Genre: Action Developer: Grey Matter Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1 Released: 1993
It’s not too often that I would refer to a game as “retarded” (which, literally defined, means “hindered,” limited,” or “held back”), but I’m going to do it here. EA’s 1993 release B.O.B. certainly had potential, but much of the fun the game might have possessed was crippled by tedious, repetitive levels, finicky controls and a general lack of imagination or innovation. In other words, B.O.B. is retarded in every sense of the word, and after extended play, you will probably start feeling a bit retarded, as well.
With his simplistic, almost juvenile design, B.O.B. looks a bit like something I drew in my math book during algebra. A cross between C-3PO and a cockroach, he’s a cartoonish, bug-eyed robot with a gun in lieu of a right hand (think Metroid’s Samus Aran, only not as cool). B.O.B.’s facial features are limited – his head is pretty much a pair of eyeballs sprouting out two antennae – but the cocked eyebrows glaring at you from the game’s cover invoke all the personality any video game character seemed to need back in the early ’90s: confidence, fearlessness, and most of all, attitude.
“Oh yeah,” those eyebrows say. “I’ve got a great big gun and I simply drip with coolness. You think I’m cool.”
Big gun and eyebrows aside, however, the reality is that both B.O.B. and his game are goofy, clumsy, and terribly uncool. What on the outside would appear to be gameplay similar to Contra or Gunstar Heroes amounts to little more than basic platforming with a gun. In what becomes a trend for the rest of the game, B.O.B. meets his quota of platforming video game skills and strives for little more. The C button jumps, the B button shoots, and the A button is reserved for secondary items like shields, spring pads, and helicopter attachments (this mechanic is the most engaging part of the game, as uses for these items are rather cleverly implemented in later levels). B.O.B. can duck to squeeze through narrow passages and grab onto overhead pipes to shimmy over hazards like lava or pools of dangerous… stuff. You can also collect additional weapons, like a spreadshot or flamethrower, which are added to your arsenal rather than simply replacing your existing weapon. Your various weapons and secondary items can be selected at any time by pressing the start button.
The game takes place on several different asteroids and on each asteroid there are two or three different kinds of levels. The problem is that there are a dozen or so levels per asteroid, which means the exact same scenery is repeat over and over again. One level will take place in a domed planetary base and the next will send you spelunking through green, slimy caves or a lava-filled volcano. Then it’s right back to the base level. Lather, rinse, and repeat about half a dozen times for each asteroid and you might have an idea of the tediousness of your task, here. At the beginning of each level, B.O.B. will offer such poignant observations as “get a load of this place” or “this place looks totally weird!” By the third time you’ve completed the alternating pattern of level types, you can’t help but wonder how an environment that looks the same as it did four levels ago can continue to be “weird.”
What is weird is that even though B.O.B. borrows traits from two different action subcategories, he does neither especially well. Despite the fact that he carries a gun, B.O.B. eschews the multi-directional shooting of more action-packed games for a far more simplistic approach: he can only shoot left, right, or up (although you cannot jump and shoot straight up, for some infuriating reason). Adding insult to injury, control sensitivity varies to the point of frustration. For example, it is nearly impossible to change direction on the fly, as B.O.B. must actually come to a complete stop before being able to face in the opposite direction, resulting in a number of unfair hits from your enemies before you get in position to take them out. When jumping, however, you can whip wildly around in any direction you please, and this unexpected sensitivity makes for incredibly imprecise jumping (a mechanic necessary in the later levels). Falling from too great a height won’t directly lead to death, but B.O.B. will be left stunned for several seconds: usually just long enough for an enemy to start taking cheap, unavoidable shots or – better yet – having all his energy sapped by the pool of lava or acid he has just fallen into.
Visually, B.O.B.’s graphics are on par with the rest of the game: they do exactly what they are supposed to and no more. B.O.B. himself is rather charming in his design and animation, but the rest of the in-game graphics aren’t going to wow anyone who has played any other Genesis title. Single-plane, static backgrounds do nothing to add atmosphere or depth to the levels, and the fact that the game designers created only a handful of different levels and set them on seemingly endless rotation is just unforgivable. The game’s music is even more repetitive, but unremarkable enough that you will be neither impressed or annoyed by it – it just fills the void.
B.O.B. marks yet another game of squandered potential; one held back (or “retarded,” if you will) by a development team too eager to get yet another platformer out on the market before lunch break. Any semblance of originality was used up in designing the titular character and his rather unique arsenal of weapons and items, and everything else was slapped in place to build a game around him. In light of far more capable action games on the Genesis like Gunstar Heroes, Earthworm Jim, or Sonic The Hedgehog, there’s no better place for this pitiful, derivative game than the bargain bin from which I plucked it. It’s rather depressing to think of the number of ignorant gamers who were fooled into paying full price for this game upon its original release.