During the 16-bit era, there seemed to be a lot of mascot 2-D platformers. Of the furry variety, we had the likes of Aero the Acro-Bat, Bubsy, and Frantic Flea. Animated shows/movies led to Aladdin, Family Dog, and Itchy and Scratchy. “Based on a real media property” gave us Home Improvement, Wayne’s World, and Dino City. And through it all, we had the “mainstays” like Mario, Arthur, and Sonic (arguably the rodent that started it all). In short, if there was a thing in the mid-90s that existed for longer than three seconds, it wound up with a 16-bit platformer. We nearly had a game starring the president’s cat!
But through it all, one has to ask the obvious question: Why?
The 90’s was an interesting time for gaming. The Atari crashed the entire industry in the early 80’s, but Nintendo brought it all back inside of a few years. Gaming had gone from dead to back in business in less time than a presidential term, and, what’s more, it really did rebuild itself with “mascots” as the cornerstone. Videogames are fun an’ all, but when you need sustenance, Mario and Zelda cereal is where it’s at. GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and even Transformers all had videogame tie-ins of varying quality, and, in time, that became absolutely standard for any “kiddy” franchise. Videogames had become another media pillar, so now any franchise worth its salt had to have a tie-in game. Otherwise, what’s the point? There’s money on the table!
So, somehow, 2-D platformer became the style of the time. It worked for some properties (Sega Genesis Jurassic Park immediately comes to mind), and not so much for others (Did I already mention Home Improvement? That happened). But whether the property could be adapted to the platformer formula was immaterial (you could always toss a dinosaur or giant insect boss in there and claim a mad scientist was involved), what was important was your star was out there, and the lucrative “videogame demographic” was eating up your media with a spoon. Bubsy in Close Encounters of the Furried Kind is just one stop in the Bubsy empire!
The obvious answer to the “why” here is the same reason we saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The Cereal. It’s all about the merchandising, and NBC, Disney, or whatever eldritch horror was responsible for Aero the Acro-Bat didn’t care about the game so much as the raw advertising potential. This inevitably led to a lot of terrible platformers, because if Activision could get away with selling a blank SNES cartridge labeled “Eat at Joe’s”, they’d do it. Actually, that may have been preferable to Arcade’s Revenge…
But… why bother?
What was it about the platformer that was so enticing back in the 16-bit days? Why not just make a (sloppy) fighting game, or a (messy) RPG? Sure, these genres have a reputation for being more complex than “run, jump, boss”, but that’s only because everyone remembers those genres’ successes, and not the Fighter’s Histories or Beyond the Beyonds. Wouldn’t practically any style of game be better suited to character-driven narratives than the platformer? You don’t have to create an endless array of anonymous mooks for a fighting game (there aren’t really foot soldiers in The Jungle Book), and you could actually insert some witty dialogue in RPGs (ideal for those oddly pervasive sitcom-based games). But, no, let’s call it a virtual reality mishap or whatever and get Bart Simpson as a dinosaur. There’s an excuse to hop over an ice level!
So here’s B.O.B. B.O.B. is an original creation of someone at Gray Matter Inc. or Foley Hi-Tech systems. B.O.B. is just a little yellow robot dude that is trying to meet his robo-girlfriend for a date. B.O.B. appears to be vaguely insectoid, and has a gun for a hand. B.O.B. has a tendency to make “amusing” quips at the start of each level, and end every stage with a “whacky” dance. B.O.B. is basically every mascot character in microcosm, albeit more metallic than furry.
The World of B.O.B. is… annoying. This game comes from the same studio that produced the previously mentioned Wayne’s World SNES game, and it shows. Basically, every stage is a different area that did its absolute best to cram as much of a maze into a roughly squareish collection of pixels as possible. Like Harley’s Humongous Adventure, expect aggravating stages that place the exit just beyond a wall that must be circumvented by traipsing all over the whole stage again just to find one stupid ladder. Some stages are more straightforward, “platform challenging” affairs, but even then, the nondescript hallways and shafts make it impossible to gauge your own progress. There’s a (strangely strict) timer for every stage, and when it ticks down to zero, good luck determining if you were inches from the goal or practically at the starting line. Oh, and there are “vehicle” segments, ostensibly designed to break up the monotony of every stage being samey to the point of parody, but they just seem to exist to encourage the player to memorize the poorly constructed maps/tracks, so, basically, they’re a poor man’s speeder bike.
In short, one could conceivably have fun with B.O.B., but the odds are low. I guess some of the guns and gadgets are interesting, but even then, you’ve got limited ammo and no “safe” areas to test the more esoteric devices. You just acquired one (1) light bulb… that’s… probably useful? Want to waste it to find out? Or wait until you’re fighting a boss, and find out it does practically nothing? Your choice!
I’m sorry, that paragraph got off track. What I mean to say is that B.O.B. sucks. It is a bad game.
So… what was the point of this, yet another 16-bit platformer? Simple, if you look at the box, you’ll note the custom B.O.B. logo. Yep, this nothing of a platformer was intended to launch the entire B.O.B. product line, so you and your whole family could soon be wearing B.O.B. hats, shoes, and shirts. Look at that whacky robot go! B.O.B. has captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation of B.O.B.-heads. Keep making the world a better place, B.O.B.!
Except… none of that happened, because B.O.B. sucked.
Which circles back again to “why?” Why did anyone, least of all people who created and maybe actually played B.O.B., think B.O.B. was going to be a success? The actual “videogame” here isn’t any fun at all. It’s passable, but it’s certainly not something that could compete with Mario, Sonic, or Mega Man. The cartoony characters are mixed with vaguely Alien-esque graphics and environments, so this wasn’t exactly pre-packaged for Saturday Morning. About the only thing that really makes a positive impact in this game is the “attitude”. B.O.B. appears to be a teenager robot with a disciplinarian father and an overbearing girlfriend, and he’s unerringly sarcastic in response to everything in the galaxy. And his animations are kind of amusing. That’s all B.O.B.’s got.
So Electronic Arts thought they could build a Sonic-esque empire on… a sassy robot.
Bite my shiny metal ass, 16-bit platformers. Be glad that the worthless cash-in games of today have migrated to the domain of cell phones. At least CSI: Match Three never wasted a bi-weekly video rental.
FGC #171 B.O.B.
- System: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and, oddly enough, it got a rerelease on the PSP. So very doomed.
- Number of players: One player. Kind of surprised they didn’t give B.O.B. a goofy sidekick. Though I suppose they have to save something for the sequel.
- Favorite Weapon: I’d like the flamethrower if it didn’t run out of ammo instantly. Oh, hey, this is yet another lousy game that forces you to use a weak melee attack when your guns run empty. That’s never fun, videogame designers!
- So you’re not going to do anything special because you both have the same name? No. I am personally insulted that I’ve got B.O.B. and “the fat guy” from Tekken. There are better Bobs!
- An end: So the finale of B.O.B. sees our titular hero finally meet his date… and she turns out to be a (literally) big mouthed shrew of a lady bot. So B.O.B. immediately ditches her for a quiet girl that appears to be a surfer girl (bot). Score another one for the patriarchy!
- Did you know? Gray Matter was the name of a videogame company long before Breaking Bad. All the same, it still gives me a vibe that this game was maybe created thanks to meth money. At least you can’t say good chemistry was involved in this nonsense!
- Would I play again: There is nothing here that encourages the player to replay (or even continue). I might hit some random website to view the level maps and see if there was some method to the madness, but it’s not happening anytime soon.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pinball Quest for the NES! Never before has the phrase “Pinball Wizard” been so apt! Please look forward to it!