is certainly a disappointment. If you know what you're doing, you can finish it in less half an hour. Of course, the obvious response is "it's an unfinished prototype", but unlike most games in this category it contains both a beginning and an end - it was nearly done!

However, Bio Force Ape is not an overly pleasant game, and though some of it can be attributed to the hardware, most of its complaints lie in the hands of Seta's programming team. Enemies will respawn if your camera pans away from their area, and some will travel through walls just to annoy you. Also unlike some games, defeating enemies is not a joy - it's a chore, and demonstrating your wrestling might gets boring after a while.

But by far the biggest issue I have with the game lies in its physics engine. Perhaps inspired by Sonic the Hedgehog, Bio Force Ape has some unusually fast segments, where Newton's laws of motion are thrown out of the window. Jumping is tricky as your acceleration is often on the fritz. Basic platforming is far harder than it should be, and though you could again attribute this to its unfinished state, lest we forget they've built stages around the way the game handles. It expects you to make unrealistically long jumps and struggle with the basics.

The music is great (though there aren't many tracks), and it seems to be just the sort of game that fits into that NES lineup of Castlevanias and Contras that people talk about all the time. Good thing here is that Bio Force Ape is a NES exclusive, so I don't have to tag phrases like "it was better in the arcades" like I might with some of Konami's titles.

The game also has sections where you're forced to ride mine carts. I'll let you make the connection between monkeys and mine carts yourself, and will point out it pre-dates Rare's efforts by two years!

wasn't released - just think what might have happened if it was!

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