Saturday, February 3, 2018

Dezaemon 2 [Biometal Gust] (Saturn)

Horizontal
Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
5 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Athena
Published by Athena in 1997


When the shmup-making game/package Dezaemon made its debut on the Famicom in 1991, things were too much in its infancy to warrant any real enthusiasm from fans of the genre. Then came the 16-bit Dezaemon for the SNES and a repetition of the same package (pretty much) in Dezaemon Plus for the Playstation. Dezaemon 2, on the other hand, graced the Sega Saturn with a slew of new features for home shmup "developers", such as the ability to finally design horizontal shooters. Probably in order to stress that, Athena included in the gallery of sample games a title called Biometal Gust, which should be seen as the one and only sequel to pseudo-classic Biometal for the SNES.

Biometal Gust is one of five full sample games you can play in Dezaemon 2 (two of them are somewhat hidden). It's supposed to showcase all the main features you can use to build your own shooter, including several levels of zooming, scaling and transparency, as well as the welcome possibility of co-op play. The skippable cinematic effect once you press START is a proof of that, along with the backgrounds in the first stage, which are reminiscent of the tunnel levels in Metal Black and Darius Gaiden.

I don't know how you would all feel about this, but as soon as I knew Biometal had a sequel I was very excited. Even though it did not set the SNES on fire, it was a well made shooter with a very original concept centered around the GAM shield. Unfortunately the dynamic use of the GAM (Gel Analog Mutant) is severely simplified in Biometal Gust, which makes it a rather ordinary sequel when compared with the original.

Warping into the unknown in Biometal Gust

Inputs are fixed and mapped with R (rapid shot), A (shot, hold to charge a special attack), B (expand the rotating orbs/GAM) and C (bomb). A specific medium-sized oblong enemy is responsible for dropping four items when destroyed, which can be either a selection of weapon types or an assortment of upgrades. Weapons are color-coded as red (vulcan), blue (thin green laser), yellow (ricocheting wave shot) and green (homing shot). They all have their specific bomb animations with varying degrees of efficiency: red/vulcan triggers a circular bomb blast, blue/laser fires a narrow tunnel-shaped powerful discharge, yellow/wave drops a curtain with cluster bombs and green/homing hits everything with homing lasers.The other kind of item drops all have one power-up (P), an extra bomb (B), a bonus token of 10.000 points ($) and a 1-shit shield. Specific enemies can also drop bonus points and shields separately.

For the most part Biometal Gust preserves the visual identity of the first chapter, throwing all sorts of biomechanical, sometimes Giger-esque creatures at the player. The fundamental difference, however, is that this sequel is a lot darker and rarely delves into cleaner palettes; in fact, the only instance of that is the second stage in the desert. Everything else takes place in gloomier passageways and backgrounds, in an environmetal shift that's surprisingly not as distressing as the way the new GAM shield works.

A ship in its default power will always be spawned with a single GAM orb in rotating motion, and for every power-up taken a new orb will be added, to a maximum of 4. They will always be actively spinning around the ship to provide protection against regular incoming bullets and inflict damage to anything that touches them. By pressing B the orbs will expand outward until they reach a certain radius, hitting enemies/bullets in medium distance at the cost of losing the up-close protection. And that's all there is to the GAM/orbs. In Biometal Gust you can't throw them away to target enemies from afar as in Biometal. On the other hand, they're always active and there's no limit to how long you can use the B button.

Final stage
(courtesy of YouTube user amagishien)

Perhaps in order to compensate for the loss of GAM functionality, the new charge shot comes into play as the new attack alternative. However, unlike the unique bombs attached to weapon types, there are only two variations for charge shots: laser and wave fire a powerful focused laser beam, while vulcan and homing fire a softer wave-like shot. Just beware of the recoil that sends the ship backwards, it's deadly when you're too close to walls. All the combinations for weapon/bomb/charge lead to the conclusion that the best weapons in the game are the vulcan (for coverage and point-blank capability) and the laser (for sheer power). The wave shot is only an option at max power, with homing falling short due to its weakness and inherent inability to travel around/through walls. By the way, walls are only to be seen from stage 3 onwards.

With only five levels, Biometal Gust also feels a little on the short side. It starts with the outer space staple, follows with the desert stage and throws a biological third level before venturing into the fortress motif, complete with laser turrets, energy barriers and moving blocks. Despite some narrow corridors it never feels claustrophobic, an aspect that says a lot about the overall difficulty. All bosses have at least two forms or attack routines and should be no problem after a few tries (remember that laser is always the best weapon against them). Speaking of which, you're respawned with the same weapon you were using when you died, so there's no default weapon in the game.

Extra lives are gained with 100.000, 300.000 and at every 300.000 points after that. The scoring system is simple, which means that killing everything is the only single rule players should know. No extra points are won for repeated items or for extra lives on game completion, which is a pity. This is one of the reasons why as a whole Biometal Gust is inferior to Biometal. It's got the graphics and it's got the music, but it never really engages and ultimately fails to deliver the same amount of rush of its predecessor.

The high score below was achieved in a no-miss run, Normal difficulty. As for the shmup-making tools of Dezaemon 2, be my guest if you can understand Japanese.

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