What Makes This Game Great: Buggy Boy
Right off the bat, I have to say I have never been a huge fan of racing games on the Commodore 64, especially the ones that aspire to provide more realistic gameplay.
Perhaps it's a frame rate issue... the C64's CPU (the 6510) operates at 1MHz which, even for legacy era 8-bit machines, is slow (by comparison the C64's great rival, the ZX Spectrum, for instance, runs at 3.5MHz) and the screen refresh rate on European + Australian PAL C64s is 50Hz (on American NTSC machines, it's 60Hz), so cooking up a 3D storm on the C64 has always been challenging.
However, when the coin-op conversion for the C64 of Tatsumi's Buggy Boy was released in 1987, suddenly there was an ultra playable, best-in-the-genre racing game for the platform that had me totally hooked from the off.
The UK's gaming press was suitably impressed too, with a staggering 97% rating in this
Zzap!64 review and someone in another magazine
(the precise details of which I have forgotten over the years) urging its readers to - and I quote this as verbatim as my memory permits - "Buy, beg, borrow or steal a copy" of the game.
(I believe some people have also said, anecdotally, that the C64 version of Buggy Boy is the best version of all!)
So, with such gushing praise still echoing through the mists of time, let's take a fresh look at what makes this game so great:
- Like all great games, its controls are intuitive and responsive, which is an absolute baseline attribute in establishing good gameplay.
- It focusses on gameplay first, realism second, rather than making the blunder of doing those two things the other way round.
- The 3D game environment includes curved cambers, tunnels, chicanes and bridges over water, all rendered in a such a smooth, natural fashion as to draw the player into the game world; in other words, the visual effects automatically make the game immersive.
- The gameplay hits the sweet spot between fairness on the one hand, while remaining a challenge on the other.
- The variety of obstacles and landscapes keeps the game as interesting and addictive as its other core ingredients listed above do.
- Its 3D engine works to the strengths, or more precisely, within the limitations of, the C64's hardware rather than trying to push the machine to do things its speed and processing power were never built to do; rumour has it that the same 3D engine (or an essential part thereof) was also used for the Afterburner clone, First Strike, which was also programmed by Buggy Boy's developer, Dave Thomas.
Of course, like all games, it has a few imperfections and room for improvement, so here's what I - as usual, speaking as a C64 game developer - would change or improve IF allowed to deviate somewhat from total conformity with the arcade original:
- I would have liked - assuming RAM constraints are not an issue - some dips and rises on the road, as all the game's courses are set on flat ground.
- I also would like slightly better graphics here and there, with maybe some hi-res overlays, or whatever other expedient capable of reducing the C64's signature blockiness; the water splash effect, for example, is very ugly due to its blockiness.
- Given my penchant revealed in Parallaxian, I would like some parallax scrolling on the horizon, with the clouds moving slower than the hills.
- The game woud also benefit from the use of some non-standard colours, as per my Luma-Driven Graphics article.
- The winter course ("North") needs some ice on the road with an obligatory sliding-out-of-control effect.
- The crash sequences are rather basic and expose the need for the buggy to have a shadow effect, so I would fix those things too.
- I would polish the presentation; the loading screen is ugly and the title page and interstitials a little too utilitarian looking.
Those are only minor points, however, so by and large, the game is as close to perfect in its genre for the C64 as attainable, at least within the technical know-how of 1987.
Download it here: Buggy Boy Download.
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