Title: Biomotor Unitron
Developer: Yumekobo, Code Mystics
Release Date: May 25, 2022
Reviewed On: Switch
While the Neo Geo Pocket may be known for fighting games, it also had titles of various other genres. Biomotor Unitron was one of its few highlights when it comes to RPGs, also receiving a Japanese-only sequel. With a mix of fantasy elements and mech-building, the game was a compelling experience back in the day and is now available on Switch.
Biomotor Unitron takes players to the fantasy land of Tridiss. Here people compete in tournaments using their custom mechs called Unitron. Together with your engineer, it’s up to you to train yourself, get money for new parts and enhance your Unitron for the glory of victory.
First, players must choose what race and gender they’d like to be. As this is a fantasy world, options include humans, the elfish foresters, the merfolk mariners, the angelic birdians, and the lizard-like salamanders. Beyond the change in appearance, this choice also affects your initial elemental affinity, which defines your weakness.
Once your character is ready, it’s time to explore the dungeons and get some money for parts. Each dungeon focuses on a specific element, which the game presents to the players every time they pick one of them to go. Going to the underwater ruins called Corridor of Blue means water enemies, who are weak to air attacks, while fire is the way to go in the Forest of Verdure dungeon.
While the initial elemental affinity will mean taking less damage by going to the best-aligned area, players still need to pick the right weapons for the job. The biggest attraction in Biomotor Unitron is making your own mech by choosing arms, legs, engines, cores, and accessories.
Arms are the weapons of your Unitron, offering a specific element-based attack move and possibly some defense points. During the turn-based battles, players can pick between those two weapons or some special skills learned from a retired Unitron master in the forest. Meanwhile, your other equipment affects defense, speed, accuracy, HP, and EP (points needed to use attacks). It’s possible to charge EP during battles as well as using items.
There’s a lot of equipment to get, some of which you can buy from the local shop. However, players should try their hands at the crafting system to develop new arms. The system allows players to get advanced weapons using materials (such as silver, tungsten, or mithril) obtained during the exploration. Early crafts include various materials as options, so it’d usually be best to save the rare ones for the latter crafting.
The best weapons will usually have a low rate of success, which means a high chance of losing the arm completely. However, it’s possible to reduce this risk by improving their engineer level with experience from the other arm crafts. The system allows players to get arms leagues better than offered in the market, though their selections advance along with the player’s tournament position.
Dungeon exploring and mech-building are essential sides of the game loop, but the experience can only advance if the player fights in the tournament. The local arena offers mech vs. mech battles. Defeating consecutive rounds of robots means getting money, a title, changes to NPC conversation in town, and sometimes improvements to the shops’ selection of items.
However, players looking for a good narrative are likely to get something more to their liking elsewhere. While the lore is intriguing and the townsfolk are charming with impressively detailed sprites for the game’s original handheld system, there’s an underlying sense of underdevelopment. It’s serviceable, but never goes anywhere particularly interesting.
Gameplay-wise, there’s also a frequent sense of repetition. Dungeon exploration does try to alleviate it a little by changing the layout every time the player enters one of the ruins. However, there are only a few variations and they aren’t significant enough to make it actually feel fresh. Having to start from the very beginning again and again is likely to frustrate some players. However, keep in mind players are able to leave the dungeons at any time with no cost and the areas are only composed of 7 rooms.
Biomotor Unitron‘s new release follows the same Neo Geo Pocket Selection format of previous Switch releases. That means the game includes: interchangeable English and Japanese versions, border skins, a simple filter, and a rewind option. Unfortunately, as was the case for SNK vs. Capcom Card Fighters, rewind isn’t a good choice for the game. Trading is also completely cut this time.
Biomotor Unitron is a turn-based RPG, which means doing anything takes time. Unlike the fighting and action games which were previously released, a rewind here isn’t enough to fix a mistake. Instead, this is a game where save states and a turbo mode to make things go faster would be much more adequate.
Besides what I already mentioned, the new package also includes a digital manual. Colorful and filled with details, this is a nice incentive for collectors. Though I had already played the game before on the Neo Geo Pocket proper, I hadn’t seen the manual yet, and I’m sure other retro players would likewise enjoy having it.
The Neo Geo Pocket Selection has been an enjoyable revival of titles that never made it to the mainstream despite their quality. Biomotor Unitron is one such title that I’m sure mecha fans would enjoy. What hurts it the most is that, beyond its repetitive nature and lack of narrative substance, the new package doesn’t actually try to enhance the experience, simply going with the features that every previous Neo Geo Pocket title had on Switch.
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