There’s a common stereotype when it comes to the NGPC, that it’s got nothing good besides 2D fighters on it. That’s a fair exaggeration in regards to the system’s library; at most, only half of the Neo Geo Pocket’s games were fighting games. Of course, several genres made appearances on SNK’s handheld: board games (King of Fighters: Battle de Paradise), shoot-‘em-ups (Cotton), even a few sports titles (Pocket Tennis, Neo Turf Masters, Baseball Stars), but there are two in particular that could be called the NGPC’s unsung genres: puzzle games and RPGs. Of course, the latter isn’t completely forgotten; Card Fighters’ Clash is one of the two games most commonly associated with the Neo Geo Pocket, but many of the NGPC’s RPGs never left Japan. There were a few exceptions however, and fortunately, this is one of them. Biomotor Unitron can be best described as a Pokémon clone, only with giant robots instead of super-powered mutant animals. All the same, BMU is hands down the second-best RPG for the NGPC.
The game’s backstory isn’t exactly original, but it provides a decent framework for the gameplay, and that’s all that really matters. Many years ago, the planet Elscea was plagued with war. Kingdoms and castles were decimated in many conflicts until a meteor, known as Unitice, crashed into the continent of Tridiss. The meteor brings forth new power sources, called Unitron crystals. Using these crystals, the inhabitants of Elscea were able to create robots, dubbed Unitrons – not an original name by any stretch, but I guess it fits. Initially, these robots were used as peacekeepers between the various nations. Fast forward 199 years: after almost two centuries of peace, the kingdom of Rhafiace holds yearly gladiatorial-style tournaments between Unitrons to determine who will be the “Master of Masters”.
At the start of the game, players are given the choice between five races of characters: humans, Foresters (stereotypical elves), Mariners (merpeople that look like a cross between regular people and Rikuo from Darkstalkers), Birdians (elves with angel wings) and Lizardmen (exactly what they sound like). There’s also the matter of choosing one’s character’s gender with the character of the same species and opposite gender acting as the player’s assistant. Each race has their own elemental affinity – humans have Fire, Lizardmen have Earth, Foresters have Wood, Mariners have Water and Birdians have Wind – while the character’s gender has no real effect on their abilities.
Players take on the role of three characters: the Unitron Master, who is the main character and controller of the Unitron in battle; the Engineer, who is the auxiliary character and helps equip parts, form new parts from materials and offers support; and a mechanized man-at-arms who does all of the dirty work in battles. There are numerous similarities to Pokémon – for example, there is so much emphasis on collecting parts, it almost makes you want to catch ‘em all – but as opposed to moving from town-to-town, collecting gym badges and whatnot, Biomotor Unitron focuses itself in one town, with numerous dungeons just waiting to be explored. The town itself is basically just a menu, with the characters’ Workshop; a Store that sells various items (including new parts, status items and mateials); the Arena, where the ranking battles are held; the town square, where various people hang out; and the World Map, which allows players to move freely on the overworld.
While both the Master and Engineer characters can level up – which simply enhances their skills of controlling the Unitron and building new parts – the Unitron itself does not. Instead, to bring one’s Unitron to its highest potential, the player must find new parts. Sure, at the beginning of each game, players are given a certain Unitron frame depending on which race was chosen, but every other part – from limbs to additional accessories – can be swapped out, allowing players to customize it. While each part boosts certain stats, it’s up to the player to determine what combinations they end up using – do you put more emphasis in a certain area (like Hit Points or attack power) or would you prefer a well-rounded warrior? At the start of the game, players are only afforded the bare minimum of parts necessary to run their Unitrons: two arms, a power core, a set of legs and a backpack. There are two ways to increase one’s pool of supplies: either buying them from the aforementioned store or creating your own. Yes, as I mentioned earlier, that seemingly useless engineer can actually create new parts to equip onto the Unitron. More specifically, he/she can create new arms. By combining a pre-made arm with a certain material (and possibly a tool, which increases the success rate), players can create completely new parts with enhanced abilities to trounce their enemies.
Now, there are two separate (but equally important) circumstances which force players to use their Unitrons in battle: the Arena battles and dungeon crawling. Both have an impact on the storyline in their own unique way. Arena battles are pretty much Gauntlet Matches, where players deal with a succession of opponents, one-after-another, until they’ve defeated their last opponent. There is no healing between matches, but Energy Points are replenished at the end of each round. If one bests every robot in the Rank battle, the player’s rank increases. What does this do, you ask? Well, for each rank one gains, the store adds more powerful items to their inventory, and better yet, it gives you a snazzier title – while a lowly Rank E is dubbed a “Rookie”, a Rank D Master is referred to as a “Viscount”, until the rank of “Master of Masters” is achieved. Meanwhile, dungeon crawling helps the storyline to progress. See, there are four dungeons, each with 7 areas and each area’s map is randomly determined (out of a total set of 10 possible rooms). At the end of each dungeon, there lies a powerful boss…and you can pretty much tell where I’m going from here. There are also chests filled with cash and items strewn all around the dungeons, so if you’re low on cash, just make a quick trip and get all you need.
This graphics have their good points and their bad points. The actual imagery in the towns and on the introduction screens for the dungeons look pretty nice. However, the in-battle graphics are kind of sparse. There are no backgrounds in the battle area; the characters are two-toned, like most fighting games are on the NGPC, and the attacks are shown like the attacks in Card Fighters’ Clash – the attacker moves next to its victim and a separate effect animation appears on-screen. Likewise, the dungeons’ appearances have mixed results: the fields generally end up looking fairly good, while the character is represented by an oversimplified icon. The sound is the only area of the game that isn’t stellar. In fact, it’s downright generic, which is a shame, considering some of the good soundtracks I’ve heard on the NGPC. The music’s not bad, but it’s not very good either.
There is quite a lot of replay value to this game, thanks to the customization element. I guess the only thing holding this game down in terms of replay would have to be the storyline. Not only because it’s generic, but because it lacks any depth and, worse still, there’s really no impact on the storyline based on which species of characters the player chooses. Again, the good outweighs the bad here, but the fact that character choice only changes a few small elements somewhat deters replay.
Overall, I’ve got to say: this is definitely the best traditional-style RPG to hit the Neo Geo Pocket, hands down. The customization aspects are a nice touch, the battle system is solid and the reliance on both the arena battles and dungeon crawling keeps the gameplay varied. I guess my only problem with the game is that I don’t feel it really goes far enough. For example, why only allow players to create new arms? Why not new legs? Better yet, why not allow player to merge two sets of arms, as opposed to simply adding an element to a set of premade arms? Another problem I have is with the game’s random battles, but that’s personal preference on my part, and honestly, I can live with it in this case. In the end though, the good far outweighs the bad, and this NGPC RPG is second only to Card Fighters’ Clash.
-Originally Posted by Wolfdogg