There have been a lot of reasons thrown around for why localized NES games were so unerringly difficult compared to their Japanese, easier cousins. Was it the fear of the American rental market gutting the profits of Japanese developers? Was it an effort to “improve” the game through greater difficulty? Was it a general disdain for Grant Danasty? In many cases, it is nearly impossible to ascertain the thinking involved, as many Japanese developers were just too exhausted from blowing into cartridges to remember what they did ten seconds back, left alone two decades ago. However, in one case, we know exactly why Konami made a host of changes between the Japanese Mad City and the American The Adventures of Bayou Billy.
It’s because 1989 Konami was a company filled with hate.
Let’s take a more detailed look at the differences between The Adventures of Bayou Billy and Mad City.
Beat ‘em Up: Faster, Stronger, Harder
First and most unforgivable sin: everything is so much more difficult in the beat ‘em up portions of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Konami didn’t just choose to strengthen the enemies through increased HP, double damage dealing blows, or increasing their average speed; no, Konami decided to enhance everything. How is Billy supposed to survive such a thing!? All of his opponents have become super monsters, and the only advantage the player has gained is… sometimes the bad guys now drop knives. That’s it! Billy was granted no additional strength, and everyone else in the bayou is sucking down triple powered steroids!
And the unfortunate corollary to this change is that it makes the game so much worse. A beat ‘em up is, at its core, a careful balance between general fun and nonstop tedium. There’s a reason even the best of the best of beat ‘em ups often have minigames splattered about the experience, and that’s because old school beat ‘em ups are boring as heck. It’s the same doof getting punched over and over, and even the most dedicated player is going to notice nothing new has happened for the last half hour. Double the HP of your average enemy (or every enemy), and it’s not only a challenge to keep Billy alive, but it’s a challenge to stay awake. Nobody needs to wade around in a bog for ten minutes punching an alligator, and we really don’t need another boss that takes so many hits that it doubles the length of the level.
Yes, more powerful enemies make the game “harder”, but, more importantly, they make the game unnecessarily longer.
Shoot ‘em Up: Better be a Crack Shot
The first stage (that you will never beat) is a beat ‘em up, but shortly thereafter is a shoot ‘em up stage. And it’s kind of neat! You have the option of using your controller as a mouse-like reticle, or you can actually use the classic NES Zapper to blast Bayou Billy’s bullies to bits. Yes, this game was produced in that crazy ten minute period when developers remembered that the NES had other control options, and we’ll all accept any excuse to whip out the ol’ Zapper again.
Unfortunately, the American version of the game found a way to make the entire experience 50% less fun. You have a limited number of bullets in both Mad City and TAoBB, but in TAoBB, you have half the bullets as Mad City. This means you have half the means of defending yourself (in typical shooting gallery style, you must repel attackers and objects with your amazing aim), and half the chances to survive. Naturally, you instantly lose if you run out of bullets, so for anyone that isn’t already very good at aiming (like the guy writing this article), the zapper goes from a fun novelty to a virtual impossibility. Or maybe you could just sit really close to the screen. Whatever the solution, the severely limited firepower transforms what could be a very fun minigame into an extremely stressful shoot out.
Okay, I suppose shoot outs should be stressful… but still!
Quiz Mode: Gone Forever
Mad City contained “quiz mode”, a short, multi-question, multiple choice quiz that tested your knowledge of Mad City. Bayou Billy dropped the quiz entirely. One could claim the test was eliminated because it had no impact on anything and was barely more fun than a math final… but at least it was there! And it was one of the few things you could “beat” without having to master proper gator-wrastlin’! Come on, Konami, let us Americans have some goofy fun!
Drive Mode: You will not survive
And now we get to raw, seething loathing. Bayou Billy starts in the Louisiana Bayou, but, at about the halfway point, Billy hops in a jeep and hightails it over to the big city/easy. This simple act translates into an Out Run-esque “racing” segment. Billy has to catch up with Godfather Gordon, and avoid a few planes, trees, and automobiles along the way. It’s a pretty straightforward race to the finish/avoid every obstacle car challenge.
However, things are just a smidgen more difficult for the American audience. Right off the bat, Mad City’s car health bar has been dropped, so, bad news, every last collision is an instant death. Sorry! Making matters worse, Billy is driving a big, fat American car for his the Western release, so the slightly wider bumper is a lot more likely to nudge into a fatal crash. And, because we’re never going green, Billy has less fuel, so if you were considering taking it slow to avoid all those gratuitous deaths, I’ve got some bad news for you.
In short, if you claim you were able to conquer the Bayou Billy driving stages on the original hardware, I am calling you a liar.
Annabelle Gets a Makeover
In Mad City, Annabelle, Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend, wears a long dress with no shoes. In TAoBB, she is sporting daisy dukes, a tank top, and heels. This… doesn’t impact anything, but it’s weird, right? The only woman in this entire franchise gets a different outfit, and every other character gets slight palette swaps, if that. Okay, it’s the least of the localization sins, but it’s still peculiar.
More Work, Less Reward
After all that, assuming you can beat Godfather Gordon and his inexplicably buff twin nephews (or something) you will be treated to the ending of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Admittedly, this ending is actually pretty great (by NES standards) as it includes not only the resolution of the plot (Billy gets the girl!) but also a set of whacky credits that credit every random thug in the adventure like they’re actors playing a role (and that role is making your life miserable). Nobody is going to mistake this little interlude for the best ending on the NES (which is, obviously, the finale of Super Mario Bros. 2), but it at least acknowledges something happened.
But over in Japan, Billy can earn one of three different endings. Three! There’s the obvious “reunion” scene that appears in the American version, but there are also two joke endings: one that includes Billy being a jackass and refusing to touch Annabelle (because the player didn’t deign to shuffle Billy over to his “prize”), and one that is a fourth-wall breaking “comedy routine” that parodies the very concept of a happy ending. Neither ending is that exciting (and one is weirdly rapey), but, come on guys, at least give the greater prizes to the more difficult game!
More effort, less to show for it, and a game that goes from “innocuous” to “one of the most difficult games on the system”. Could there even be an explanation other than sheer hatred for Western gamers?
Here’s a game set in America, kids, now choke on it.
FGC #364 The Adventures of Bayou Billy
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and that’s that. No rerelease for the lucrative Bayou Billy license.
- Number of players: It’s mostly a beat ‘em up without a second player, and that’s never good.
- Favorite Weapon: At least one thing Bayou Billy has going for it is that Billy can acquire a few different weapons from his opponents, like a rock or a gun. I think one is more effective than the other. Regardless, the whip is the best of the bunch, because it’s strong, has range, and doesn’t run out of bullets in six seconds. Bless you, 8-bit whips.
- How hard is it? In the official Captain N canon, Bayou Billy is the only game that Kevin Keene has never beaten. He’s Captain N! He can beat all the games! What is going on!?!
- Goggle Bob Fact: I assumed “Bayou Billy” was some popular 80’s property (likely a movie) until… about a week ago. Crocodile Dundee was a real thing, right?
- Did you know? There was a tie-in Bayou Billy comic book series, and, while it only ran for five issues, it did feature art by a young Amanda Conner, who would go on to be the best freaking combination artist/writer in the comics industry. Have you read her Power Girl series? Go do that now. It has a gorilla in it, you’ll like it.
- Would I play again: I just described the game as pure hatred, do you think I’m going to jump back into that swamp again?
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bravely Second: End Layer! Let’s team up with a woman from the moon to fight for our beloved dimension! Please look forward to it!