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Bio-Hazard Battle

bio-hazard-battle

Coming out of cryogenic sleep, you are a pilot of a Bioship that has to find a safe place on the world Avaron for the last remaining human beings. Released in 1992, this side scrolling (to be clear it scrolls on its own) biological spaceship shooter for the Sega Genesis is now available on Wii’s Virtual Console and Steam. My younger brother Peter and I played this game this past weekend and finished it. We used the 99 lives cheat though, because I don’t do well with the punishing mechanics found in retro games (I suck at them).

From the Bio-Hazard Battle Manual:

During G-Biowar I (the first global biowar), a powerful new form of retrovirus was released as a deadly reprisal from the enemy. The viruses unleashed biological forces which couldn’t be stopped, leaving the planet filled with new and deadly forms of life.

Only a few survivors remain in suspended animation in O.P. Odysseus, an orbiting platform circling Avaron. The space station’s purpose is to keep the surviving humans alive until Avaron is habitable again. The crew of the Odysseus have been frozen in cryogenic tanks for hundreds of years, and now the onboard computer has awakened them.

Computer probes show that conditions on Avaron are hostile, but livable. The question is: where can the crew of Odysseus set up a colony? This is the question you have been assigned to answer. You must pilot a Bioship to Avaron, fly over the areas which the probes have labeled least hostile, and check out the conditions there. Find a new home for the last survivors of G-Biowar I!

 

You shoot and dodge your way though each level collecting Energy Seeds (see screenshot and section below) to change your weapon *or* power up your current weapon by collecting multiple Energy Seeds of the same colour. All Bioships start out with the Green Energy Seed weapon and it is the standard weapon for all ships.

 

Energy Seeds
energy-seeds

Energy Seeds are scattered by the space station along the flight path your Bioship will take. There are four types of Seeds, Yellow, Orange, Blue and Green. Each Seed changes the Bioship’s genetic structure, enabling the ship to generate a different type of weapon.

Your Bioship ingests Seeds by passing over them and the energy is transferred to your ship’s Power Star. The Power Star, both a shield and weapon, floats near the Bioship. As a shield, it stops most creatures from hitting your Bioship. More importantly, it uses power from the Energy Seeds to generate weapons.

Yellow Seed:

  • Spin Laser: A spinning twin laser beam. [Fires horizontally only. Soaks/destroys bullets.]
  • Fire Petal: A stream of white-hot fireballs. [A pretty standard weapon, much like Implosion Pods.]

Orange Seed:

  • Plasma Ring: A spinning ring of energy which bounces off inert matter and detonates upon contact with living matter. [A decent weapon, but increases the amount of chaos on screen.]
  • Seeker Laser: Homes in on potential hazards and destroys them. [Probably one of the strongest weapons, but sometimes can prioritize strange targets.]

Blue Seed:

  • Bond: Blue globes of plasma which attach to the creature and explode. [Niche weapon, slow rate of fire, but soaks/destroys bullets.]
  • Nova: A multi-directional burst of energy. [Difficult to aim.]

Green Seed:

  • Implosion Pods: Create a vacuum upon contact, causing damage. [The default weapon.]

 

The Bioships

orestes
Orestes
Fast
Orange: Plasma Rings (bouncing)
Blue: Nova (star)
Yellow: Fire Petal (stream)
A quick but overall mediocre ship. In most cases you shouldn’t pick Orestes.

 

electra
Electra
Slow
Orange: Seeker Laser
Blue: Bond (bullet soaking globes)
Yellow: Fire Petal (stream)
A slow ship, but has access to the Seeker Laser, arguably the best weapon in the game. Also has access to Bond, which can soak/destroy bullets, but is a little difficult to use. In my opinion Polyxena is a better ship.

 

hecuba
Hecuba
Fast
Orange: Plasma Rings (bouncing)
Blue: Bond (bullet soaking globes)
Yellow: Spin Laser (bullet soaking horizontal twin laser)
Arguably due to the two bullet soaking/destroying weapons that Hecuba has access to, it is the best ship for those wanting to play a support role.

