Ka-Blooey began its life as Bombuzal, a puzzle game originally released in 1988 for the Amiga, Atari ST and Commodore 64. Developed by the British studio Image Works, Bombuzal was the brainchild of Tony Crowther, one of the C64’s most beloved game designers. The Super Famicon version of Bombuzal was actually one of the system’s earliest games, released less than two weeks after the SFC’s late 1990 shipping date. Though the game took a further two years to reach the North American market (under the new title Ka-Blooey), it was still one of a very small number of puzzle games available for the system, and stood a good chance of carving out its own little niche in gaming history. So why have you never heard of it?
I blame this guy.
Words cannot express the irrational hatred I have towards that weird little goober. I hate his walk cycle, I hate the sounds he makes, I hate his stupid, stupid face. He looks like the bastard offspring of the Grimace and My Pet Monster. I have no idea what inspired such an awful design – he looks the same way in the C64-era Bombuzal games too, despite cover art for those games that depicts a big-headed but decidedly human dude with a Mohawk and a jetpack. Having done a little research (that involved googling “terrible blue mascots”), my working theory is now that someone close to Crowther went to Xavier University in Cincinnati, because the Ka-Blooey beastie looks suspiciously like their mascot The Blue Blob.
For all we know, it might well be a heavily weaponized Blue Blob running around in Ka-Blooey – the game offers no story, no plot, no direction other than clear this board of bombs, avoid dying, move on to the next one. All the while, an endless loop of 16-bit funk drones on, complete with a ricka-ricka-remix of the game’s solitary voice clip, which endlessly encourages you to “Get Ready!” The music never stops – it plays through the pause screen, it loops back to the start if you beat a level or just take too long to finish the one you’re on. The only brief respite comes in the form of the game’s sound effects – all four of them. Blow up a bomb, bounce a bomb like a ball – ill advised, but go with it – activate a teleporter, fall to your death. Then back to the top, with another hearty “Get Ready!” It’s an endless cartoon purgatory, one that will leave you wishing for the sweet merciful release of death.
Stripping aside the grating aesthetics, there is the hint of a good puzzle game at Ka-Blooey’s core, but the execution is completely flawed. The movement is slow, which makes even simple levels seem tedious. The default field of view is overly limited and set at an awkward isometric angle, requiring you to constantly toggle between an overhead map in the pause menu (and a redundant smaller map you can pull up with the Select button). In later levels, even on the larger maps, you still can’t see everything, and it’s easy to spend ages methodically solving a particularly complex board, only to find out that you screwed yourself ages ago because of something you had no way of seeing or knowing about.
As the game drags on, with little variation in level design and no variation in sound or graphics, playing Ka-Blooey becomes a Sisyphean ordeal. God help you if you’re one of those obsessive gamers that just must see each game through to the final screen, because if so you’ve got a staggering one hundred and thirty stages to slog through. And really, that’s the good reason anyone might have to seek out a copy of Ka-Blooey, as a birthday present for someone with O.C.D. that you don’t particularly like.
Final Score – 3/10