Monday, August 15, 2016

8-Bit Encyclopaedia: Bucky O'Hare

Bucky O'Hare hit the NES in January of 1992 to almost zero fanfare. Developed by Konami, Bucky O'Hare drowned in the wake of Nintendo's newly-released 16-bit Super NES console. Gaming fans were too busy with Super Mario World and F-Zero to care about a green-furred, epaulet-wearing space rabbit.

Bucky O'Hare: the NES's
only hero with epaulets!
Bucky also suffered by association. Two out of every three NES games released in 1992 were either sequels or adaptions1. Much like Hollywood does with today's blockbuster films, NES game developers turned to pre-existing intellectual properties as a way to hedge potential losses in an increasingly competitive home gaming market.

The NES had mixed success with adapted properties. Turds like Back to the Future, The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, Fester's Quest (the Adams Family), Jaws, Top Gun, Die Hard and Hudson Hawk stunk up store shelves. The Bucky O'Hare comic and cartoon were themselves seen as derivative of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For all intents and purposes, Bucky O'Hare looked like Konami's last attempt to cash in before the NES died.

But let's remember, this is Konami, developers of Castlevania, Contra, TMNT II, Metal Gear and Tiny Toon Adventures. Books shouldn't be judged by their covers2. Bucky O'Hare is one of the best run 'n' gun platforming games on the NES console.

After pressing Start, players are treated to, 1) phenomenally colorful and vibrant NES graphics, and 2) an almost nonexistent story line. Evil Toads have captured Bucky's friends--Jenny the Cat, Deadeye Duck, Willy the kid genius and Blinky the Android--and its up to Bucky to travel the galaxy and rescue them. It would be nice, just for once, to have an NES action title that didn't revolve around a protagonist's rescue mission, but its hard to complain about tropes when Bucky O'Hare's delivery is so spot-on.

The controls are tight and responsive. Bucky runs, jumps, and shoots baddies. Holding the B button charges a special power which differs from character to character. Along the way, Bucky and Co. will find tokens which will upgrade their health and special power. Health upgrades effect every character. Power tokens, however,  only upgrade the character which collects them. The game's mechanic--beat baddies, earn powered up weapons and abilities--borrows heavily from Capcom's Mega Man series.

Bucky O'Hare's Powerups in order of importance:
Life-Up, Power-Up, Extra Lives, and Extra Points

The Characters

Bucky O'Hare

Bucky is the captain of the awesomely-named spaceship "Righteous Indignation." The game's stock character, his moveset is fairly vanilla. His gun fires a pulse of three bullets either straight ahead or up. Holding down the fire button allows him to rabbit jump higher than a standard jump. Excepting areas designed for other crew members, I found myself using Bucky for most of the game.

Although Bucky is free to explore the four planets in any order, it seems in terms of difficulty, the planets are ordered smallest to largest. The smallest Green Planet is heavy on extra lives and powerups, and lacks platforming elements tailored toward Bucky's rescued teammates. The giant Yellow Planet punishes players with massive baddies and zooming platforms which take a fair amount of practice. As Bucky passes each level, he rescues a team member who joins the fray. Players can cycle through each rescued team member by pressing select.

Blinky (Android First Class)

First things first. I realize NES graphics are severely limited, but Blinky looks less like a chibi android and more like a hideously deformed, two-headed mutant. His crouching sprite just looks like a jumble of blue and white pixels.

That said, his moveset can be very helpful. Blinky is rescued after Bucky completes the Yellow Planet. His shots follow a downward trajectory and then hug the ground. This makes dispatching baddies on ledges below much easier. The bullets also have the ability to break ice and select other rocks, invaluable for finishing the Blue Planet. His rocket boosters, although providing no more height than Bucky's jumps, move slowly, making some platform jumps easier.

Deadeye Duck

Deadeye Duck is Bucky O'Hare's version of Contra's spread gun. Rescued after defeating the Red Planet, Deadeye is a four-armed duck and former space pirate. His blaster shoots a spread of three bullets. This can be immensely useful in later levels where the baddies are legion. Unfortunately, the bullets only travel a  quarter of the screen before disappearing.

