I wrote the original version of this review back in ’06, but I’ve enhanced and expanded it for this new posting of the review. I merged this review with some ideas from my Game Opinions Summary review on the game and some other improvements, to make this new, best-yet version of my thoughts on this great SNES should-be-classic! I didn’t remove the old scoring system and section breakdown from the review, though. Maybe I should get back to this style of including categories in reviews, any thoughts?
- Title: BlaZeon: The Bio-Cyborg Challenge
- Platform: Super Nintendo (SNES)
- Developer and Publisher: Atlus
- Released: 1992
- Review originally written March 1, 2006, and improved and expanded on for posting here on 10/6/2014.
BlaZeon is a shmup. That is, a shooter, where you take a flying vehicle of some kind and kill things to presumably save your people. The game is usually regarded as average at best, but in my opinion, BlaZeon is a forgotten classic in this genre. Perhaps one reason for the frequent dislike the game gets it its’ very slow pace. BlaZeon is admittedly very, very slow, and sometimes you might spend as much as 45 seconds just watching the background scroll by with nothing to do. Also typical within the genre, the game is short — it just has five levels — but brutally hard. People who dislike hard games will get frustrated by BlaZeon. The game also has minimal options: difficulty level is the only one. There are three difficulty levels, and when you beat one the game loops to the next one. It’s a simple system, but it works. This genre did not become great by being overly complex. It became great because of the high fun factor of the games within it, and BlaZeon is a fine case of that; you can’t help but want to keep playing until you win… and then you want to go through the next loop too. Or at least, I do! BlaZeon has some unique game mechanics, mostly good level designs, an outstanding soundtrack, decently good graphics, and great gameplay. Also, perhaps because of the pacing, BlaZeon has very little slowdown, which is great to see on the SNES. Overall it’s a very good game.
BlaZeon has some interesting game mechanics that help it to stand out from the crowd. Your ship, the Garland, is very weak and has no power-ups as they are normally understood. It is also slow, dies in one hit, and, for armaments, has only one single machine gun in addition to its special weapon: the Tranquilander gun. This special ‘gun’ is more of a missile really, because you can only fire one at a time. The Tranquilander cannon will disable certain enemy ships, called Bio-Cybords, allowing you to take them over. When you take over a Bio-Cyborg, your ship vanishes and you control the Bio-Cyborg you just captured as its replacement instead. You can only have one of these at a time, and if it is destroyed you go back to just your basic ship. Bio-Cyborgs each have their own armaments, but do not have a Tranquilander gun, so you need to go back to base level before taking a different one over. These capturable enemies are the game’s powerups, and this system is interesting. Equally interesting is the fact that many ships have a damage state, so after taking enough damage, they lose some of their weapons. This damage is visual; parts of the ship get shot off, leaving those guns unusable. This goes equally for the enemies and the Bio-Cyborgs you can control. So, if you want that awesome wave gun guy at full power, you’ll have to disable it without accidentally hitting it with your machine gun, for damage done to a Bio-Cyborg will remain after you take it over. You must diable it without shooting it to get it at full strength. As you play, you will learn to recognize the Bio-Cyborgs, and avoid shooting them unless you don’t want that one. Once you are controlling a Bio-Cyborg, do your best to avoid hitting the walls, enemies, or bullets. Bio-Cyborgs may be able to take multiple hits, but after doing so they won’t be at full strength! The more powerful ones are less common, and which ship you’re controlling and its state does carry over from level to level, so keeping them at full strength if possible can be important. The first part, capturing enemies intact, is usually easy, but that second part, avoiding damage can be quite tricky. In addition to enemies and enemy fire you must avoid, the paths you need to navigate through in this game sometimes get very narrow, making that task extremely difficult. The last level, in particular, is full of very tricky to navigate paths that are pretty much the same width as your Bio-Cyborg. Getting through them without taking damage is possible, though, and as a shooter, difficulty is expected, so its presence here is far from problematic. An easy shooter doesn’t usually get played for long.
In graphics and style, the game seems most influenced by R-Type at first. For instance, like R-Type, BlaZeon is a pattern-based game. Enemies come from the same places in the same patterns every time you play, and your challenge is memorizing it all and learning what to do. The first level could have been in an R-Type game, actually. The level designs get more unique and interesting as the game progresses, however, and the game mechanics differentiate it sharply from R-Type. The levels also get longer, which is welcome because the first level is too short. Also, Atlus has a different concept of cruelty than Irem does. That is, they are more subtle. Instead of beating you down with a constant series of massively difficult challenges, they have long, slow levels with many pauses where you do very little except watch the background, and the average encounter is only of moderate difficulty, though the challenge ramps up significantly later in the game. When you die, though, you get sent back to the last checkpoint, and sometimes these checkpoints are far, FAR apart. Also, when you get a game over by losing three lives, you restart the level. You do have infinite continues, but with levels this long, it’s a significant punishment. In addition, getting an extra life requires so many points you have to beat three levels without getting a game over just in order to meet that number! Crazy. So, while at first the game may not seem too hard, by a few levels in the games’ true level of cruelty slowly presents itsself, and the last level is very difficult and frustrating. And the game, of course, has no form of saving, passwords, or cheat codes to skip to the later levels. It is a very difficult game. Oddly, I can’t tell a huge difference between the difficulty levels (more bullets, I guess), but at least your ship changes color.
