Bulb Boy PC, mobile, and Nintendo Switch Developed by Bulbware Released in 2015
I often claim that my interest in a game is best won by coming up with a novel idea that really sets it apart. A story idea, a presentation concept, or even just gameplay mechanics you don’t often see, really give a game the vibe that it’s something special you’re not getting anywhere else. Bulb Boy’s premise of a disgusting point & click game filled with poop, pee, and dark humor as presented through the eyes of a kid whose head is a light bulb certainly drew my attention, but sadly it’s questionable design also lost it after a while.
Bulb Boy is a little, mischievous kid living with his grandfather and a dog-like creature. Everything is relatively normal, until our young protagonist heads to bed one day only to wake up to his already ramshackle home being invaded by all sorts of monstrous creatures. From there he sets out to find his grandpa and pet, and sort out a way to resolve the situation.
What little dialogue the game features comes in the form of gibberish, little noises, and images, meaning storytelling is done mostly through your progress in gameplay. Between chapters you also get to play flashback sequences, which then tie in to the events of the next few rooms and puzzles. It’s an adventurous little plot full of surreal events and the lack of dialogue is certainly more of a boon than an issue.
Story score: 7/10
My mouse arm hurts
The game is a point & click adventure that’s actually really casual to play through. You control Bulb Boy as he searches his house (and other areas) for his grandpa. The controls are straightforward enough and as you mouse over relevant items they will light up, letting you know what is just background clutter and what you can interact with. Bulb Boy is kind of slow to move, which gets a tad frustrating over time, yet he also has the ability to unscrew his head and throw it at predetermined objects like chandeliers, or use it to take control of small animals.
An interesting choice is that each puzzle exists in a vacuum. You tackle the game room-for-room, with each having its own puzzle, no way to exit until it’s finished, and always using items exclusively found in that room. This means you never need to backtrack through the house and you always know that everything needed to progress is on hand. Die hard puzzle fans may find it too simplistic, but it makes the game accessible to people that aren’t usually into this genre. The puzzles are also often hilarious within the context of the game, like trying to flush away an oversized turd or trying to get a medieval set of armor in working order to fight off a monster.
The problem is that this is one of those point & click games that can kill your character and the game is pretty determined to do so as often as possible. Things that kill you will do so quickly and often without notice, whereas I felt it would have sufficed if they just knocked you around a bit. Solving the puzzles is fun, but when you keep having to replay part of a room because of enemies that kill you it gets annoying, add in the slow movement and it becomes frustrating, and then pile the long, unskippable death animations on top of that and… well, it’s certainly not pleasant. I also felt every puzzle had at least some small nuisance that I figured the game could have gone without, like one monster that can kill you while you are zoomed in on a puzzle, unable to see it approach, or the really glitchy creature in the single-last chapter that only sometimes responds to the action to distract it.
In many cases these issues are small and if it weren’t for the way this game handles death, I’d say the originality of the puzzles outshines their annoyance. I had a blast playing through the early few stages, only to slow down to a crawl as more instant-death mechanics got introduced and the game’s checkpoint system wasn’t exactly keeping up with it.
Gameplay score: 3/10
Isaac would be proud
Bulb Boy revels in everything raunchy and disgusting, with the entire house of our protagonist being littered with trash and infested with vermin. You’ll also be surprised how many puzzles it can come up with that somehow feature poop or pissing on things. All this mess is presented in the game’s cartoon style that really favors different green colors and plays around with visibility, as the position of our shining hero alters how much you can see.
Though they frustrated me to no end, the game does feature some really nice creature design and the animation is often creative. The music, in turn, doesn’t really get much love, though I did enjoy the sound-effects that were used. Bulb Boy’s gibberish speech is rather endearing and it was honestly funny to hear him laugh after finishing some challenges.
Presentations core: 7.5/10
Clocking in at about two hours, Bulb Boy is a game I would love to recommend if it wasn’t so eager to kill you and slow to play. If our hero could have just been a little faster to move and hazards only knock you back, then I would have found the game actually praiseworthy. The isolated design of the puzzles makes this a point & click adventure game with 0 of the busywork, no backtracking, no doubting if you picked up every item you’ll ever need in the future, no messing about with the inventory. This would have been such a chill game, but here we stand. I like the game’s presentation, I liked some of the earlier puzzles, and then it just completely fell apart on me. This indie month continues to be kind of depressing.