Holding down the fire button powers up Deadeye's wall-crawling ability. Hold your Spiderman excitement, though. As cool as crawling up a wall sounds, its almost entirely useless. Deadeye's climbing power drains far too quickly. This means he mostly falls off walls mid-climb, usually resulting in insta-death. Only a few screens of one level specifically require Deadeye's wall-crawling. Otherwise, its easier to navigate platforms with Bucky or Blinky.

First Mate Jenny

As her name indicates, Jenny is the feline first mate of the Righteous Indignation. Rescued from the Blue Planet, Jenny offers perhaps the best special skill in the game. Holding down the fire button allows Jenny to charge a shot. Upon release, the player can control the trajectory of the shot, moving it all across the screen. Even better, the shot will remain until Jenny's special power depletes, meaning the powered-up shot can defeat many enemies at once.

She offers little in controls or jump height, though, so its best to slog through the platforms with Bucky and only switch to Jenny to kill hard-to-reach or otherwise pesky baddies *cough cough* Yellow Planet boss *cough cough*.

Willy DuWitt

Willy DuWitt is a human boy-genius whose accidentally stumbled into Bucky O'Hare's "Aniverse." Rescued after completing the Yellow Planet, Willy's special skill is his super-powered gun. Even for its greater attack power, the game's programming makes Willy almost entirely useless. Charging the gun requires he stand completely still. Once charged, Willy still can't move, only shoot straight ahead from where he stands. By the time the gun is charged, whatever baddie you want instant-dead has probably already moved on, meaning Willy will fire at empty air. Further, Bucky and Deadeye can fire their lesser bullets much faster than Willy's powered shots, making them a little more effective even for later powered-up foes. Willy's only real utility comes at the very end of the game, and even then, he isn't much of an upgrade over Bucky.

Whichever ship-mate the player chooses to rescue first, Bucky O'Hare presents a fair level of difficulty. Even with the game's tight controls, every level is littered with platforming elements that can be tricky to navigate. Screens often swarm with baddies to the point that taking heavy damage is inevitable. 

That said, the game is very well designed. It's NEVER unfair. We're not talking Ikari Warriors and NES Hard, here. The player respawns at the start of the screen where they died, even during Boss Battles. Power-Up tokens stay with a player no matter how many times they die. Furthermore, Bucky O'Hare allows infinite continues. Burning a continue will reset Bucky's life meter, but given the preponderance of Life-Up tokens, this is a negligible penalty.

Green Planet

This is false advertising! I demand a refund! I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOUR MANAGER! The "Green" Planet is yellow. The stage offers a mostly rocky landscape punctuated by a few mossy platforms and a single (yet very large) tree. The middle section, a jungle river with swinging platforms, can be huge pain in the ass if you don't time the jumps just right. Luckily, as previously stated, Bucky O'Hare provides infinite continues to get the  jumps just right.
I bet he shoots bad tadpoles, too

The final screen of the Yellow Planet is a barrage of toad ships, firing a hellish cornucopia of bullets and laser beams. Don't worry about taking damage here; there's a life capsule at the end of the screen. Do worry, however, about getting hit as Bucky prepares to jump a pitfall. Getting shot in mid-jump causes Bucky to plummet on the spot, usually into a pit.

The boss is a giant toad suffering from an A+ case of roid rage. He lobs giant boulders which one-hit kill Bucky. As with most bosses in this game, there's a sweet spot: walk right up to the dumb toad and wait while his dumb boulder sails safely over Bucky's head. Then jump the toad as he runs, shoot him right in his dumb back, and repeat until he LITERALLY EXPLODES.

Red Planet

In following our smallest-to-largest planet schema, the next stage is the Red Planet. This stage gets its name from its vast, rolling fields of poppies and roses and... Just kidding. It's all tropey lava and fire. Pits are filled with fire. Background volcanoes explode and rain fire. Fireballs shoot from pits and great arcing flares jump from lava pit to lava pit. That said, most of the level is fairly easy. 