As is typical in this genre, BlaZeon has a minimal story. In fact, it is 100% contained in the manual. The game itsself is minimalist to the extreme: there is NO story shown or presented in any form within the game. There’s no introduction, no in-mission story segments, and no ending. When you finish level five, you simply restart the game on the next difficulty level. Story is so irrelevant to games in this genre though that I truly do not miss it, though the lack of an ending is kind of unfortunate; the original arcade version of the game does have a fairly basic ending, with credits and the like. They should have kept it in the home console version. Ah well. As far as it goes from the manual though, the story goes like this: the earth created a fleet called the Imperial Earth Army to protect it from interstellar threats. The fleet became corrupt, though, and instituted a dictatorship over the planet. You fight for the resistance using their special protype fighter, the Garland. The ship isn’t in great shape, and this shows in the game with its slowness and weakness, but its Tranquilander gun makes up for that and then some. The game has seven Bio-Cyborg enemy types you can control, and they vary greatly from a small, fast ship to slow, larger ones that have very powerful guns that just fire forward, one with adjustable small guns, and one which fires bombs below it. The variety of the Bio-Cyborgs is one of the games’ strengths. Try them all! My favorites are the two most powerful ones, the mine-laying one that only appears once in the game, and the one with the giant wave gun.
Single Player: BlaZeon has five levels, but the difficulty level ensures that it’ll take a while to finish, particularly on the higher difficulty settings. Most levels have multiple bosses, and some, such as the second and fifth levels, are easily long enough to be at least two levels in another game. The first level is short and too easy, but it picks up after that. Level two is interesting, with the first part in an asteroid field and the second half passing a large fleet. Level three passes over some space platform and is fun too, but the midboss is very frustrating; watch out when it dies, it’s easy to get taken out with it! Level four is my favorite in the game. It has great music, an interesting junkyard setting with a unique and powerful junkbot Bio-Cyborg to control, and cool bosses. Level five is set in a giant space station. As the last level, it is appropriately difficult, and also has perfect music for a final level. As I said this level can be frustrating, and I gave up at trying to beat it sometimes because of how long it takes to replay after a game over late in the level and how hard it is along the way, but stick with it, and eventually you’ll get it down; I did eventually finish this game. Overall you’ll want to replay this game over and over, as is true with any good shooter, so the length isn’t a problem. The pacing may be slow, and the pauses between action points frequent and often long, but have a little patience and there is plenty of fun to be had. Sure, fifteen-second crawls across a screen, only to face three enemies and then wait another ten seconds for anything else to happen are not uncommon, but with music this great, I didn’t mind the pauses in the action.
BlaZeon is single player only.
BlaZeon’s graphics are strictly average for the Super Nintendo. It’s an arcade port and they do a decent job, but this isn’t one of the system’s graphical showcases, that’s for sure. Multiple levels of parallax scrolling is about all you can look for in nice special effects. Also, as mentioned earlier a lot of the art styles look very, very similar to R-Type’s, though the way that some kinds of ships take visual damage as they get hit is pretty cool. It also definitely isn’t the norm for this genre, particularly in how that damage actually removes some of their armaments. Shoot the top side of that gunship to knock out its top laser, or the bottom side to knock out the bottom one. Having this choice adds strategy. Another positive is that slowdown is kept to a minimum because of the pacing and relative simplicity of the game. The only slowdown happens occasionally when the screen is crowded. These moments are rare. For the most part the game is remarkably slowdown-free compared to many SNES shooters such as Super R-Type, E.D.F., or Gradius III, for instance. Some may say that that is because of how bland the graphics are and because the game’s pacing is far too slow, but those are inaccurate depictions of this game. Super R-Type is almost as slow and just as visually bland, but it’s slowdown-wracked! This game runs better than that one. BlaZeon’s pacing is intentional and works, and the graphics, while not the greatest on the SNES, are varied and interesting. Each level has a very distinct graphical style and many enemies are unique to each one. The backgrounds are also often very detailed and expansive.
The sound is fine. It’s nothing spectacular, but it does its job well. The music, however, is often great. The tracks for level 2 part 2, level 3 part 1, and level 4 are particularly great, I would say. The level four music is the kind of music track that I don’t mind listening to loop over and over and over and over and over as I play the level… the music in this game is great! Addictive and easy to listen to, I found myself sometimes pausing the game just to listen to the music loop. The music is repetitive, of course, but good enough that that doesn’t matter, and that’s about as much as you could possibly hope for from a game in this genre on the SNES. BlaZeon is in the very top tier of SNES music, no question.
BlaZeon is a pretty good shooter. It’s slow paced and deliberate, for a nice contrast from fast, “hold the button down the whole time or you die” titles that seem to dominate this genre. I like the style of older shmups better than modern “bullet-hell” ones, so this game is exactly the kind of thing I should love, and I do! Also, the slow pace gives you more time to appreciate the soundtrack. The game is also unique, because it has no conventional powerups and instead substitutes an interesting system of being able to take over certain types of enemy ships and control them as your own. This is a very well made game and it’s too bad that it never got a sequel. Also, the fact that the story is truly nonexistent within the game cartridge is actually sort of a good thing; the plot is utterly unoriginal and a clone of the plots of every other shooter ever made, so it really wouldn’t add anything to have it. It isn’t needed, but it would have been nice if the end credits had been left in. Just watch a video of the arcade ending after finishing the game, that solves that problem. But overall, BlaZeon is far more good than bad. Look past that and focus on the important part for games like this: the gameplay! And that gameplay is pretty good and a lot of fun, and is backed up with acceptable visuals and great music. This is a game I keep going back to, as much for the quite good, somewhat strategic gameplay, and partially for the fantastic music. BlaZeon is very much recommended, if you can find it!
Single Player: 9/10
Sound and music: 10/10
Overall Rating: 92% (not an average), an A.
BlaZeon longplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0_iJ-gI9EE
BlaZeon soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OS5pGyG8IA&list=PL5E44AFA2F0850740
Here is the arcade version for comparison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3gw4DI_X9s