SNES Review – B.O.B.

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 B.O.B. is a fun little run-and-gun platformer from 1993, developed by Gray Matter Inc. and published by Electronic Arts. The story (such as it is) is that our titular robotic hero B.O.B. has crashed his dad’s space car on his way to a hot date, and now he has to race across a hostile asteroid, annihilating the local fauna with a variety of pleasantly destructive weapons. We’re not exactly talking Final Fantasy-level plot here, but this isn’t the kind of game that really even needs a plot, so what the hell.

My first impression of this game is that it looks and sounds great. The graphics are cartoony and eye-catching, with B.O.B. himself being a cool-looking robot bug, with a bunch of cute little animations. The music is understated, but has a nice bit of funk to it, and the sound effects are solid. The controls are excellent as well, with spot-on jumping and shooting mechanics.

The biggest knock against this game is the difficulty curve. For the first few levels, everything is clear sailing. The levels are tricky but negotiable mazes, and though the time limit to complete each level is intentionally short, they’re also manageable. Then you inevitably die for the first time, and you realize that you’re starting over without any of the power-ups you’ve been collecting, and all of a sudden everything gets a lot harder. Now you have to make every shot count, and a new strategic element comes into play – is it worth using up your last few homing or spreader shots, or do you risk taking a hit or two to kill a tougher enemy with your default gun? Do you take a detour to collect that flamethrower power-up, knowing that your health is low, and the next healing item is in the opposite direction?

For the most part, the game plays fair with these choices; however, there’s one big issue that will make the game much harder to get through. Unlike most platform games, when you get hit by an enemy or projectile, there’s no period of brief invincibility, no recovery time whatsoever. As a result, any enemy, from the biggest robot to the tiniest insect, can thoroughly wreck your life bar. Worse than that, when you fall from a certain distance, there’s not only fall damage but also a recovery animation that seems to last forever. Even at full health, if you land in a lava pit, or on top of a stationary enemy, waiting out the three or four seconds it takes for B.O.B. to recover is a guaranteed death sentence.

But hey, you’re a hardened veteran of old-school platformers, right? So you clear the first few levels without any kind of problem, and you even get far enough to get find B.O.B.’s dad’s spaceship. Right about then, you’re going to realize exactly why B.O.B. crashed the damned thing in the first place – it speeds around like a Bugatti, and handles like an AMC Gremlin. With a limited health bar and a frankly unfair time limit (impossible to match if you slow down at all to manoeuvre through the myriad of obstacles), the flying levels are all but impossible, and nothing short of maddening.

Despite its flaws, B.O.B. is still a fairly enjoyable experience. If you can’t get your hands on an original copy for the SNES or the (shudder) Sega Genesis, it was ported to the PlayStation Portable in 2006. It’s worth playing at least once, so if you can dig up a copy, give it a whirl.

Final Score – 7/10

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