Except one damn screen. One rabbit-ducking, gosh-darn screen. It's the Mega Man 2 Quickman stage multiplied by seventeen. After jumping some lava pits and blowing up some frogs, Bucky arrives on the top of a deserted screen. Now, in any video game, ANY GAME, if your protagonist arrives on a completely blank screen, hold on to your butts 'cause some serious sh*t is going down. Lava begins to flow from the sides of the screen. One touch kills Bucky, so this screen is a race down to safety. The problem here is the screen doesn't scroll fast enough. You won't know you've guided Bucky to a gruesome death by lava until its too late. Again, infinite continues come in handy. Its die and die and die again3 until you have the screen stored to muscle memory.

After seven hours of mastering the falling lava, the Red Planet boss is a bit of a disappointment. It's a giant green bowling ball, out of which occasionally pops a toad. Jump the bowling ball. Shoot the toad. Rescue Deadeye Duck.

Blue Planet

Sing it with me, everyone, it's... "Obiligatoooorryyyyyy Ice Level!" [guitar solo, guitar solo]. The physics on this stage are super slippery4. Players continue to slide well after you've released the d-pad. As with every other ice level, tread carefully and jump often to stop any unwanted sliding.

Don't flush your penis-shooting
alligators down the toilet, kids.
The Blue Planet is also the first level where a rescued teammate comes in handy. Blinky's shots can break certain ice blocks. This not only makes some of the platforming elements easier, its also vital toward the middle of the stage. Baddies alternately chuck ice blocks and spikes. If Blinky breaks the ice at just the right time, the baddies will throw spikes down through the floor, making it easy to advance through the screen.

The boss here is a sewer Gator who fires missiles which DEFINITELY DON'T LOOK LIKE PENISES SO STOP TALKING ABOUT IT. The sewer water rises as the battle progresses, and each time the Gator shoots his ice beam, the water turns to ice. If Bucky is standing in the water as it freezes, it causes mondo damage. Luckily the Gator follows a very predictable pattern. I beat him on the first try without taking too many hits. After you git that gator, Jenny the First Mate joins the squad.

Yellow Planet

The Fast and the Furr-ious
[Get it? Get it?]
This is the most difficult of the first four stages. The first screen scrolls right-to-left and is littered with giant Sarlac-looking worms which cause a ton of damage. Switching to Deadeye Duck here can come in handy; his spread gun makes hitting the worms easier.

The Yellow Planet follows this with a screen where the player has to jump between laser-firing spaceships, a screen where the player has to hop from fast-moving asteroid to asteroid above a horrible abyss, and a screen of ultra-high speed zooming platforms, most of which dead-end into instant-kill spikes.

So enjoy that.

Your reward for traversing this Mordor of death and desolation is the game's most punishing boss.

The boss here is a giant toad-tank which shoots arcing bullets and heat-seeking missiles. It occasionally rushes across the screen, instantly killing anything in its path. Once back to its spot, the Toad Tank shoots a massive laser beam from its mouth (you know, as toads do) which saps a third of the player's energy. 

There's a spot on a lower platform where your player won't take too much damage, safe from being squished by the charging tank and its mouth-laser. Couched in your trench, have Jenny guide her charged shots toward the tank's guns. After a few tries, the various guns and turrets will explode. After that, its shoot the toad right in its toad eye until boom boom - no more toad. Willy DuWitt joins the party right after...

Just in time to be abducted by toads again.


Just like in every other Mega Man-styled run 'n' jump platformer, finishing the initial stages causes the game's antagonist to swoop in and eff everyone's ess. In this case, instead of Dr. Wily flying off to his maze-like castle, The Righteous Indignation is captured by Toads. Bucky and Blinky, sharing a cell, must escape and find their friends.

This level is composed of a series of screens connected by elevators. At the terminus of each screen, Bucky encounters one of his crewmates. Except instead of joining Bucky, his friends, brainwashed by toads, fight! It's actually a novel gameplay mechanic and adds a bit of fun and flavor as the game starts to drag to its conclusion. None of the friends are difficult to un-brainwash. Most have large safe spots on their screen where Bucky can fire freely without worry of danger. Collect 'em all and move on.

