SNES A Day 197: B.O.B.

Approximate Release Month: June 1993
Genre: Action
Developer: Gray Matter
Publisher: Electronic Arts

B.O.B. has some serious flaws but manages to be interesting enough to check out despite them.

You play as the titular B.O.B., a rowdy robo-youth who borrows the family spacecar so he can go on a date. He promptly crashes it, and now he must make it to his date in time. It’s a fun premise, and the opening cutscene shows off B.O.B.’s great design. He has big, emotive eyes that couple well with his exaggerated animations, giving him a personality that pops off the screen. B.O.B. is more successful in this regard than almost every trying-too-hard mascot game from this immediate post-Sonic the Hedgehog era. Sorry, Bubsy.

It has style, but B.O.B. isn’t anything too special in terms of gameplay. It’s actually quite similar to the recently discussed Super Turrican. It’s a run-and-gun action game set in small mazey levels. There is the standard assortment of action game weapons, like the spread gun, homing missile, and flamethrower. Every weapon – even the basic pea-shooter – has limited ammo, so the game encourages you to swap weapons all the time. B.O.B. also has a melee attack which is beyond useless; it does almost no damage and doesn’t knock back the enemies which are trying to give you painful hugs. There’s enough ammo in the stages that I played where I didn’t need to resort to using it.

You also have special items on the X button that you collect throughout the stages. There are several, but I mostly only used two: a trampoline which gives you a super jump and a little helicopter which lets you fly around for a few seconds. These items are extremely situational, and I found myself never using them. It was easier to shoot enemies than decipher what the icon on the bottom right corner of the screen might indicate. I didn’t feel like I was missing too much, but I appreciate the idea.

The reason I mainly used the trampoline and helicopter items is that B.O.B.’s level designers lean too hard into trolling the player. It’s offensive how often the game will trick you into falling into acid pits, and if you don’t have a way to escape out of the pit you are dead. One level early on gives you a choice of a few pits to fall in, with at least two of them being inescapable. It’s frustrating, and that’s on top of the standard action game damage you’ll take from being unfamiliar with where enemies will pop out. Death strips you of all your weapons, adding insult to injury.

The other obnoxious element to this trolling is that B.O.B. has some pretty strict time limits in levels. Like I said above, these levels are maze-like; you’re not going to get totally lost in them, but you might get turned around or go down a dead-end. If you dally you’ll run out of time, rendering large chunks of these levels meaningless because you’re punished if you explore. It’s not hard to find the critical path through a level the second time through, but it’s still rude. The time limit is especially infuriating in gimmick levels, like the one where you must drive a car through an obstacle course. It’s not a fun level!

That being said, I really enjoyed B.O.B. and would recommend it. There are some missteps, but I had a fun afternoon with the game. If I had to make a single change to improve B.O.B., it would be to remove the concept of lives from the game so the trial-and-error parts of the game design wouldn’t be as egregious. That would have been considered action game design heresy in the 1990s, but that’s why we have cheat codes, right?

Next time: I skipped a game! Take a time machine back to 1992 and read all about Best of the Best: Championship Karate!

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