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.
It 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.
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.
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.
Game 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.
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.
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.
YOUNG 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, 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.