Whilst not a game I have specific memories of, it has been on my review radar for a while as my brother constantly nagged me to take a look at it. I was also surprised to discover other Facebook friends with fond memories of it and so it is time to bow to the inevitable.
Released in 1985, and therefore pre-dating contemporaries such as Outrun or Super Hang-On, Buggy Boy is a sprite based racer that sees you driving across a set of five courses, capturing flags, avoiding obstacles and trying to shave seconds off your best time.
Originally released to the arcade as a cockpit based, three screen behemoth, it was re-released in the more familiar stand up form and would go on to receive conversions for the 8-bit and 16-bit home computers.
Well it’s not exactly a looker.
At the start of each race, a giant disembodied hand counts down to hammer time before your buggy lurches off into the action. Graphically it is laughably basic by modern standards. Everything has a cartoonish quality to it, with bright primary colours, simplistic repetitive scenery and limited draw distances, although nothing pops out in front of you without the chance to react. Still, it zips along at a fair old speed with no slowdown no matter how hectic things get.
Your buggy itself looks primed for tearing along the beach and the locales on offer across the five tracks match that vibe nicely. Take a tumble over a boulder and you take an impressive spin through the air whilst mis-timing your entrance into a tunnel sees you explode into a fiery wreck. Oops.
Sound is quaint, reminding me of a combination of Space Invaders and Track & Field. Your buggy has a fairly inoffensive whine to its engine noise but the fun really starts when you leap into the air, a big comedy ‘whee’ noise accompanying your ascent whilst re-engagement with the track results in a hilarious bounce noise, as if your tyres are made from beach balls. It’s funny and charming and actually fits in with the overall vibe of the game. Elsewhere, collecting flags rattles off a little jingle that most closely evokes the menus selection sounds from Track & Field and if you manage to achieve a bonus or make it through a checkpoint gate it sounds as if you’re on the rostrum for a gold medal.
The five tracks on offer each present a different level of challenge and are freely available from the outset. The Offroad course is the only circuit of the five, the others all A-to-B checkpoint affairs of escalating difficulty. Whichever you choose, races are played out across five stages (or laps) against the clock. Fail to reach the next checkpoint marker before the time runs out and it’s game over.
The courses are fairly simple in layout however complexity comes in the shape of various obstacles such as boulders, fences, bridges and tunnels. Whack into one and at best you lose time, at worst you meet a fiery end.
Whilst other buggies make an appearance later in each race (I’m not sure where they hide for the first couple of laps on the Offroad circuit), this is very much a single player affair, just you against the clock and the scoreboard. To get the most points, you have to drive through a series of flag gates, or collect little flags along the way. Collect them in the right order, as shown in the on-screen display, and you earn yourself bonus points.
Much like the graphics and sound, handling is fairly simplistic. You have two gear options but realistically you can just leave the thing in high gear and take your chances. There is a basic track to follow but veering off the racing line and into the shrubbery or dust has little discernible impact on your speed, allowing you the full width of the drivable area to navigate. Which is a bit of luck because flags and obstacles are well spread out, including on the side of steep inclines, your buggy able to scale the wall to avoid the worst of the track detritus.
But it’s not all bad news. Boulders and fences aside, there are some buggy-friendly obstacles. Logs send you careening into the air for bonus points (and a chance to avoid the other nasties) whilst stones can lift you onto two wheels for a short period of time for extra credit. Not only that but every now and then a football appears for some reason, which your buggy can whack out of the way.
It’s all fairly basic stuff. There isn’t anything in the way of unlockables or bonuses to uncover. Handling is friendly but also feels simplistic, the lack of variation in speed or control as you veer away from the designated track limits undoubtedly a help in completing the course but at the sacrifice of credibility and complexity. Juxtaposed to this, tracks themselves can become rather crowded and with the time checkpoints placed right on the margin, it makes this a tough challenge, a dip in the water or the faintest brush with a tunnel entrance harshly punished and costing you precious time. Spend some time with it though and you will come to master the track layouts, exposing some of the weaker mechanics of the game as collision detection nips out for a crafty fag break whilst you seem to drive right through the edge of a boulder or two.
It is a strange combination of child friendly looks and adult friendly difficulty that makes it difficult to grasp the target market. Then again, perhaps my senses have been dulled by the hand holding of modern gaming. As a gaming child of the 80’s, I was no doubt made of sterner stuff.
The quality of the home versions varies wildly but at the very least, each managed to port the five tracks in full, even if the execution thereof is far from consistent.
We’ll start with the Amiga version, which not unexpectedly bears the closest relation to the arcade original. It’s worth noting straight away with the home conversions that we are of course limited to a single fire button joystick which means we’re in ‘up’ to accelerate territory here (*shudder*). Graphically it is stripped down from the original, which seems a disgrace in hindsight given how simple looking the arcade version was. The Amiga is certainly capable of far more this this as textures become lifeless, stripped of all detail. Gameplay itself is well maintained though, some of the fluidity of the original lost but the sense of speed broadly maintained. And whilst there are some cosmetic changes, a decent attempt is made at replicating the various jingles and other sounds.
On to the C64 version and things start to go downhill. Growing up a Spectrum owner I always cast envious glances across the fence at the neighbours with their fancy full colour C64 but this is grim. On the plus side, the pace of the game is maintained, this is a zippy, fun drive. Graphically though it is horrendous, the big bold sprites of the parent stuck on a 90 degree wash, emerging from the conversion machine as a shrunken down pair of ill-fitting driving gloves. In fairness the whole game is crammed in but to look at, this is a blocky, washed out mess of a conversion.
To the Spectrum then we go and we have very much saved the worst for last. Good grief this is awful. One can take issue with the graphical simplification of the Amiga version or the slimmed down looks of the C64 version but at least they were basically playable. This atrocity retains the bulky look of the buggy but inexplicably drops the camera view from up and behind to just behind, the buggy taking up most of the screen and making it nigh on impossible to see where you are going. Added to this the buggy jiggles around like jelly on roller skates making the whole thing a migraine inducing travesty of a conversion.
It’s difficult to know how to summarise Buggy Boy. Coming to it with relatively fresh eyes, I was disappointed. There is limited gameplay, it is graphically simple and offers very little beyond your first playing experience. But for all that I kept coming back to it.
Those with fond memories will likely enjoy a trip back to the beach, although be sure to revisit the arcade original for the best experience.