 

polyxena
Polyxena
Slow
Orange: Seeker Laser
Blue: Nova (star)
Yellow: Spin Laser (bullet soaking horizontal twin laser)
Due to having access to Seeker Laser, this is one of the best ships. Because Spin Laser is a slightly more reliable (easy to use) weapon for soaking up or destroying bullets when compared to Bond, Polyxena is in my opinion the best ship.

 

As a side note:
All four names are taken from Greek mythology. Orestes and Electra were children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Hecuba was the wife of King Priam of Troy and Polyxena was their youngest daughter.

 

Gameplay

According to the manual, you can choose whether you want to have 3, 4 or 5 lives and have a total of 9 continues. The game ramps up steadily in difficulty with levels getting progressively more challenging the deeper you get into them. There are often multiple enemies on screen, some of which shoot out small round red bullets that can be difficult to notice in the chaos. This is why it helps to have at least one ship with access to bullet soaking/destroying weapons (such as Hecuba). The game is made much easier when played in two player mode, with no enemies being added to compensate for the addition of another Bioship. Essentially you play the single player mode with help from a friend in two player mode. Don’t play it on Easy though because you don’t get access to the later levels if you do.

 

Music

The sound in the game was directed by K.N.U. The moniker is attributed to different individuals depending on the source. Bio-Hazard Battle ultimately has an awesome and memorable soundtrack.


In the first track the use of delay, reverb and sustain in the music creates a vast soundscape with rhythms and effects that remind me of the Predator (from the 1987 film of the same name) as well as thoughts of distant worlds teeming with extraterrestrial life.


In the second track we are treated to a more uplifting melody and short instrumental flourishes reference the theremin, which was used in many classic Sci-Fi soundtracks including The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). It compliments the faster pace of the second level.


In the third track, reminiscent of music by NIN and the like, we return to dark and brooding melodic elements that make you feel emotionally encumbered, and again the use of instruments and effects reference echo-location, heart beats, and other organic processes.


In the fourth track we hear themes carried over from previous tracks in a sort of slow, spaced out remix.


In the fifth track we hear a bass building suspense to small climaxes. At one point a sinusoidal modulated waveform along side other foreign electronic sounds, all of which meld into a strange track that conjures images of a sleuth on the trail of a killer, or spy subterfuge.


In the seventh and final track the composer(s) tried to add their own layer of melody on top an instrumentation that conjures the end credits of Akira (1988) and of course Philip Glass’s Glassworks (1982).

 

Graphics

The sprites in Bio-Hazard Battle are insanely creative, with everything from flying squids to myelinated sheathed worms and floating sperm with faces. All sprites are set on great industrial, natural and xenobiological environments, on this habitable world of Avaron, which create levels that are varied throughout, containing unique sections only appearing for a few seconds on screen never to be seen again. The Bioships themselves each have a unique look which have both aquatic and insectoid influences. The designs are organic and invoke a sci-fi nostalgia (kaiju, aliens, etc).
bio-hazard-battle-03
bio-hazard-battle-02
bio-hazard-battle-01

 

Final Thoughts

Bio-Hazard Battle brings together two of my favourite things, Biology and Technology, in a polished Sci-Fi aesthetic that stands the test of time. This 16-bit classic is a must play for fans of the aforementioned domains.

Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story

tokyo-story

Tokyo Story is a film about family. It is interspersed with establishing shots which capture the setting of the film. They are beautiful, serene, calming slices of seemingly ubiquitous scenery that have captured 1950s Japan. The sets are equally beautiful, with everything from shoji screens, tatami mats and sake bottles giving the audience a glimpse into a traditional past. Yet, there is a timelessness about the film. Perhaps it’s because Japanese culture honours tradition in everything from bento to kimonos. This creates a visual aesthetic that stands the test of time. It also helps that the characters are well written archetypes that are as relatable as those of the immortal Shakespeare and that Ozu had such a reverence for the past.

tokyo-story-kyoko

Kyōko Kagawa who played Kyōko in the film summarized my perspective on the condition of the modern nuclear family: for the children to grow up the family must separate and become a less cohesive unit, and in doing so life becomes disappointing.

tokyo-story-shige

Haruko Sugimura who played Shige was the antithesis to Kagawa’s character. Shige seemed to think her husband was being wasteful spending money on cakes for her parent’s visit when simple crackers would do. Money comes between us as we age. We want to have enough for ourselves— for our family, and taking care of our aging parents can take money away from that goal. From this perspective Shige’s parsimonious tendencies can be understood. When she does spend money on her parents it’s to send them away to a nice spa/resort, but ultimately we find out this is done so she can host other beauticians at her house. She even says it will be cheaper to send them away than take care of them. Something tells me she has come to terms with her parents’ mortality.

I fear that Sugimura’s character comes to encompass the way many people in the West feel about their elderly parents. It’s far easier to spend money to put them in a home (for the elderly) than it is to house them with your family and take care of them yourself. I understand that things can get messy. People can start to lose control of their bodily functions and even lose their memory, but I feel that Kyōko would always be there. The events in the movie and the behaviour of her siblings seem to cement her perspective.

tokyo-story-noriko

Setsuko Hara who plays Noriko talks to Kyōko about the human condition, and it’s in these brief moments that the movie really comes together in my opinion. Noriko knows how the modern world works and accepts that world the way it is. However despite understanding the status quo she is conflicted internally stating that in spite of herself she may become like Shige as she ages. There is a wonder and romantic aura around Noriko that I as the audience didn’t want to see tarnished. I felt like she was idealized by Ozu. Noriko reminds me a great deal of my grandmother, who lives with us.

tokyo-story-parents

Chishū Ryū who plays the grandfather Shukishi admits that he likes his own children more than his grandkids. I think this was Ozu’s way of telling us something about ourselves. It’s much easier to love those who are close to you physically, those you can see daily and share experiences with. Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to love someone you don’t see very often, I think Ozu was telling us that is how family bonds inherently work. I am not saying we can’t be empathetic and loving people, but I think this points to physical closeness as being a cornerstone of family bonding. Don’t you agree, even though it is a bit of an ugly thing to admit?

I turned 32 this year (2016) and I still live at home with my parents, two younger brothers and grandmother. Ozu’s Tokyo Story made me thankful that our family is still together, but I think a lot of Asian families tend to have stronger bonds, with less animosity and bitterness between members and the elderly living with their children. Am I mistaken? I hate to generalize and create stereotypes, but in our family the elderly are respected and they live with their children until they leave this world. My parents used to ask “who will take care of us?” and I always felt like we’d be together forever, but as I age I’m finding that keeping the family together is harder than I used to think it was.

late-spring

 

On the second disc in the Criterion Collection version of Tokyo Story there was a scene from Ozu’s Late Spring, in which a father explains to his daughter the truth about growing up. Sometimes, I find, there is a conflict that cleaves the relationship between parent and child asunder. Usually emotions run high and instead of resolving the conflict the child chooses to leave— fly the coop, leave the nest. And I am a firm believer that if this conflict can be resolved, there can be a strong bond formed between the two (or three) forevermore. The same can be said for marriages, but I know conflicts come in many shapes and forms, and something like cheating can be irreconcilable. Can you think of a relationship that ended over something retrospectively inane?

tokyo-story-ozu

Life is fragile, we never know when health problems will arise and we walk around thinking we’re invincible until one does. I wish everyone could have the same relationship I have with my parents, but I know this isn’t the case. If you are still bitter over something, think of what might happen if you leave things unfinished. Regret can follow you around for the rest of your life. These are the lessons of Tokyo Story.