Oh no, I thought arcade screenshot resizing was just relegated to Capcom stuff, but now Konami arcade games too? Will I ever be free?! Ahem. So, a couple of Konami arcade boards from the '90s- specifically a handful found on XEXEX-based hardware and Mystic Warriors-based hardware- do the same thing that Capcom's CPS1 and CPS2 games do by having an internal resolution that's wider and shorter than the actual monitor it'd be on, so if you just use the screenshots as taken via MAME unchanged, they'll look weird and too wide. This is explained in this in-depth video, and so using HTML magic, the screenshots have been resized to 320 x 240 for the purposes of this page, so it'd look like it would on an actual arcade monitor. This, clearly, is just the first step towards our ultimate goal, creating a filter that makes every screenshot on this site look like it's taken directly from a '90s game magazine, but until then, this'll have to do.
Also, this review is primarily based on the EAB version of the game. This will be relevant later.
And now an update on Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars.
Or, rather, an article on Bucky O'Hare, the arcade game brought to you by Konami.
Well... In a minute, anyway. I think the only proper way to start this one is with an overview of Bucky O'Hare as a whole, because this arcade game isn't just an adaptation of the cartoon you may be familiar with, it's a conclusion for it as well as a continuation of the original comic that started things off. That and, well, the franchise, such as it is, doesn't consist of too much, so I think I can get away with going over the basics to provide the historical context the game fits into, especially since it's a pretty interesting microcosm of the 'franchise built to sell toys' paradigm prevalent in the '80s and '90s. Bucky O'Hare started life as a comic book created by Larry Hama (probably best known for his work on Marvel's G.I. Joe comics in the '80s) in the late '70s (the exact date varies between '77 and '78) but not published until 1984 in the anthology series Echo of Futurepast by Continuity Comics, with art by Michael Golden (who had worked on the Howard the Duck magazine in the late '70s, a good choice of artist for such a project). As Hama explains in a Comics Alliance interview, he had the idea ready to go while working at DC as they were encouraging people to create for some 'creator-owned' titles, but was advised by his lawyer to stay away from the deal because, good advice coming up, 'a verbal contract is only worth the paper it's printed on'. So, he played the waiting game, which as he jokes, perhaps paid off- Al Milgram submitted a character called Firestorm to this 'creator-owned' project, and Hama remarks, "Guess who owns it now?".
Appearing in the anthology between 1984 and 1985, the original comic is just one full story arc split into six parts which swiftly sets the scene. In a universe full of anthropomorphic animals (called the Aniverse in the cartoon), Toads used to live in a society committed to consumerism and playing 'keeping up with the Joneses' until they installed a super-computer which took over their way of life, brainwashing them into a militaristic, brutally expansionist force led by the computer calling itself KOMPLEX, dedicated to completely stripping all other planets of material, eventually draining their magma core and leaving them as husks. The United Animals Security Council debate endlessly how to deal with the Toad Empire, and set up S.P.A.C.E. (Sentient Protoplasm Against Colonial Encroachment), a hopelessly-underfunded task force of three (3) used frigates, the most famous being the Righteous Indignation and its crew- Captain Bucky O'Hare (a green hare), First Mate Jenny (a psychic cat-lady), Chief Gunner's Mate Dead-Eye Duck (a one-eyed, four-armed and foul-tempered ex-pirate duck and my favourite), Android First Class Blinky (he's only got one big eye) and Earth human Willy DuWitt (brought into this strange universe after a Photon Accelerator accident and replacing Bruce the Berserker Baboon as the ship's engineer). The comic's single arc deals with Willy entering the universe and joining a rescue mission to save Jenny from a Toad operation to strip another planet, and honestly, it's definitely worth a read if the concept grabs you- the art is pretty striking, with strong colour work and memorable character designs, plus some story elements ultimately unexplored in the cartoon series and a little neat understated humour, like Bucky railroading Willy into signing reams of paperwork before being allowed to work on the ship.
