Saturday, 25 May 2013

Bubba 'n' Stix (Amiga)

Today, because YOU demanded it, I'm taking a look at mid 90s puzzle platformer Bubba 'n' Stix by British developer Core Design. This was released on the Amiga, Genesis/Mega Drive and CD32, but I'll be mostly playing the Amiga version because I'm guessing it came first. I'll let you know if the Sega version's any different.

Amiga CD32
Somewhere in a distant part of the galaxy, a giant red dog orbits a lonely moon. Wait, that's no space poodle, that's space station! Or maybe a starship, I'm not sure how you'd even tell without checking the ass-end of it for an exhaust port.

Amiga CD32
On board the mighty canine shaped vessel, this guy is getting yelled at by his boss for forgetting to capture a human. Yelled at with actual words, I should mention, recorded by a real life human! It's remarkable what they're able to do with CDs these days.

Amiga CD32
So the put-upon interstellar hunter (who's called Waldo by the way) immediately gets his ass over to Earth in his own ship and scoops up the first redneck he finds: a delivery guy called Bubba, driving his pimped up three wheeled van.

Amiga CD32
Bubba finds himself trapped inside the alien ship, surrounded by creatures kidnapped from other worlds, including a floating stick with hair like a Lemming.

Unfortunately for Waldo, Bubba's an inquisitive kind of guy with a strong desire to not spend the rest of his life in an alien zoo. So when he notices a giant lever in the ship's cargo hold he can't resist giving it a pull, dumping the entire lot of them on an alien planet.

Amiga CD32
Now Waldo is really pissed off and is bringing out his big gun to recapture his escaped prize. The one with missiles glued to the side and an eyeball sticking out of the scope. Wait, he's got an eyeball sticking out of his scope? That's so gross.

Sadly you only get this animated intro if you're playing the CD32 version. The standard Amiga and Sega versions seem to be entirely intro-less, which is a shame really as there's nothing happening here the machines couldn't do.

Right, over to the standard Amiga floppy disk version then for some gameplay. This is the map screen showing the strange barren alien world I'm currently stranded on. Who knows what weird landscapes, incredible cities and bizarre extraterrestrial life I could find down here on this mysterious unexplored planet. Perhaps wonders beyond human imagination, unlike anything I've ever encountered before.

Nope, it's a platformer so of course we're starting on a bloody forest level. All game designers must subconsciously yearn to leap from branch to branch, collecting floating treasure and harassing squirrels. Still, it's a pretty nice looking forest. I love the leaves drifting past in the breeze.

I don't much like this tree behind me though, he keeps following me around, then closes his eyes and acts all innocent when I turn around.

Bubba's still hanging around with the stick alien he found in the cargo hole (called Stix), and I found I could insert him into this hole to form a platform! Annoyingly though he fell right back out again when I tried jumping on him, so I'm going to need a different plan here.

There you go! If I throw Stix away he flies right back to me by the shortest route, even if he has to destroy a sinister tree to do so. Now I'm free to walk left if I feel like it instead. A bit unusual perhaps, but hey I'll give it a shot.

Wow, there was a big four-eyed clown grin riding a unicycle over on the left. Uh, you'll have to take my word on that. It's okay though, I sorted him out and that seems to have made these extra platforms appear, covered in little blob aliens. Strange pick ups, but I'll grab what I can get.

Here's another use for my sticky little friend: clobbering rogue bushes. I'm sure there's a delay on this thing though. I always have to hit the button a half second early or else I end up wandering right into the malevolent shrubbery and losing one of my precious hit points.

Amiga CD32
Meanwhile on the CD32, despite the considerably more powerful hardware, things are looking pretty much identical, though the music's a bit different. Annoyingly the standard Amiga disk version only supports music or sound effects, not both, which isn't the kind of thing I'd expect to find in a 1994 game really.

Oh I ran into my old buddy Waldo by the way. He seems fine, though that won't last long the way he's pushing that boulder onto a bouncy mushroom. The poor guy obviously hasn't seen many Road Runner cartoons.

Genesis/Mega Drive
Here's the Sega version by comparison. The actual game seems more or less identical so far, beyond optionally having twice as many lives, but the graphics are much better. They haven't just added a proper background and some plants moving across the foreground, they've put shadows in under the bushes and cliffs as well. Also entirely different music again, for whatever reason.

Here, ponder the differences yourself with these handy youtube links if you like:
Amiga: level 1 music.
Genesis/Mega Drive: level 1 music.

