#64 (#33 NEW!): B. O. B.

To the extent that this series is a review series, most of my writing to this point has been positive. This makes sense–if I’m playing a game to the end, I’m probably enjoying it. That said, there is the occasional game where I shift into still-playing-it-because-I’m-determined-to-beat-it-not-because-it’s-fun mode.

Released in 1993 by Gray Matter and Electronic Arts, B. O. B. has a rock-solid pedigree behind it–Gray Matter had previously released such masterpieces as Dirty Harry and Wayne’s World. The game starts with B. O. B. (What this stands for is never revealed) getting lectured by his robo-dad. B. O. B. is about to head out on a date, and his dad tells him to be home by 11, not to wreck the car, etc. On the way to his date, B. O. B. naturally wrecks the car, winding up stranded on an alien planet. B. O. B. has to traverse the planet, find a car to get off said planet, and meet with his robo-date.

To do this, B. O. B. will have to fight his way through nearly 50 levels of run-and-gun platforming action. B. O. B.’s basic weapon is a laser rifle, which has limited ammo. Along the way, you can collect powerups such as a spreadshot, a flamethrower, and a lightning gun. You can also collect gadgets, such as trampolines, helicopters, and a helmet that turns you temporarily invincible.

Around the time this game was released, there was a glut of “mascot” games. After 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog proved that another company’s product could go toe-to-toe with Mario, basically every game developer tried their hand at creating an original character and sticking them in a platformer, hoping to replicate Sonic’s success. B. O. B. fits this mold perfectly. He’s got a bit of an attitude that manifests itself in the intro cutscene and when you beat a level. Also, Gray Matter went through the trouble of giving him lots of unique animations, showing a bold, visionary disregard for how those animations would affect the gameplay. As one example, if B. O. B. falls from too far a height, he’ll temporarily be paralyzed as he crashes into the ground and takes a moment to collect himself. There are multiple instances in the game where you’ll blindly fall onto a damage tile, take continual damage, and go from full health to dead with no way to avoid it except to know what’s coming. B. O. B. also has a bit of momentum to him, as, much like Ecco the Dolphin, he takes a bit of time to turn around. You’ll love this mechanic as you get damaged multiple times and lose most of your health due to his not moving, combined with very short invincibility times.

These issues combine with other examples of bold, daring game design to create an experience that’s for experts only. Bosses do a lot of damage, and take very little. You carry your powerups over between levels…but you lose them all when you die. And while a conventional game might, in the interest of fairness, give you all the powerups you need to defeat a boss, B. O. B. is bolder than that, more visionary. You have lives, but realistically, you had better beat that boss on the life you get there, because the powerups you get in the battle will assuredly not be enough to carry you to victory. And the forward-thinking design choices don’t stop there. There are multiple levels that have a full-life powerup immediately before the end of a stage–when clearing a stage refills your life anyway.

B. O. B. is also a marathon of a game. Every third level or so, you’ll get a password. By the way, the levels have no checkpoints, and Game Overing puts you back to the last password you acquired. One positive of this is that it lengthens the experience. I’d estimate the game took me between 15 and 20 hours to make it all the way through, never having seen it before. If nothing else, should you decide that you, like Gray Matter, have no use for things like “fair level design”, you’ll get your money’s worth out of B. O. B.

With a publisher that has such a great reputation as Electronic Arts, and a resume from Gray Matter that includes The Incredible Crash Dummies and The Ren & Stimpy Show: Veediots!, B. O. B. brings all the quality you would expect from a mascot game released in the early 1990s. Being such a product of its time, the game was never re-released, which is probably for the best–it’s fitting that I finally finished the game during one of my Suffering Saturday streams. If, despite this non-recommendation, you want to try it for yourself, just emulate it. Don’t suffer like I did.

-EE

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