Speaking of a cartoon series, Hama was planning ahead- very far ahead- with Bucky and his crew. The plan from the start was to get the franchise into toys and animation, with the character designs being specifically made to be easy to turn into action figures and cartoons (in an interview with buckyohare.org, he mentions the designs in the comic have plugs on their belts and holes in the feet so there would be no obvious differences when it came to figures). While they had to wait a little longer than their contemporaries- those popular turtles of a mutant, teenaged and ninja variety- the crew of the Righteous Indignation would blast onto the television screens of American youth in September 1991, with a toyline ready to go as well as other merchandise. While Hama was basically completely hands-off on the project, it expanded the world and had a somewhat-overarching plot of Bucky trying to save his home, Planet Warren, after it was turned into a swamp by the Toad's Climate Converter, with some stand-alone episodes sprinkled throughout. The show itself was animated by AKOM with too many production companies involved to list, and I definitely prefer the comic- mostly because the show has the disadvantage of having to cut to Willy and his boring Earth life (he travels freely between the real world and the Aniverse, but in the comic his way back to Earth disappeared) which may have been more effective on the target audience than crusty ol' me, plus some episodes are definitely stronger than others. Still, it's fun and definitely not unwatchable like some shows of the era, especially [insert the name of your most cherished and beloved childhood favourite show here] although I'm far from an expert on that particular era of animation. There's also some fun new character designs (Toad Borg and Al Negator in particular), plus some bits that gave me a good laugh, mostly Dead-Eye's worrying predisposition to violence and very mild satire of things like bureaucracy and rampant consumerism. Notably, when the action cuts to the Toad Empire it frequently shows the Toad Television Network which is apparently non-stop ads and pop-culture spoofs, and stuff like Warts Illustrated being referred to as 'the monthly magazine of rampaging tribal rivalries disguised as good healthy sport' is surprisingly on-the-nose for a show of its ilk. I lean more towards the comic, but the cartoon ain't bad!
However I was able to watch the cartoon basically in its entirety pretty easily because only one season consisting of thirteen episodes got made. What the heck? Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa got two seasons, what did Bucky do to only get one? The story does come to an end, of sorts- KOMPLEX is defeated in some temporary fashion and Planet Warren is restored from its swamp-like state, but the Toad homeworld remains- but there easily could've been more, so it's odd there wasn't. In the buckyohare.org interview, Hama puts the blame for this squarely on the toy line's disastrous launch- the numbers were all screwed up, with the same number of popular character figures like Bucky and Willy being sent to toy stores as the probably-less-popular figures like the Air Marshall, meaning big characters would sell out immediately and the less-popular ones would languish on shelves, and there's nothing toy companies hate more than dead stock that won't shift. The failure of the toyline put an end to everything, with plans for a second (and third) toy wave- which would've included Jenny and the Righteous Indignation ship itself- scuppered, and so Bucky's story ends. There's some other scraps here and there- DC Thompson published the original comic instalments in the UK and then went on to make several original issues to promote the show over here (it seems impossible to find any art from these beyond the covers but there's plot summaries over here), there was a new series of different figures made by Boss Fight Studios in the 2010s, and as the links I've had to bandy about on this page have shown there's still fan interest there- but for the most part, that was it for ol' Bucko.
... Oh yeah, there were video games too. Konami had picked up the license and used it for three games- a NES action-platformer released late in the console's life, an LCD game (no, really) and the arcade game that's the focus for today. Thing is, this wasn't in 1991, it was in 1992- early 1992 for the NES game at least, but most places on the internet put the arcade game's release as later 1992. A little late, then, as the show and toyline were well over by then. As for why Konami picked it up... Looking at the string of licensed games Konami cranked out after their 1989 arcade megahit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- X-Men, The Simpsons, Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa, Zen: Intergalactic Ninja (no, really, look that one up)- one can reasonably assume that the company was looking for the next TMNT, and why wouldn't they be? According to someone around at the time, the Turtles team was prioritised over everything else because overseas those games made money hand over fist (although take care with some of those claims, they're not all correct). To find the next franchise like that and keep printing money once the Turtles had their day, that's the dream, ain't it? However, this attitude of relying on sequels and licenses is what served as the impetus for several Konami employees, including three who worked on this game- Hiroshi Iuchi (Escape Iuchi5), Tetsuhiko Kikuchi (Gammer Kikuchi), Norio Hanzawa (Star Hanzawa) - to leave the company the year this was released and form a new one you might have heard of, Treasure. This and the NES Bucky O'Hare were among the final games they worked on before leaving to create Gunstar Heroes. Tempting as it is to leave this arcade game as a footnote in the history of another, more well-known game, that's not what we do here! Besides, because of its late release, faithfulness to the franchise as a whole and the plot, the arcade game serves as a bookend of sorts to the series. So, the stage is set for croaking some toads in the comfort of the local arcade!
(Actually talking about the game now, promise.)
