Biolab Wars

A game by Kolibri Game Studio for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2019.
Biolab Wars is a run-and-gun shooter set in 1985 and inspired by similar actioners from the NES era. The game stars a team of mercenaries who have been hired to stop an alien invasion. The team includes the musclebound Finn, a former bodybuilder and television repair man who enjoys cooking outdoors; the tough and deadly Becca; and Teddy, a purple dog in a mech suit who was experimented upon by the very aliens that he has been tasked to destroy.

The game offers bright colors, nonsensical shenanigans, and a beep-boop soundtrack that games of the mid-80’s were known for, but it has a higher graphical fidelity. Still, the gameplay keeps true to the basics, with the ability to run, jump, shoot to the left or right, go prone Contra-style, climb hand-over-hand across narrow beams, and toss grenades. Gameplay takes place across seven themed areas, each of which is divided into three sections and a boss fight.

All three playable characters have the same abilities, so selecting one is just a matter of aesthetics. Players have a limited stock of three lives – but a few 1UPs can be found here and there – with death returning the player to the start of the current section. Losing all three lives boots the player back to the title screen and resets his score, but the player is able to return to the action and select any previously-visited level.

The player’s score is largely meaningless since it is not reverted upon losing a life. The player can rack up points, grab a 1UP, and then kill himself before reaching the end of the section, only to return to the start of that section to keep his score going and collect the 1UP again. This leaves little encouragement for players to attempt a 1cc run. (Ed note: This extra life exploit has since been patched out; 1UPs now only appear once per level.)

The player has a substantial life meter, with partial restoratives occasionally appearing in the form of red crosses. There are a few areas that feature insta-death bottomless pits, but otherwise, the player is able to sustain a significant amount of damage. As such, skilled players should have little difficulty seeing their way through to the end of the game. With levels weighing in at 5-10 minutes each, it’s possible to complete the game in a single sitting.

The game features three weapon types. The first is a weak machine gun (with an equally weak sound effect) that has infinite ammo. All of the other weapons have limited ammo – which can be restocked by grabbing ammo icons – after which the player returns to the default machine gun. The other weapons include a 3-way shot, a powerful concentrated energy blast, and a heavy weapon with a large single projectile that travels forward with two smaller projectiles that move up and down.

All of the limited-ammo weapons are better than the machine gun, but some are better suited to certain situations. For instance, in levels with lots of swarming bats, the 3-way shot works best, whereas taking on armored enemies or bosses is better done with one of the other two types. In the game’s requisite vehicle sequences, the weapon that sends projectiles up and down is helpful in dealing with airborne foes while simultaneously damaging those along the ground.

There are also a couple of support animals that the player can pick up by grabbing their respective icons, and these include a chicken and a helicopter-propelled cat, further adding to the 80’s-era absurdity. The chicken flies behind you and fires lasers in the direction you’re facing, and the cat fires projectiles at a downward angle. Each of these critters has its own life bar, and if they take enough damage, they are destroyed, so you need to be mindful to keep them out of the way of enemy fire.

In addition, the player is able to use grenades, which are collected in groups of five and may be stockpiled. These are occasionally useful for enemies on platforms below you (since you cannot shoot downward), but they’re better saved for boss encounters. Having a large stock of grenades can significantly wear down any boss you face.

Boss behaviors are fairly simple, with attacks that are generally easy to dodge, and obvious weak points. As such, they’re not terribly difficult encounters, but they are definitely the showpieces of the game, featuring some grotesque alien character designs and absurd robotic machinations that would be right at home in any 8- or 16-bit actioner back in the day.

Level designs are simple but varied, offering many familiar tropes. The game opens on a cityscape before moving into a forced scrolling motorcycle level, and then to a laboratory (a biolab) with moving platforms, crumbling platforms over pits of green goo, electrified floor panels, and an elevator-based boss encounter.

From there, the player moves back outdoors with a technology-infused jungle environment, a moving train sequence, and then an area that mixes slippery surfaces with conveyor belts and beds of spikes, before the player reaches the alien lair.

The game is a short romp through 80’s nostalgia with an easier difficulty than most of the games from which it takes its inspiration. It’s not an overly technical experience, but it touches on the charms of games like Contra and Shatterhand while offering varied environments, cool-looking bosses, and a few setpiece moments like the huge Ranger-X style laser that destroys everything in its path, including enemies.

Biolab Wars was developed by Kolibri Game Studio, with design and programming by Fernando Rodrigues, design and art by Abdel de Oliveira, and music by Zé Roberto Chapolin.


Fernando Rodrigues said...

Thanks for this great review! I'm the Biolab Wars programmer and I want you to know that extra life hack no longer works. Now the extra life will spawn only once per level. Cheers!

AJ Johnson said...

Thank you for the update. A note has been added to reflect this change.