These guys are sitting in front of a cliff too tall for me to climb up and they stop talking and stare at me if I walk up to them. Of course the solution here is to throw my stick at the innocent aliens from a distance, knowing that the green one will probably randomly beat the other guy over the head, allowing me to use the blue guy's swollen wound as a stepping stone. All perfectly logical.

Man look at that green guy's face afterwards. Even he doesn't understand what just happened.

Anyway I only managed to get a little further before Waldo got me with a teleporter gun sending me away to...

Bubba N Stix bonus level yellow lightbulb nose head
What... the... fuck?

Well it's definitely not a forest level, I'll give them that. Also look, there's the four-eyed giant clown grin riding a unicycle! See, I didn't just imagine him.

Genesis/Mega Drive
Ah, lightbulb nose led to a timed bonus level, possibly earned because I went left and caught the clown cycle earlier.

Here's a feature apparently unique to the Genesis version of the game: product placement! They've added low-res packs of Bubblicious bubble gum for me to collect inside the bonus level. Though they end up looking more like pink streaks to me as I race past them to get through to the exit in time, so money well spent there.

Oh by the way, I should mention that I edited this screenshot a little to fake the transparency effect on the waves. It flickers between sprites in game so it's only really visible when the game's in motion.

Okay I've reached level 2 properly this time. I saw this pipe over on the left, so I walked up and gave it smack. It turns out that it was the right thing to do as Bubba smacked the lid right off it. Then he decided to started stirring the crimson goop inside with Stix. Obviously Bubba's got some sort of scheme in mind here he's not telling me about. Either that or he's just got this irrational need to stir things, I dunno.

Continuing left I reached a dead end covered in levers. Smacking the one on the floor released a red creature so, uh, I guess I'm making progress.

Hey, the monster jumped into the open pipe to get a faceful of the freshly stirred goop within, turning him into a convenient step to reach the platform above. Bubba, you're a genius!

But now that I'm up here the platform isn't moving across the rail. What am I missing? Oh right, the second lever over at the dead end! Sure would be nice if they gave any indication at all what these things are connected to.

I rode the platform across to the right and eventually came across this teleporter pad. If I'm reading that diagram correctly it should take me up to the next floor up, which is pretty exciting.

Though what arrived on that pad didn't live long... fortunately.

Actually I lost my final hit point by wandering too close to a monster. It's cool though, I've got a continue. In fact I'm going to assume I have infinite continues, because today I'm in the mood to be a hopeless optimist who is wrong about everything.

Man that is a painful looking teleport effect. Poor Bubba's being contorted into shapes the human body was never designed for.

But look over yonder at that wall display. I'm seeing five floors, five teleporters, and four keys. Now I know exactly where I need to be. This place seems far more sprawling and non-linear than level 1 was, for better or worse.


SOON, ON THE FAR SIDE OF FLOOR 2


What's up little buddy? You want a glass of delicious milk? Would a stick be a suitable alternative perhaps? No?

Well... fuck. Okay, I suppose I'll have to add 'get milk' to my list of things to do. Also I'll have to start a list of things to do.

Holy shit these little blobs scooting around on rollerskates are annoying. Wherever I go they're always popping out of the walls and going straight for my shins. Well okay to be fair they travel in a straight line from their hole and only ever change direction at walls, and they're in fact entirely predictable, but so far that hasn't stopped me from losing my bloody hit points every time I come across one.

Just let me go to the teleporter in peace you assholes, I'm only looking for milk!


TWO LIVES LATER, ON FLOOR 4.


Here we go, a bottle of milk! Now I'm making real progress. Now where was that milk addicted monster?

Crap.

Okay that's it, I'm drawing up a map. This is ridiculous, I can't even memorise the layout and content of five floors, I'm such a... casual gamer.

Shit, I got taken out by a surprise skate attack while I was busy setting up Stix as a step for the milk to jump up using.

Great now those two balls I'd collected earlier on the right are going to be reset and I'm going to have to go wandering around half the whole bloody level to recover them again.

Bubba 'n' Stix Game Over screen
What? No... NO! But, I was just starting to figure it out...

I guess I only got the one continue after all and now it's gone forever. Fortunately I was given a password so I can restart at the beginning of level 2 all I want! I just have to wait for the title screen to load, put the code in, then wait for the level to load again.

Actually you know what, I'm just going to play through level 1 again instead and this time not lose all my lives doing it.


MUCH LATER, BACK ON LEVEL 2.