Taking control of either Blinky, Bucky, Dead-Eye or Jenny (Willy and Bruiser get cameos in cutscenes) with dip-switch settings allowing for up to four players at once, the game begins with the Toad Empire invading Planet Warren (again), leading to Bucky and the gang stopping the next Climate Converter. Later, they help an omnipotent mouse race in dealing the final blow to those wart-brained toads once and for all by recovering the Planetary Life Force from deep within the Toad Star. By this point Konami had a pretty solid formula for their arcade licensed titles- good ol' fashioned fisticuffs in the scrolling brawler mould- but releases like the G.I. Joe arcade game from the same year showed they weren't averse to straying away from that if the license called for it. That was definitely the case with this license, as Bucky and the gang feel more at home with a blaster in hand than just duking it out, so this takes the approach very few action games take- using the movement of a scrolling brawler, with the projectile-focused action of a run-and-gun, with all four playable characters being armed with a laser pistol. There's not too many games that take this approach- Konami's own Aliens arcade game, NARC, arcade Robocop 2 and The Destroyer from Jail- and perhaps there's a reason for that as we shall soon see.
As well as your standard blaster, there's some pretty unique quirks to this one. Everyone can slow their descent from a jump by holding the button down, use a TMNT-style jump kick by either pressing Shoot + Down or Shoot + Jump when in the air (which can cause input problems as we'll see), drop a screen-clearing bomb with the, uh, Bomb button (use it in the air to allow for more movement time while it's going off) and, finally, the Gimmick Weapon, which is both Shot + Jump on the ground. This is the only thing that truly differentiates the four playable characters, but it's a big one- each one works completely differently and some are most definitely better than others. Bucky gets a strong forward-shot that stays in-place, Blinky gets a temporary flamethrower above his head which is nice but not super-useful, and Dead-Eye and Jenny easily get the best end of the deal with a spinning projectile that covers most of the screen and a tracking wave respectively. Weirdly, there's no stock limit or health cost to using the Gimmick Weapon unlike the Mutant Power in X-Men or the desperation attack in more traditional brawlers, with only limitation being how many you can have on-screen at once (Bucky and Blinky get one, Dead-Eye and Jenny get two). That's not exactly a complaint as you definitely need them, it just seems a little odd given how very useful some of them are.
As a whole, the mechanics work OK. It doesn't seem like you have much, but what you do have is useful- floating is very helpful for getting around enemies and bullets, the Gimmick Weapon's purpose should be obvious, and then there's the jump kick which warrants a closer look. It doesn't do a huge amount of damage, but it can move you across the screen quickly and, crucially, gives you some invincibility frames when it connects with something. The utility of this is huge, ranging from hitting an enemy then going back for another hit quickly, diving into a group and diving out safely, and letting you pass through enemies to get behind them (useful on the Prototype Void Droid fight in Stage 5). However, the input for it is very fiddly, either happening when you're trying to float and dodge stuff and you have to shoot at an enemy, or worse, not coming out when you need it, which is a shame as otherwise it'd be very helpful. The real issue with control comes with this game allowing you to move in and out of the screen, as it makes things like when you're going to get hit and when you can hit the enemies seem unnecessarily vague and nebulous. You will absolutely be hit at a point when it seems like you shouldn't be, which is pretty infuriating! Some low points include Stage 4 with the asteroids that can blindside you and the vehicle-based Stage 6 which we'll get to later, but it means that the game feels a bit fiddly to control and effectively avoid enemies at points. I think the large size of the sprites and the amount of room you have to move across the screen is a factor too- the opposite of Konami's own Aliens game with its smaller sprites and play area, meaning there's far less vaguery and guessing to where you are in relation to enemy threats. There's also no jumping in Aliens, nor are there nearly as many bullets fired by enemies, which this game has in spades.
Next on the agenda is items and health, as while there's not a lot of them, they're super-important. Well, one of them is, anyway. The POW items seem mostly like lip-service to the idea of getting stronger as you only need one to increase your rate of fire- you'll drop one power level when you die, so the level beyond the first upgrade is mostly 'insurance' so you can keep your rate of fire after one death. Bombs seem like an odd fit for a game like this until you see some of the enemy and bullet patterns thrown your way, and being able to clear the screen quickly is very handy. You also get a lot of them- two per Bomb item you grab, and two every time you die up to an unseen maximum of nine- so don't be shy using 'em if you got 'em! Finally, the Life items are the most critical, as they're the only way to get extra lives. This is a system Konami used in a couple of games (specifically Aliens and the Japanese revision of The Simpsons) where there's no score-based extends but if you grab a life-up that fills your bar beyond its max, it'll empty the bar and fill it a little while adding an extra life to your stock. Unfortunately, while there's plenty of items that are always the same on every playthrough (pretty much every drop on Stage 1, for instance) a few are randomised and this can screw you over if you're going for a one-credit clear- you want Life and Bomb items, but you will constantly be thrown useless POW and points items (although grabbing any item gives you temporary invincibility, so use that to your advantage- the item that drops before the TV monitor mini-boss in Stage 7, for instance, can be grabbed safely even if that boss is about to squash you).
