Bio Menace – PC
The Apogee Shareware Series, Part I
Developer: Apogee Software
Release Date: August 3, 1993
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
One of my favorite sources of PC entertainment back in the old DOS days was an Apogee shareware disc holding a then-astounding ten games. Sure, each title included was cut down to the first chapter so that once you had beaten it, ordering instructions were thrown in your face for the full version, but when you had little money and a lot of free time, this bushel of content was enough to pass the summers on! And I played and replayed these single-installment teasers so much that I came to love them, hunting them down and fetching them for DOSBox as soon as I figured out how to work it. Since they represent such an influential slice of my formative years in gaming, I’m giving every title on that disc an Apogee shareware salute, but with the full version of every game! The first one on my list is Bio Menace, so pick up those extra lives and follow me!
Bio Menace is a side-scrolling platform shooter built using id Software’s Commander Keen engine (they were bosom buddy companies at the time), and made shortly after the release of the original Duke Nukem. It puts you in the shoes of Snake Logan, a CIA operative specializing in high-risk missions, and his already dangerous job of finding the culprit who caused the mutant invasion of Metro City becomes a one-man quest to save humankind from the evil machinations of Master Cain and his robot and mutant hordes. Brainchild of designer Jim Norwood and featuring the musical stylings of industry legend Robert Prince, Bio Menace is a game with three chapters of approximately ten levels apiece: Dr. Mangle’s Lab, The Hidden Lab, and Master Cain. The one I’m the most familiar with is Dr. Mangle’s Lab, since it was the only one available in the shareware version, but I’ve played and beaten The Hidden Lab and Master Cain in the past week in preparation for this review, so I can say with full certainty that this game gets harder as it goes along.
As a side-scroller, Bio Menace has all of the hallmarks of a classic Apogee run-and-gun platformer, with the name of the game being killing monsters, avoiding traps, picking up powerups and special items, and usually either rescuing a hostage or fighting that level’s boss monster. The monsters are predictable to a fair degree, but predictable doesn’t mean “stupid”, so you may find them challenging, especially in numbers with just your short burst semi-automatic. Thankfully, you can find clips of full-auto ammunition lying around, as well as “Super Gun” bullets and Plasma Bolts that each deal heavy damage, along with two kinds of grenades and land mines you can set to kill approaching enemies. You can also find many neat items to help you on your way, from multiple kinds of keys and point-value pickups to invincibility potions and bonus level gems! The levels are often populated with dangerous traps, especially in the later levels, and you’ll have to be nimble on your feet and careful with your jumps to avoid them. And while rescuing a hostage can be easy (once you find the path to get to them), bosses are almost always a real hard fight where you’re going to die at least a couple of times before you’re through if you’re not careful. Beacons exist throughout the levels to save you time and stress so that you don’t have to start over at the beginning every time you die.
Bio Menace is pretty tough, especially when you keep in mind the changes in difficulty. Play it on Easy, your health bar tops out at eight points and a single Medkit pickup replenishes all of it. Normal difficulty, your health bar is four points, half its usual size. And on Hard, Medkits only heal for one point of health, and you only start with two health points when you die and come back with a new life! Each difficulty step up ramps up the challenge very well on their own, but the chapters also follow their own general difficulty curve, with The Hidden Lab being tougher than Dr. Mangle’s Lab, and Master Cain trumping them both. When I replayed this game’s chapters for this review, I cleared the first two chapters on Normal and had to back it down to Easy for Master Cain because I couldn’t get past the first level. Can you imagine that? I can beat Dr. Mangle’s Lab without too much trouble even on Normal, and while The Hidden Lab was hard, I at least was able to survive it once I had a good stock of lives, but Apogee doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to making its games legitimately hard. You need to be ready to fight and pull out all the stops when it comes to rolling with the old school shooters.
In a game like this, survival traditionally means building up a good stock of lives, and there are multiple ways to do that: You can collect red gems, which give you an extra life for every 50 you pick up, and this method is FAR easier to do in the first two episodes, as the Master Cain chapter seems to have very few gems about at all. You can build up points to get the lives past the Extra Life mark, which doubles every time you score another life from your point total, to make the next one harder to reach. And you can always find the elusive mini-Logan pickups, which are mostly found in the Secret Levels, and give him an extra life every time he picks one up. The developers of Bio Menace knew that you were going to be killing yourself many times over to find all of their secrets, and so even if all of these life-saving measures leave you at a loss, you’re able to save your game at any level (even Secret Levels) so that you don’t have to unwillingly suffer the indignity of flushing down half of your lives in one level.
There is one caveat to this, however. Secret hunters running about in Bio Menace will find out quickly that Apogee Software guards its secrets well, making you work for your prize by subjecting you to color sequence puzzles, dangerous platforming sections, and generally putting you in harm’s way to show that you want them. You’ll have to start following falling platforms over bottomless pits, executing pixel-perfect ladder-to-ladder jumps over an instant death electric field, and even avoiding deadly dangers inside of the Secret Levels themselves if you want the prizes you came for! It can be harrowing at times, wanting to trust the game to give you that sweet power-up that you’ve needed for so long and then dying just before you can get it. But never fear, the game isn’t the only one that can use secrets to its advantage: Snake Logan has a few tricks of his own, by means of hidden button combos that will let him pull off some super-secret moves. He can fire a super plasma shot, send out fireballs around him, cover himself with a protective energy shield and use a small burst of invincibility! The game’s hint file tells you how to perform the first two, but the others are ones that you’ll have to discover on your own!
As far as its sound and music quality goes, they’re definitely very nice for a 2-D run-and-gun, but that’s to be expected when you have Apogee at the helm and Bobby Prince at the MIDI-capable keyboard. From the cool hand beat of the very first level and the relaxing but active feel of later levels to the fast-paced and dangerous boss tracks and so forth, the future composer of your favorite tracks from Doom really hits the nail on the head when giving this video game atmosphere and attitude. Apogee and id Software had a profitable business partnership in these days, so it’s not surprising at all to see names from one side working on the other side’s titles. I’ll go into further detail about this professional partnership in future installments of this review series, but needless to say, nothing but good things could come out of it, not the least of which being the amazing soundtrack that Bio Menace had for its time.
When I was young, playing the shareware version of this game and getting teased to get the full version to continue Snake Logan’s one-man fight against Master Cain, I wondered how it would feel taking on that big baddie once and for all. As someone who’s accomplished that in the course of this review, it feels good to satisfy that curiosity. Bio Menace may be harder than I remembered, but what it does right is give a fun and reasonable challenge from the first level to the last boss, a feat it repeats with each chapter. As a run-and-gun classic, it doesn’t break much new ground, but it doesn’t have to. With a lot of people playing it and many other games as shareware, the game practically sold itself to anyone who wanted to see more after the first chapter. Today, you can download the full version for free on the Apogee home website or from my always-favorite DOS game hub, Abandonware. Load it into DOSBox and enjoy jumping into that sweet 1993 action!
(Oh, and by the way, if you’re having trouble progressing in Bio Menace and the error message mentions a critical file by the name of “FILE_ID.DIZ”, that’s a holdover from the old pre-Internet BBS days. Go to Abandonware, re-download the game’s zip file, copy that one item into your Bio Menace folder and it should work fine. Have fun!)
Check out these other Apogee Software titles reviewed by Action Zero.
- Bio Menace
- Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold
- Duke Nukem II
- Halloween Harry, aka Alien Carnage
- Hocus Pocus
- Math Rescue
- Mystic Towers
- Raptor: Call of the Shadows
- Wolfenstein 3D
- Word Rescue
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