Flashback Attack: Buck Bumble
Title: Buck Bumble
Version Played: Nintendo 64
Let me take you back. Back to a time when Ubisoft wasn’t obsessed with pumping out an Assassin’s Creed game every year. This was a time when the still relatively small company could publish weird and quirky titles like Buck Bumble. What the hell is a Buck Bumble you ask? Let me explain.
Buck Bumble was a game for the Nintendo 64 developed by Argonaut studios and published by Ubisoft in 1998. The game puts you in the shoes of Bumblebee soldier Buck Bumble as he fights the evil insect Herd in the near future world of 2010 rural England. The herd is an assortment of different insects and bugs that have been altered by a toxic chemical spill and now want to take over the garden where the game takes place, and eventually the world.
The game handles like a more open Star Fox-esque dog-fighting game, complete with enemy radar in the top right corner. There are a total of 11 different weapons you can pick up, ranging from a laser to literal bombs. What’s more… No, no wait. You know what, I’m starting this off all wrong. Here’s all you need to know about this game:
Yes. Toxic sewage spill, armored insects, dogfights, rural England and reggaeton. If they tried to cram in any more weird, different ideas into a single game, you’d end up with just a huge ugly mess. And to Buck Bumble’s credit, this game manages to actually be fairly cohesive. The different elements don’t really clash so much as they somehow manage to meld to form a very weird, very distinct experience.
Which is something you don’t see a lot of nowadays. Part of it is simply the fact that video game budgets have skyrocketed to previously-ridiculous levels. This means that, if you decide to turn your jet flying game into a game about bumble bees half-way through development now, that’s literally millions of dollars down the drain. On the other end, you have to keep in mind that companies need to make back the millions they’ve spent on developing a title, so there’s not as much risk-taking. Which leads to more tried-and-true brands (Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty) than new and unique experiments.
All this business talk is boring. Here's a cute bumblebee.
The other, slightly more upbeat, reason that you wouldn’t see a game like Buck Bumble today is that games have started growing into their own. Developers have realized that games don’t need to be weird and quirky to draw people in, but that if a game has a good story, captivating gameplay and/or good art direction, then it’ll gain attention. It allows developers to more fully explore a singular theme or idea, rather than half-heartedly exploring several.
Still, it’s a shame that there aren’t more games like Buck Bumble, because it’s fun to revel in the weirdness of everything. Even if the game isn’t really all that great.
Just an armor-wearing bee attacking a Satallite dish with a laser gun. What's weird about that?
But, does it stand the test of time?
Yeah, not so much. The controls are pretty terrible, especially in retrospect. The titular Buck handles more like a helicopter than a plane, which is pretty damn difficult to manage with just one joystick, an A button that simply translates to “go forward” and a B button that just makes you stop. It’s especially frustrating since the game puts you in situations where plane-like controls would be a LOT more useful.
It’s also one of those games that’s right in-between two stages of video game eras. It’ll keep track of your high scores and the game seems to want you to play through it all in one sitting, a la old NES games. On the other hand, there’s 19 total levels and it also lets you save your progress (provided you have an N64 controller pak). The game can’t seem to decide if it wants to be score-driven or narrative-driven. If I could go back in time, I’d tell them to go with score-driven, because, again, the story is ridiculous.
Ridiculous? There's nothing ridiculous about a bee shooting lasers at other - okay yeah I hear it.
I have to admit that some of my joy from re-playing this weird obscure game comes from the nostalgia I felt upon hearing that theme song. That being said, I really do think that Buck Bumble is a mess. A fun mess, but a mess nonetheless. It’s worth checking out if you ever happen to see it at a friend’s place or something (try the soccer mode in multiplayer if you’ve got two controllers!), but there’s no real reason to add this weird little game to your library if you’re a collector.
Flashback Attack is a weekly column that goes up every Thursday. In this column, Matt Overstreet takes a look at some older games and tries to figure out if they've stood the test of time. Do you have a game you'd like to recommend? Leave a suggestion in the comments or e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.