As for the levels themselves, Bucky tries to do what quite a few Konami action games did like Contra and Special Project Y (oh, only this website could use Special Project Y as a point of reference, surely) by trying a few different game styles with inconsistent results, While the majority of the game uses the scrolling brawler template, some stages have auto-scrolling elements or scroll in unusual directions like diagonally and vertically. These are generally fine, with the auto-scrolling being used pretty effectively in Stage 4 as you make your way across a chaotic asteroid belt and have to mash the Jump button if you fall off the platforms, although you can also be scrolled off-screen (with a unique death animation where you zoom into the screen!) somewhat unfairly in Stage 7 by the vats of Toad Troopers unless you destroy them fast enough (save a bomb for it!). There's also the jetpack sections of Stage 3 and Stage 8, a gameplay style that's sadly under-utilised- these are by far the clearest sections in terms of what can hit you and what can't, as there's no movement in and out of the screen, only in the eight cardinal directions. It works pretty well! The least successful of these genre-shifts is easily Stage 6, a scrolling shoot-em-up stage with each character piloting their own Toad Croaker ship. Konami made shmups, right, so this should be fine? Nah. Not only can you not use your Gimmick Weapon on this stage as it's replaced with a generic power-shot, but the controls feel very strange- you can still jump and float, but your craft bounces slightly when it lands which is very off-putting and can lead to you getting hit. Adding to this are the enemies who ride around in bumper car-like ships that you can bash into to drive them off the rails, but this just makes things more chaotic and inconsistent. At least there's a (nostly) safe spot for the Void Droid boss, but that doesn't stop this stage being the one where no-continue runs go to die. A lot.
When it's not switching things up, the game somewhat falters in its pacing, as it feels all over the place. The game starts at a good clip with stages that feel just right, but Stage 4 drags a little, then Stage 5 shows up and feels twice as long as every other stage with has three distinct boss encounters crammed in, culminating with the worst boss the game, the Cyborg Spider who just refuses to die for far, far longer than necessary. Stage 6 is also really, really long for being the worst stage in the game, but then Stage 7 is a reasonable length and Stage 8 is basically just a brief jetpack section followed by the final boss. You really feel the overly-long nature of some of those stages when you're going for one-credit clears, let me tell you! Some of the bosses definitely drag things out which also hurt the pacing- to be fair, the way many of them work by letting you get a few hits in then gaining armor for a bit and not flinching at least makes sense, otherwise you could just stunlock them to death easily. It does, however, make it hard to tell if you're actually doing damage or not sometimes- the Total Terror Toad in Stage 3 is absolutely the worst for this- and while bosses do sometimes change tactics at lower health and do the Konami tradition of flashing red, it's often hard to tell just when they're going to die, which just makes the fights seem even longer. Funnily enough, beyond having a lot of health KOMPLEX-2-GO, the final boss, is probably one of the easier bosses!... Although, as I found out, that doesn't mean a no-continue clear is a lock once you reach that point.
Of course, perhaps the biggest draw of this one is how extremely faithful it is to the source material. The aesthetic is bright and colourful just like the show, and the characters look absolutely on-point. While the cartoon serves as the primary basis for the game, it also draws heavily from the 1984 comic, which I honestly wasn't expecting- some art assets are taken straight from it, and the omnipotent mouse characters are from the comic too (the only character exclusive to this game, as far as I could tell, is the Cyborg Spider boss). Combine this with how the mice help in the plot, there's a nice kind of circling-back for the franchise, going back to its roots to offer a more concrete conclusion than the one offered by the cartoon. On the sound side of things, it's a little unclear exactly how many members of the cartoon's voice cast were brought on for this as they're not in the credits roll, but while some of the villains definitely sound different- I'm pretty sure that's not Gary Chalk reprising his role as Al Negator- I am reasonably certain the four playable characters, plus Bruiser and Willy DuWitt, all have their original voice actors, as well as others like the Air Marshall and KOMPLEX (voiced by Long John Baldry, no less) with even the voice director from the show Wally Burr mentioned in the credits, and the writing stays very true to the series. Even elements of the scrapped parts of the toyline made it here- KOMPLEX-2-GO has its design at least partially based on reference art for the cancelled figure rather than the one that appeared in the cartoon. The music is also in line with the general feel of the cartoon's score, although there's no version of the cartoon's opening theme song. Unlike The Simpsons or TMNT, you can't really have just a snippet or shortened version of that theme and make it have the same impact, Konami would need the entire thing and, well, that wasn't happening for an arcade game at the time. Probably for the best, just think of the poor operators who would've had to listen to it all day. In any case, it's genuinely surprising to see just how close it is to the source material. Either there was a Bucky superfan on the team, or they were just sent every all the damn reference material they could ever need or want to get the game made, and went all-in on it.
