Genre: Platform Developer: Core Design Publisher: Core Design Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
Bubba ‘n Stix revolves around a boy and his stick. This is no ordinary stick, mind you. Really, it’s no stick at all: it’s Stix. Stix, you see, is a sentient being whom our Earthling zookeeper friend Bubba happened upon whilst escaping the alien spacecraft that abducted him for the purpose of display in – drumroll please – a zoo! Sarcastic juxtaposition narrowly avoided, our new friends set off on a treacherous adventure in pursuit of the alien kidnapper to teach him the lesson of a lifetime. Hey, works for me. In keeping with the unspoken code of platformer classics, the story of Bubba ‘n Stix is purely incidental and merely provides the context in which our game unfolds. And what a game it is.
Now that I think about it, “platformer” doesn’t really capture what Bubba ‘n Stix is all about. According to the back of the game’s box (the original Amiga box, anyway) “Bubba ‘n Stix is a multi-directional scrolling puzzle.” Hmm? Okay. What I think the box means to say is that Bubba ‘n Stix is at its core a platformer for brainiacs. This is in no way a slight aimed at fans of traditional run-and-jumps, nor is it a stroke of the ego to you crafty puzzle gamers. It’s a call to arms for the lot of you! Get your shoes on.
So here’s the rundown. You are Bubba: a gum-chewing, overalls-wearing goof. A simple guy. You dash, jump, and crawl your way though the formidable environs ahead doing your utmost to obey the rules of safety. Which is critical since Bubba by his lonesome cannot inflict damage of any kind. No sir, no butt-bopping here. But fear not, for he holds in his hand the mighty Stix! With the simple press of a button, Stix can be flailed about and even sent sailing to smack whatever stands between you and your destiny. Don’t worry, he’ll come back. But that’s not all! Booting baddies is good fun to be sure, but if you want to catch up with Waldo (that alien fiend from earlier) your going to have to use your noggin to solve the myriad of puzzles that besets your quest. Stuck? Not for long. An intelligent instrument of intellect (?), Stix is the key to whatever lock imprisons you. See, Stix, like Da Vinci before him, knows not the impossible, only what must be done. For fear of divulging any of the surprises in store, I’ll simply say that Stix in his context-sensitive brilliance (nearly a decade before Conker, no less) is there for you in your hour of need. Yes, even on the infuriating lava level.
Which, by the way, looks fantastic. Immediately obvious is the great care and attention that Core has poured into the creation of the game’s five vibrant levels. Cartoonish and colorful, the graphics of Bubba ‘n Stix are quite lovely. Throughout, subtle animations abound and go far to charm all but the most jaded among us. Leaves waver in the breeze. Trees glare as you pass. Everything from the smallest alien life form to the world itself absolutely teems with life. It’s not just window dressing either; the world is as much a character as Bubba himself. This character, as such, comes to life though some of the most well conceived level designs you’re likely to find. Seemingly pedestrian at first glance, the brilliant design reveals itself though the dynamism of its interplay with Stix. From the smallest hole to the biggest rock, everything serves a purpose. And Stix knows it. Loaded with detail and chock-full of set pieces, the world is rife with humor and cunning. In truth, it’s the star of the show.
Speaking of truth, it’s now time for a bit of brutal honesty. This may fall upon less than willing ears but, for the sake of what follows, it must be said: video game music just doesn’t do it for me. There, I said it. Now before anyone wags the finger of blasphemy or demands that I hand over my hardcore gamer license, allow me to clarify my slant. Music is a wonderful thing, this much we know. It makes everything better, which is why I generally skip the BGM and head straight for the solid stuff. Without getting too carried away with the ins and outs of my relationship with music and video games, I will say that I fondly recall victory’s rejection on the 49th, that is, the second to last level of Micro Machines any time I hear anything by REM. Just as I hear the entire grunge era when I pop in NHL ’94. That’s how it goes. I think back to what it was like to be in junior high; what it was like to just hang out with my friends and, well, play video games and listen to music. Good times. And the ball just keeps rolling. My point is that video games, particularly those of the 16-bit variety, embody much more than what they, in and of themselves, are. More than simply a part of my life, video games, alongside other artifacts, have in many ways shaped how I define my own timeline.
Bubba ‘n Stix has one of the greatest soundtracks ever. The excellent music perfectly frames the tone of the entire affair. From intro screen to closing credits, the music is an atmospheric delight. Even the continue screen packs a smooth little ditty. What’s more, these wonderfully crafted compositions spring from the cart and though our black wonder with a zest and clarity that I wish I could say well represents our machine’s library as a whole. The spot effects, though decidedly sparse, work well to underscore the action and adequately play their part. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay the composers, Mr. Iveson and Mr. McCree, I believe, is that I’ve been known to flip the switch just to dig on the tunes. No joke.
So there it is. Made with the finest ingredients and realized with loving craftsmanship, Bubba ‘n Stix is a wonderful game that truly is more than the sum of its parts. Simply, essential.