Garbage Chute and Magma Core

The two penultimate levels of the game offer little variation. Its a lot of precarious jumps and spikes. The Magma Core level includes the only elements requiring Deadeye's wall-climbing ability. After playing the whole game to that point without powering up Deadeye's special power, I breezed through a fair number of continues trying to jump an impossible height before I switched over to Deadeye.
The Garbage Chute boss is impressive to look at, but simple to defeat. The Mecha-Toad fires a hail of heat-seeking missiles, but imperfect programming sees most of them miss. After two missile salvos, he crouches and shoots a one-hit-kill laser that must be ducked under to avoid. There's a number of safe spots from which to fire Jenny's power shots. After destroying a blue gem below the machine, attack the toad atop it. Not too difficult.

The Magma Core boss is a little trickier. There's a large Mother Brain looking machine at center, two missile turrets, an overhead laser cannon and a constant stream of flying toads. Deadeye's spread shot comes in very handy. Even armed as such, the battle is a ballet of movement and firing, drawing the flying toads away from the turrets. The turrets, once destroyed, are replaced by laser beams which must then, in turn, be destroyed. The lasers gone, turn Deadeye's fire to the glass machine at center to blow the Magma Core to smithereens.


The last level, honestly, feels like a cop-out. After destroying the Magma Core, Bucky jumps in a small personal aircraft and zooms through a long, spike-and-baddie filled tunnel. Here the game turns into a standard shmup a-la Life Force or Gradius. While I can appreciate the variation in gameplay, after countless levels of solid platforming action, it seems like the final escape from the Toad ship should be a race-against-time, ultimate platforming level. Something along the lines of Samus' escape to her ship in Super Metroid on SNES. It doesn't help that screens tend to repeat as the player advances through the level. It reminded me of the background of an old Looney Toon, minus the Roadrunner zooming past.

Each character shoots their standard weapon from the escape pod except Bucky. Bucky, shoots both fore and aft simultaneously. There are no powered-up shots here. Swapping between Bucky's two-way firing and Deadeye's spread gun is the best bet. 

Jets of fire, spikes and Toads which latch on and drag down your ship are the main causes of damage here. Don't worry if you can't avoid the baddies, there's plenty of life-up tokens strewn throughout the escape. How considerate of the Toads.

Like any good Mega Man platformer, there are a series of sub-bosses leading up to the ultimate battle. Don't sweat it too much; dying on any of them puts you right back to the start of the battle.
The first sub-boss is a weird, snake-train thing. Avoid its bullets and shoot the top and bottom rails and then the floating head. Once you're left with just the head, it shoots more bullets, but dodging its attacks isn't too bad.

After getting a few life-up tokens, the second miniboss appears: a space train of some sort. This has multiple turrets and parts which must be destroyed in turn. Touch the spikes below or the train itself and its bye-bye-bunny. Switching between characters and using their different firing patterns is key.

After defeating the space-train, the game offers an invaluable life-up token before the final, utterly whelming battle. The chief toad (I guess he's called the "Air Marshall?") shows up in a tiny little ship and lobs tiny little bombs which explode in every direction. A wall of fire creeps closer and closer on the right-hand side of the screen. It's tricky, but I couldn't help but feel cheated. Perhaps I'm just used to Mega Man, where the last version of Dr. Wily is usually a screen-filling robot. The final battle should be a spectacle! Instead Bucky O'Hare offers a spaceship pas-de-deux while Bucky fires in all directions. Yawn.


There's no need to reinvent the wheel, only the need to improve it. Bucky O'Hare presents nothing particularly novel to NES players: it's a run-and-gun platfomer with a tropey plot. It's anthropomorphic animals comes from a Saturday Morning Cartoon. It has an ice level. It has a fire level. There's dames to rescue and powerups to be had. Instead of inventing, Konami takes existing forms, known so well by 1992, and improves upon almost every one. Bucky O'Hare is the Apple Computers of NES games: it doesn't create anything truly groundbreaking, but takes what's already there and improves it tenfold.

And, after playing through Bucky O'Hare, if you're still convinced the game isn't difficult enough, just enter "HARD!" as your password and enjoy the heat and flame of NES Hell.

1. Data from; 106 licensed NES games saw release in 1991. Only 39 represneted original intellectual properties.
2. Except maybe books about book cover design.
3. "Die and Die and Die Again" sounds like a horrible Bond sequel.
4. That's what she said.

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