Alright, I've found a small ball that rolls, a beach ball that bounces, and a fuzzball that floats. Now I just have to get them all into this teleporter so I can go experiment. Beach ball should be easy enough, I can knock it into the device while flicking the teleporter lever with the same graceful move, but the other two I have to time just right as the little bastards like to keep darting around.

Then, when it turns out that they're no use on the floor I arrive at, I'll have to pack them all up into the teleporter again and try somewhere else.


BACK ON FLOOR 2.


Aha, the little ball roll over the switch, disabling the electricity. That was logical enough, something I could actually figure out myself with the information I had. If the rest of the puzzles are like this I'll be able to get somewhere.

Or maybe I'm not. I only made it like three meters past the electrified floor before I hit another obstruction. What the hell beats plant creatures, huh? I know, I'll drag the fuzzball here!


LATER ON FLOOR 3.


Well the floating fuzzball didn't do shit to the plant so I decided to leave that puzzle until later. And then I was suddenly hit by an epiphany! Fuzzball falls to the ground when I hit him, so maybe I can use him as a stepping stone. Like, over electrified floors for instance.

My plan was working perfectly right up to point where fuzzball got stuck up on that ledge and refused to come back down, trapping me in the corner. My only option was sacrifice Bubba to his shocking demise. But that was my last hit point, so now I'm going to be sent back to the map room and all the items will be reset back to their holes in the wall again.

So now I'm going to go find all those fucking balls again and then herd them into those fucking teleporters again, and then drag that fuzzball all the way back up here... again. Right after I've chopped my desk in half with my forehead.


TWO LIVES LATER, ON THE FAR RIGHT END OF FLOOR 4.


YES! With one single hit point left I managed to hit the final switch and make it over to the exit leading right from the map room. And then I found these two again. Are they going to explode when I walk up to them and rob me of my final life? Am I supposed to throw Stix at them?

Wow, I guess they actually do nothing. The level is completed and I've earned another password!

And then after a bit of loading I reach level 3 and get immediately knocked into lava by a rock bouncing over from off screen. GAME OVER!

But the password stores my health, lives and continues, so whenever I load this level up I get just a single hit point to finish the entire game with. Haha, not going to happen.

Well I beat that bloody teleporter level and that's enough of a success for me. I'm finished with the game, done with it, and now I never have to see that place again. I'll never have to dodge blobs on roller skates, never have to push beach balls into teleporters...

Oh fuck I forgot about the Genesis version. Fine then, level 2, take 2. Let's get this over with.

Genesis/Mega Drive
Hang on, this level's nearly entirely different on the Genesis. The teleporters are still here, but the floors are all massively simplified, and all the items are on the same floor as the obstacle they're needed for. Now I'm certain that the Sega game must have been the second version released, because this is far less of a pain to play through.

Still, that's quite enough of that.


So, Bubba 'n' Stix then, what did I really think of it? It's a pain in the ass. Though it does look pretty good, I love the animation, and the music's decent enough no matter what version you're playing. Plus Bubba's basic movement seems solid enough. I mean maybe he's got a bit of a delay on his attacks and perhaps his jumps are a little floaty, but overall I thought he got around just fine. Well, unless you're trying to get him to start running on the Amiga floppy disk version, which only can only ever end in tears due to the lack of a separate run button. That version even supports two button controllers, but assigns both buttons to using Stix, so you still need to press up to jump, what the fuck? So that's another big advantage the Genesis/Mega Drive version has.

When it comes down to the gameplay though, I think they way they've found a dozen different uses for Stix is pretty clever, but puzzles, platforming, and limited lives together are a recipe for frustration. For me anyway. Especially when those puzzles often come down to 'try everything with everything until something happens' or 'go figure out what that switch you just flicked actually did', and the pieces are reset every time you lose a life. The Sega version seems to have more of the right idea though, streamlining level 2's puzzles to avoid the tedious backtracking. Plus I didn't need to draw up a map to beat level two on the Genesis, which again I realise might actually count as a negative to some players, but I appreciated it.

You know, at first I thought this one had a shot at winning me over, but it soon beat that optimism out of me. Even infinite continues couldn't convince me to give that volcano level another try.

If you have anything you'd like to say in response to my long essay on the subject of Bubba 'n' Stix, then your needs in this case have been catered for, as there is a convenient box located below for you to fill up with your words. Just make them awesome ones please, if possible.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the memories .. I loved working on this game :)

    ReplyDelete

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