Friday, June 10, 2016

Video Game Slush Pile: The Adventures of Bayou Billy

I was told I could pick out any one Nintendo game, the late eighties childhood equivalent of "you can put it anywhere you want." Faced with this unbelievable windfall I was sure I'd snag a winner. We're talking about a New Orleans themed game that would play into my love of crawdaddin' and societal anarchy after flooding. It's by Konami, a reliable third party license (Contra, Gradius, Castlevania, etc.) If that wasn't enough, three game modes! It's like you're getting a Holy Trinity of eight bit for the price of one strict Judaism! Nintendo Power, the always reliable source of unbiased consumer electronic gaming reviews, had described it as both "Totally Rad!" and "Gnarly Action, Dude!" How could I lose?

The game sucked.

Maybe that three word paragraph is overly harsh, but you have to imagine the disappointment of popping this thing in, hearing a terrible voice sample that made me wish I was playing Wizard of Wor in the arcade instead, and then being treated to a godawful side-scrolling beat 'em up. Perhaps spoiled by more competent games like Double Dragon my sneering dirt-bike punk self was not amused when I was defeated by the first generic mooks I encountered.

Released as "Alligator Yank" in Australia.

Before we discuss the so-called gameplay, it's important we delve into some story, which along with the instruction manual and end-labeling is all a REAL GAMER cares about. Your scantily-clad girlfriend has been kidnapped by some goof named "Godfather Gordon," a name that seems more suggestive of a generic tuna brand than a powerful crime boss, and it's up to you to apply fist and/or bullets to faces. The plot is actually more than a little similar to the Michael Dudikoff stinker "Avenging Force," down to the Cajun setting, lame action (get beat down for awhile, make comeback, repeat) and a massive organization of poorly focused evil whose real leader hides in the shadows. Sadly, Godfather Gordon never remarks about how "Hitler had some good ideas" and the game doesn't end with a lame set-up for a sequel that never was made, but like I said it's just a similarity. 

   Fifty takes and this was the best one.

Anyway, the actual game. When you hit an enemy you'd probably expect a momentary stun-lock, but your attacks are more mild annoyances for the primary-colored antagonists. At most a solid gut kick will cause a single frame of "hit" animation before they immediately counterattack. To not get hit you either need to get in tight and use your punch, which is fast enough to land over and over but pitifully lacking in range, or land the kick at the furthest possible distance and then flee like a mainstream conservative. Ragin' Cajun on the trail of a swamp rat, indeed.

The good news is weapons and healing items are relatively common and trust me, you're going to need both. The "ugly stick" or whip can increase the range of your hits in between cowardly retreats, the gun will wreck anything not wearing a vest and you can wear the vest yourself to defeat enemy bullets. Unlike most Double Dragon clones from this era the weapons, except the gun, stay with you not only from one fight to the next but even between levels as long as you don't die. This mercy is appreciated considering the length of the game and the brutal difficulty.

Get used to seeing this screen.

To add some variety to the endless waves of faceless thugs and alligators (!) that you defeat by punching or tapping with a length of wood, there's also the driving and shooting stages. For the shooting stages you can use the light gun, the best NES gimmick peripheral. This sounds like high praise until you remember it's competition was dreck like Rob the Robot and the Powerglove. You're probably better off using the controller. There's two shooting levels and they're totally forgettable.

The driving stages are similar to Road Blasters, with our southern-fried hero hauling rear end down dirt roads and blasting enemy cars and Great War bombers. Yes, Godfather Gordon apparently has his own private army but must resort to kidnapping to get a woman. Of course he selects the woman in a relationship with the one guy who is a bad enough dude to defeat him, too. You're supposed to throw dynamite sticks at the planes (and later helicopters) but whoever was supposed to draw this vetoed it in favor of a much easier to pixelate grenade. It hardly matters, the most dangerous enemies are giant rocks and a highway that offers all the traction of a skating rink.

Thank you for the motivation.

Between levels the evil crime boss taunts you Sunday Funday-style, while also showing off his unconventional desires. Eventually you get to fight him in a highly anti-climactic battle, before facing the real final boss, a couple of cyborgs because Nintendo. This was always the end of the road for me when I'd try to "beat" the game. Yes, I'd waste all kinds of time playing a game I didn't really like only to keep dying on the very last challenge, over and over. This is truly the mark of a life well-lived.

  In this issue Archie gets hit with the ugly stick.

Graphics: The alligators and between stage fan-service looks good, pretty much everything else doesn't. Enemies are color-coded and you can't tell if they're carrying a weapon until they actually attack because I'm not making any extra frames of animation or drawing dynamite and you won't find anyone else who will either.

Controls: Apart from the ridiculously slippery freeway stage it's actually not bad. You can even use the zapper if it's not rotting a basement or attic like 95% of them. 

Depth: Three amazing game types, it's super righteous. There's even some "practice" levels that you'll want to play through to get rewards for the main game. The extreme difficulty let's you play the same levels over and over for maximum replay value for your dollar! Rad!

Overall: It's probably about a five out of ten that at least earns some goodwill for being ambitious, but I should have used that good behavior free game choice (I wasn't arrested all month!) for Duck Tales instead.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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