Buck Bumble

If you’re anything like me, you hear the name Argonaut and instantly think Star Fox. Or possibly Starglider, if you’re old and likely British. So when I found out that Buck Bumble wasn’t a 3D platformer starring a bee with a gun but rather an Argonaut-developed Star Fox-esque mission-based shooter, I thought I could come into this game with reasonable expectations. However, they were completely subverted about a minute into the intro, as this song kicked in:


Look. I’m not going to mess around here. Everything I thought I knew about this game is essentially out the window at this point.

byckburnIt even has an early level where you protect a base that’s already on fire!
This has to be a good sign.

It turns out, Buck Bumble is indeed just like Star Fox, except that the entirety of the game’s levels take place in more or less All-Range Mode, you have to hold a button to move forward, the music is all completely unfitting amateurish techno, you have no bombs, and you control like a sled on marbles when at top speed.  Also, there’s no animal friends, there are multiple weapons, your turning speed in combat is that of an 18-wheeler, and it features over 19 exciting levels that mostly takes place in a same-y looking garden environment. Also, the other levels are sewer levels. It’s that kind of game.

sewweeeeeeSewer levels: perfect for when you absolutely have to ensure
that everything looks exactly the same.

The level design itself isn’t necessarily bad, but it seems virtually randomly generated at times given its seeming thoughtlessness. It has secrets here and there, but that’s usually the closest to inspired it gets. Although, to be honest, I could simply be missing all of it- wherever Buck Bumble is happening, it’s in the middle of one hell of a fog storm. If it were not a game from halfway through the N64’s lifecycle or from developers that should theoretically be pretty competent, I wouldn’t even bring it up, but man. At a certain point, I felt like I was just playing a game for the sake of playing a game rather than any actually good reason to play something that isn’t something else.

lakeshotWhether it’s Smash TV or Cobra Triangle, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that
enemy snake bosses in video games are usually pretty dang cool looking.
Buck Bumble is no exception.

Everything about the game just feels bizarrely strapped together, from its almost completely out-of-place Teen’s First Attempt At A Eurodance Album soundtrack to its visuals that can only be described as feeling like stock photography in video game form. More often than not, it feels almost deliberate in its attempt to completely lack uniqueness in its style. Seriously, don’t let the silly, ropey looking bee guy with the gun mislead you.  As a whole, the game just feels like more or less a student group project for a programming class that got a C+ at best. Or a B-, I guess, if I’m trying to make a cute joke.

greenfoggyGame design tip- simply changing the fog color to Brunswick green
doesn’t actually make the player feel like they’re in a brand new environment.

But I actually do like the intro music quite a bit, if only for how out of left field and unique it was; or at least, for N64 music. As I think about it, left field and unique actually describe Buck Bumble as a whole, but I wish it was much more so in a good way than it ended up being. Which isn’t to say the game is awful- it’s not unplayable, it’s challenging but possible, and it is a game where you play an insect with a gun. It’s just absurdly average and dull even at its finest moments, so this isn’t exactly a game I could recommend on putting on the must-play-before-death list of anyone but the most hardcore melissophiliacs.

failed

WING IT OR STING IT?

Wing it into your to-do list if you must play a game, no matter how unremarkable, and this is the only one remaining on earth.
Sting it if there’s absolutely anything else better that you could be playing instead.

BONUS TIME

10

SPOILER ALERT FOR REALITY: Please stop reading if you’re happy with thinking, as I did, that Argonaut was all smiles and space gliders and Yer g-g-great, Fox!! Ribbit!! Aside from a questionably meaningful credit on Star Fox for “programming assistance,” Argonaut’s main thing was simply that they helped develop the Super FX chip that made the game itself possible. Which, given some of their previous technical achievements like X on the Game Boy (seen below) and impressive 3D engines on microcomputers/PCs of the 80s and 90s, was no fluke.

xchaseYOUNG PEOPLE OF TODAY: I promise this was totally impressive in 1992.

At some point, though, something changed. Maybe it was the mild success of the Croc, but from roughly that point forward their output varies almost exclusively from “extremely average” to “aggressively mediocre.”  By the early 2000’s, they were well on their way down that age old rabbit hole of pumping out mostly licensed titles that were rarely so bad that they’re worth making fun of, but never even close to remarkable enough to be worth recommending.  By 2004, Argonaut was more or less sunk due to the rising tides of development costs, in the only name-related joke I ever hope to write about them.

catwoman-1Catwoman, based on the film, was one of  Argonaut’s last titles.
To its slight credit, it is generally regarded as being better than the source material.

I’m sincerely sorry if informing you of all this rocked you to your very core.

