Review by geelw
"Grand Theft Metroid?"
When you really think about it, the only one responsible for the success or failure of the N64 has been Nintendo itself. With all of that quality control the company is known for, the games coming out of Redmond should have been pretty special. But out of all of the titles available, it's hard for some folks to find very many games that are not only worth playing, but worth keeping and replaying. In fact, I find myself going back to my NES or SNES more than my N64- sad but true. There's a whole lot more heart in almost any ten games for these two systems than most 64 stuff. But sometimes a game comes along that brings back a feeling of solidity in terms of the gameplay, even if it lacks the flashiness of better looking titles. Then again, if you just buy a game because it looks good, you probably own a lot of horrible playing games, right?
Say hello to DMA's Body Harvest, a game that was originally scheduled as a launch title to be published by Nintendo. I'm guessing that they kept looking at the less than impressive graphics and decided somewhere along the line to drop the game from its lineup. Fortunately, Midway came along and had the foresight to publish this one, but they didn't actually go all out as far as advertising and promoting it. That, and the fact that a little game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was burning up the charts. Despite receiving very good, if not excellent reviews in a number of major game mags, BH didn't actually fly off store shelves. In fact, you can probably get a new copy for well under $20 if you look around. You'd be doing yourself a favor, as BH is an excellent game- one of the top 10 titles for the N64, in my opinion.
Body Harvest is a third-person action game with some great play mechanics and 5 really massive levels. The basic story is the usual time travel stuff, but BH adds the use of a wide assortment of vehicles that you find in your travels to aid in the total destruction of the alien menace. That's right, your character can jump into (or onto) anything with wheels or wings and use it to cover huge areas that would take forever to reach on foot. Some of these craft have their own powerful guns and/or the ability to crush some of the bugs, while others are built for speed and jumping over gaps here and there. Rather than bog the player down with complex controls for each craft, the same basic layout is used for whatever you ''borrow''. Some will scoff at this, but this game is so huge that to remember all the control differences between a WWI biplane and a 60's car would take away too much of the fun!
The first level has you bopping about in 1916 Greece, but you're not there to take in the sights! Just a few steps away from where you land you get to drive the first of many vehicles, as well as battle some really ugly and vicious giant bugs! Other than a sluggish shuffling run, the control on the hero is pretty good in these outdoor areas. The analog trigger is used to move about, and the Z-trigger uses your selected weapon. You tap and hold the R button to lock onto targets, and the left and right C keys rotate the game camera or roll out of the way of danger. The camera system is excellently implemented with two viewpoints: in-close third person, and a bird's eye view, and you'll find yourself using both equally throughout the game. The indoor scenes have a RPG/puzzle hybrid feel to them with torches and lamps to light, and switches to throw to open up hidden areas. There are also quite a few people to speak to, and they often have some very helpful items and information to help in your quest.
The great music and sound effects in BH deserve special mention for the sense of dread and urgency that they give the player. You always know when the aliens are near even if you don't see them right away, thanks to the driving orchestral-sounding score, and the hysterical screams of the alien victims. The game has few dull moments- you can cruise about lazily looking for hidden stuff after clearing out an area, but other than that you're always on the run to or from some form of action-based event. I also liked the idea of getting new directives as you do battle, a la Syphon Filter, or more recently, Metroid Prime. After the first level boss, the game gets geometrically harder and you encounter bigger and meaner bugs, with the dreaded harvester waves become more and more frequent- watch out for those mutants!
As I said before, the game isn't perfect. In fact, if I wasn't so enamored of the tight gameplay, sounds and lighting effects, I could spend a few columns going on about the less than perfect graphics and animation. There are stiff, ugly-looking NPCs that just stand or sit around in the indoor scenes, some bland, yet oddball decor (the roast pigs turning in almost every house in the 1941 Java levels are a real laugh), and the main character does a bizarre dance when he gets stuck in a corner. But this is one game that takes what it has and does what it should do, and it does this a lot better than most games that look lots better and are just average or worse.
I've noticed that all of the DMA Design games that I've played (the early Grand Theft Autos, Space Station Silicon Valley, and Wild Metal) don't have the best graphics in the world, but are simply a big blast to pick up and play for hours thanks to their great design! How many games by a single company can you really say that about? In case you didn't know, some of the elements introduced in Body Harvest were improved and expanded upon in Grand Theft Auto III, and it's impossible to play both games without noticing the lineage. The funny thing is there was never a N64 Metroid game, yet this ''feels'' like one (and could have been, if Nintendo had enough foresight). I'm sort of hoping DMA decides to revisit this idea one day, and gives us a sequel or even a remake, as not everyone got a chance to experience BH when it was initially released. If you own a Nintendo 64, track down a copy of Body Harvest while you can- you can thank me later...
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 01/02/03, Updated 01/02/03
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