That's all window-dressing, of course. It certainly makes the game memorable, especially for fans, but Konami were generally quite good at being faithful to the licenses they picked up (well, there is Aliens, but that's for another day) and while it's particularly noteworthy given the closure the game gives to its source material, ultimately this site has to look at the game itself. That's apparently what people read this thing for, so I am told. The arcade Bucky O'Hare, then, is pretty much alright, middle of the road. It's got presentation chops and the game mostly plays fine, with some neat sections here and there, but its uneven pacing, overly-long boss battles, weird hit detection and awful shmup section send it down a few pegs. It should come as no surprise that there's never been a home port, a fate shared a few other Konami licensed games of the time. You can probably point to a few factors as to why- consoles of the time wouldn't have been able to faithfully bring over the great presentation, and the license itself probably wouldn't have been strong enough to warrant arranging for a home version unlike, say, Turtles in Time, nor would it have enough notoriety to justify a rerelease decades later like with X-Men or The Simpsons. The business world sure is cruel, eh Bucky? In the end, it's a perfectly alright arcade game, certainly a step above some of Konami's other licensed games of the era, but not a stone-cold classic left in the arcades.
For earning the Oak-Leaf Cluster for Vituperative Vengeance in the field of licensed games, Bucky O'Hare is awarded...
In a sentence, Bucky O'Hare is...
Closure for a series, and just about OK at that.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Before anything else, please enjoy my 1-loop 1CC of the World version of the game, done with Dead-Eye Duck.
Sure, Jenny's top-tier, but I had to go with my boy for this one.
Righto, regional differences time, and there's actually not too much to discuss here.
As mentioned at the start, this review is based primarily on the EAB version- in the early '90s Konami used region codes for internal menus and boot-up screens of their arcade games, so anything beginning with E would be a European / nebulous 'World' version, anything beginning with U would be an American version, and so on. Especially at the time Bucky O'Hare was released, these games would have huge differences between regions, like with Crime Fighters and XEXEX. That is somewhat the case specifically with the US version, with signs pointing to it being the first revision of the game. First, the controls- it's a three-button setup in every region, but in the US versions the third button is used for the Gimmick Weapon instead of the Bomb, so Attack + Jump performs your melee attack (which you can only do at close-range in every other version) and the Bomb is activated by pressing all three buttons at once. You might think this would mean things are a little easier in terms of inputs, but it comes at a cost- Dead-Eye and Jenny can only have one Gimmick Weapon shot on-screen at a time, which is a problem. Another difference is more insidious- you do not get an extra life when you overfill the health meter with a Life item, which also means there are no extends. Ever. Good luck with that one. The game also defaults to looping endlessly rather than ending after the game's second loop, presumably to fool some players into playing forever.
Finally, the sign that this version came first is that Stage 1 is visually a little unpolished in this version. The intro to the stage shows the Righteous Indignation landing and dropping your characters off, and in the US version there's nothing else on this opening screen, it's barren. All non-US versions add Toad Air Marshall and some Toad Troopers on the right side of the screen taunting you before they run off as the ship lands and there's now some electrified gates to the left. Extra details were added in the background too- one of the layers of parallax now moves up and down throughout the stage, there's an occasional red flash in the sky and two Toad Double Bubble ships crash-land in the background, one at the start of the stage and one near the end. Aside from the ships crashing, this is mostly clever reuse of assets from later in the game (and the stage, as the electric fences show up near the end) to make a better first impression. Hover your mouse over the images to see the difference!
Now, usually with these Konami games it's the Japanese version you want to take a look at, as they're often the easiest or, perhaps, 'fairest' versions to play, but that's not actually the case this time. All versions of the game have the same amount of health for bosses and no version has ever-decreasing health, two common elements changed for international versions to make more money in the arcade. The only differences with the Japanese version are related to language- the voices are still in English but Japanese subtitles are provided (including translations of the few text boxes in the game) and there's a Japanese subtitle below the game's logo on the title screen. That's it, really!
I hope you didn't mind the big ol' intro about the series in general. Not strictly video game related, but I figured it needed to be done!
Next time on Gaming Hell, a ten-hour analysis of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.