Mickey’s Speedway USA

One of the biggest internal issues that I have here is choosing what games to review and when. It’s not just because I’m trying to find new and creative ways to put off reviewing Acclaim’s Quarterback Club series, either- I want to make sure that there’s a fair break between genres and companies. Not just so I don’t have to end up reviewing the whole Quarterback Club series last, likely as part of a literary quagmire explored the course of 7 months and promptly given up on after 2 entries, but also because I’d risk just playing games from companies I actually like instead of giving you the definitive “Track It or Sack It” ruling you’ve been waiting for about your favorite entry that had Brett Favre on the cover. You wouldn’t want that.

title

Oh, there’s also another reason – it seemed to be Nintendo’s policy that there be an average of at least one new racing game every single month of the Nintendo 64’s existence between 1997 and 2000. Mickey’s Speedway USA seemed like it would pretty much be just another not-terribly-notable one to space out among the rest of the genres, were it not for a pedigree you might not expect:

rare2

This may also be the prettiest their logo ever looked.
Someone should probably get to the bottom of this.

Rare, at the height of their power, was responsible for this. It’s also surprisingly quite good, for a game that we can almost certainly rest assured has never followed anyone’s statement of “Rare made all my favorite N64 games, like…” Imagine, if you will, Diddy Kong Racing.  This is Diddy Kong Racing without jets, hovercraft, a world map, collectibles, tiered items, boss fights… actually, just imagine Mario Kart 64’s single-player campaign mixed with Diddy Kong Racing’s graphical and gameplay stylings. Graphical up to the point of the game’s engine, in any case- there is neither a Kong nor a stupid smug-ass clock that can pretty much go to hell to be found here, as we’re firmly in Disney’s worlds and/or lands. What you may not expect is that the touch of Disney magic even extends to the menu. Check out how badass this is:

menu

It’s just like your room as a kid, maybe? I dunno, I sure thought this was neat

In most games, this would be the screen with the title overlaid and “Press Start” underneath. Instead, it’s this meta-sorta-kinda game room type thing that’s a bit more gentle in suggestion. The rest of the menus more or less explore this room, which is a lot cooler in practice than you’d ever reasonably expect. It’s also surprisingly navigable and efficient for something that isn’t the standard boring-yet-functional list-based menu. I’ve been floored by great-looking menus before, but short of maybe Tie Fighter and Brutal Legend, I can’t think of many that pull off a fairly unique (by menu standards) concept so well. Sometimes Disney magic comes in weird places. Also, please don’t ever make that last sentence the tag line of a Little Mermaid slash fanfic, thanks in advance dudes.

windowsduckEspecially don’t write Little Mermaid fanfic if you’re running whatever Duckbergian OS 
they’re simulating above. That stuff traces right back to home. 

The game itself breaks down into the standard Mario Kart formula of having 4 cups, each with 3 tiers of challenge. There’s actually a fifth cup as well, unlockable through collecting the game’s 4 collectibles. That’s not as in Rare “4 collectibles, collect 5-500 of each in every world!.” 4 items total. It’s Rare at their most restrained, even so much as to not hide those items in places no human being would ever even think of driving in order to make sure the game still takes 100+ hours to completely finish.

seattle

Look, it’s how Seattle is depicted! 
(I pretty much have to do this every time Seattle shows up in a game, apologies in advance)

Character selection is a bit slim- only 6, the standard Kart archetypes, and half of them have literally identical stats to the other half. There’s only a few unlockable, and majority are named Huey, Dewey, or Louie.  Huey may be the best of the bunch, but perhaps not coincidentally is the most inconvenient to get. This game is one of the fabled few that has Transfer Pak support, and getting the Game Boy Color version of this game for basically free plus shipping off of Amazon is actually what made me play this game in the first place. In case you’re curious, it’s a pretty nifty RC Pro AM sequel-that-never-was, straight from Rare themselves. And if you get a trophy in any of the Game Boy cups, put that thing in your Transfer Pak ASAP and unlock that duck kid who wore red. He pretty much will win you every race once you learn the courses, at least in my  play experience.

sewer2

This is how Chicago is depicted. It’s only a sewer. It’s the only city level where you’re
only in a sewer. I guess Rare took the city’s description as a criminal cesspool a bit literally.

Tracks are a bit more complex in structure than I recall Diddy Kong Racing’s- mostly in that it’s no longer mostly flat. DKR had some height here and there, but typically it required the airplane to see much of. Here, courses can have far higher peaks and far lower valleys, sometimes involving alternate routes through stages. On the whole, I can’t really say whether the tracks are better or worse than its kinda-sorta prequel, but they’re almost certainly more complex both in design and minutiae. They’re definitely worth checking out as a graphical showcase if nothing else, especially considering there’s no Expansion Pak required.

vegs2

This game was made when Vegas was still in that weird period of time where they were trying to
advertise it as a family friendly destination before realizing that was completely ridiculous.
So having Disney characters plow through in Karts was pretty plausible then, I guess.

