March 17, 2006 5:03 PM | Danny Cowan
You know I got the blues.
Way back when, games only had to do one thing and do it well in order to be successful. The blending of genres was discouraged, and any attempt to do so often resulted in uneven titles like The Adventures of Bayou Billy for the NES: a game whose weakness in parts resulted in a mediocre whole. Genre blending is practically a requirement in many of today's games, however, and developers are under constant pressure to cram several games into one complete experience.
Somewhere between the old days and modern-day Bayou Billys like True Crime: New York City and 24: The Game came Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn. Developed by Zono Inc., Mr. Bones is a genre blender to the extreme. Nearly every level of the game features different gameplay mechanics, and the end result is about as schizophrenic as you'd expect: some parts are fun, others are completely terrible. Yet somehow, the game makes for a compelling and worthwhile experience in the end.
Oh there go all my bones!
Mr. Bones is a dead blues guitarist resurrected by evil vampire magic. Stick with me here. As it turns out, Mr. Bones is the only non-evil skeleton to be brought back to life when a megalomaniacal vampire decides to raise an army of the dead to do his bidding. You'll guide Mr. Bones as he runs far away from home, learns to play guitar, hops into a parallel dimension, then returns to defeat the skeleton army and save the world by harnessing the power of the blues.
Though the plot sounds strange, Mr. Bones's gameplay is even more unconventional. Styles shift from level to level; one is a rhythm-based challenge that involves defeating a horde of evil skeletons by playing the guitar. Another is a joke-telling contest, where sentence fragments mapped to various buttons on the controller must be pieced together in proper order to tell a successful joke. A few stages overlay your character on top of FMV obstacle courses, and others even resemble overhead-view shooters.
Don't think about it, just play it.
A majority of scenes contain gameplay of the sidescrolling platformer variety, though even these offer a surprising amount of originality. One such level is nothing more than a slow climb to the top of a series of glass platforms. There are few enemies, and the background is a slideshow of still images displaying a cosmic void. An old man's voice narrates and waxes philosophical throughout, his words punctuated by blues guitar riffs. Though the gameplay in this stage involves nothing more than a series of jumps, the minimalist presentation exudes spirituality and soul the likes of which are not found in many other games.
Then, a few stages later, you find yourself at a level called "The Ice Lake", which is about as unfun as it sounds. Bayou Billy syndrome strikes again. Still, despite some weak moments, Mr. Bones is worth a playthrough, especially if you use the level select code to skip the stupid parts. The fewer times you die at the ice lake, the more you will enjoy Mr. Bones.
[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com , and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]
Categories: Column: Bastards Of 32-Bit