Review: Biomotor Unitron  Shows its Age, but Its Modern Release is Important

I’ve always been a huge proponent of video game preservation, and the Pocket Color Selection from SNK is a beacon of shining light in an industry that often neglects its older titles. I never had a chance to play Biomotor Unitron on a Neo Geo Pocket Color—and with retro game collectors driving prices up, it’s getting harder and harder to do so. However, SNK’s Pocket Color Selection gives you the opportunity to get as close to the original experience as possible—or make some adjusts for more modern sensibilities.

Biomotor Unitron is a role-playing game with turn-based combat and dungeon crawler style exploration. In it, you play as the operator of a mecha-style robot called a Unitron. You’ll use your Unitron to fight against other pilots and to explore the wider world. These exploration sections are semi-randomized, and allow you to grind out upgrades and boosts to your pilots—making them better able to control the Unitron. It’s pretty standard as far as JRPGs go, and while it even gives me a bit of early Gameboy Pokemon vibes, its gameplay isn’t quite as timeless.

To say Biomotor Unitron hasn’t aged gracefully isn’t exactly fair. It’s a game that was released for a handheld device that seemed a little outdated, even for its time, way back in 1999. Though critics weren’t super keen on it, it does have a few redeeming qualities. It’s surprisingly intuitive and playable, but it comes with a grind that made it hard for me to soldier through even the early parts of the game. Even for someone who plays retro games daily, Biomotor Unitron feels old and unfun. However, the fact that I got to play it at all on a modern console is great.

SNK has really done a fantastic job putting together its SNK Pocket Color games for the Nintendo Switch. Each one gets a wonder digital presentation that lets you play the game at the exact same size as it would have been on a pocket color—if you play in hand held mode. If you want a more modern look, you can remove the lines, and even zoom in on the screen. There is also the option to rewind the last few seconds of gameplay, which has limited usefulness in some games—but turns out to be great for the turn-based combat in Biomotor Unitron. You can also flip through a scan of the game’s manual to not only get information on how to play, but to see the original artwork that came in the game’s box, almost a quarter of a century ago. It’s a great bit of game preservation.

Biomotor Unitron still manages to get onto lists of “Best Pocket Color Games” and while I can see why, it’s particular brand of grind didn’t feel fun to me. The interaction with the world is also a bit stale, and since that all leads up to turn-based combat that isn’t always very fun, Biomotor Unitron ends up being a game that only a niche few could see. But with the Pocket Color Selection you have a low cost way to check it out for yourself.

Biomotor Unitron is available on Nintendo Switch now.

A Nintendo Switch Key was provided to us for this review.  

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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.