One big change from DKR is the complete removal of Rare’s need to sew collectables into every possible fabric of the game experience, aka the 3-level weapon pickups that made getting things like homing missiles take a little more finesse than your average kart game. Instead of having to collect the same color of powerup multiple times just to get something decent, it’s back to the traditional random item box that’s been used in everything from Mario Kart to Snowboard Kids. There’s only a small handful of weapons and it’s nothing that’s particularly new or innovative, but they’re at least dolled up a bit into things like a remote control plane instead of your standard homing missile.

plane

I’m kind of of conflicted about the message this sends to children about how
cheap and inexpensive remote control airplanes are because holy heck I
could see some really mad dads resulting from emulating this behavior.

While the music is nothing to write home about, the amount of voice acting is actually pretty decent for a N64 cart. It’s not your standard Kart game where you’ll hear the same 5 or lines of dialogue from every character roughly twice per race. Instead of just having a small pack of general purpose lines, there’s usually a decent handful that are one specific character talking to another specific character.  It’s a small touch, but it adds a tons of character.

firework

JUDGEMENT CORNER

As a complete package, Mickey’s Speedway is a bit light on content if you’re expecting another Diddy Kong Racing single player timesink. If you’re expecting a Mario Kart single player timesink, you’re pretty much on the mark. There’s enough to see and do that it will definitely keep your interest if you’re looking for a solid new Kart game to experience. I guess I should have expected as much given Rare’s pedigree and also the fact that Tigger’s Hunny Hunt wasn’t a total turd. If you find this one relatively cheap, or are a dirty pirate and have an afternoon to kill… well, there’s far worse ways to kill time. Coathanger fights, for example.

Snap it or Trap It?

Snap it up if you’re looking for a solid set of 20-odd Kart tracks for a change of pace from your usual game.
Trap It and toss it if you hate Disney magic in any form. It’s got a lot of that kind of thing going on.

 

Army Men: Air Combat

Between the fact that this game can typically be had very cheap and the fact that it’s part of a franchise that had long since milked its premise of being a game starring living green plastic army men dry of all its charm, I can’t say my hopes were high for this one. I remember being pretty dang interested in the general idea of the Army Men franchise back when it was first a Real Time Strategy game for the PC, especially as I was in the throes of Toy Story mania at the time. However, I kinda never actually ended up playing it, or any of the other games in the series for that matter. So I guess this is also effectively my introduction to the franchise. Neat.

With a name like Air Combat, I wasn’t expecting this to be, like, a platformer. But it seemed likely to be one of two things: a flight sim, or a Strike-like 3rd-person blast ’em up. I was certainly praying for the latter.

heli2Badass helicopters, hella explosions, routine winch operation… check.

It looks like prayers come true sometime. It’s essentially your standard helicopter game- and in this case, it’s just like Nuclear Strike except even easier and simpler. It’s a little less smooth to me than that game, but the game piles so many special weapons on you that it’s pretty easy to simply rely on homing weapons to effortlessly make everything explode.

bugs2Or napalm, if you want to kill things while also reheating a lawn drumstick.

Perhaps that’s the game’s biggest issue, actually- it’s terribly short and terribly easy, to the point that I’d say that you shouldn’t expect it to take more than 5 hours to finish the game. There are a couple of things that can extend the game out a bit- there’s 2-player co-op for the entire main campaign, and there’s a handful of blast ’em up combat sorties for up to 4 players. Frankly, though, this game can be had for less that $3 as of writing, so you’ll probably still be getting your moneys worth even if you never touch the rest.

punchyIf you’re anything like me, though, this game might make
you subliminally crave fruit snacks. Fair warning.

The game is a real mixed bag in the audiovisual department- the neat little background/flavor items (like the one above) in the levels are usually pretty cute and thoughtful, and might even remind you a bit of Katamari Damacy when you’re still a pretty tiny ball. The rest can be a bit spotty, in particular when you partner with a giant, lazer-beam-eyed version of the desecrated teddy bear from the ads for Battletanx- just check out this walk animation:

bearyJust to be clear, this is what he always walks like.
I can’t imagine that this was terribly intentional.

The music in particular is atrocious, with I believe only 1 (possibly 2) music track(s)  that you’ll ever actually hear in the levels. It features a midi guitar sample that I can only describe as “fluppery,” it’s mostly sonically unremarkable aside from that, and its arrangement is just kludgy enough to get kind of grating. By the end, I was definitely playing on near silent for sanity purposes.  None of the aesthetic failings are so large that they distract too much from an otherwise solid game, but it’s nevertheless disappointing.

I gotta say, if the rest of the Army Men games are this enjoyable despite their flaws… well, I’m actually kind of interested to see how the rest of the series has shaken out. Although the game is way too short and easy if you have any amount of game playing skill, it’s still an instant recommend if you particularly enjoy games where you play a helicopter that rains death from above and occasionally saves hostages. It wouldn’t have been at its $40-70 launch price tag, but this game is definitely worth the paltry amount of dollars it commands today. It’s a fun ride if you like it, and it’s a cheap disappointment if you hate it.

Mold it or Scold it?

Mold it into your game shelf immediately if “Death From Above” is always tops in your book.
Scold it if you’re a hateful person who can’t stand anything that isn’t horrendously challenging.