In Baboon!, players assume the role of Tumbili the cute little monkey on a quest to rid his village of a gang of bees known as the Beetnicks. Led by their rather unpleasant queen, these Beetnicks have stolen all of the bananas from Tumbili’s friends and family, including his once famous and heroic grandpa, Mumbili. It doesn’t take long for Tumbili to figure out that the Beetnicks are the least of his problems, and that the real bad guy here is a plotting and much nastier pirate baboon.
Despite the heavy setup and a ton of in-game text that you’ll probably skip through, Baboon! is an incredibly bright and breezy experience as you’ll no doubt conclude from the screenshots, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, on the contrary, it’s infuriatingly, brutally hard at times, and fair warning, it’s the kind of game that can lead to smashing your control pad against the wall in frustration. Let me explain a little bit more about how the game works, and perhaps you’ll be able to imagine why.
Levels in Baboon! are chunky, two-dimensional affairs that Tumbili must traverse from bottom to top, but there is a twist. Tumbili can’t jump of his own accord, and must instead place bombs to either his left or right, which he then explodes in order to propel him upwards and at an angle depending on where the bomb was placed. The power of each blast is controlled by a gauge that rises and falls automatically on the right of the screen, and the explosion is triggered by a second press of the A button.
The challenge in Baboon! is multi-layered and often frustrating, but only occasionally unfair. The first few missions provide Tumbili with guide lines, showing the player what angle and how far he is going to fly when the bomb goes off, but after just a few simple levels, these disappear. It is possible to switch them on if you get stuck on a level, but doing so means you can only achieve a very basic rating for completion of the level. Once the guide lines are switched off, assessing both the angle and distance of Tumbili’s flight becomes very difficult.
The next thing to contend with is the fact that Baboon! is crammed full of very tricky levels that put pressure on the player in several ways. Almost all levels feature Beetnicks, spikey balls, environmental hazards or some other combination of hazards that will be fiendishly located to make traversing the level even harder. There is a strict time limit, and each level is also filled with bananas that Tumbili must recover a minimum amount of during each series of levels in order to progress on to the next.
To help him, Tumbili can spend bananas at shops to buy items like garlic and insect repellent, and when he does, these will enable him to make contact with various enemies in the levels and defeat them. Insect repellent, for example, works perfectly on Beetnicks, whilst garlic works on the bats that begin to show up in caves shortly after the beginning of the game. Enemies that sparkle contain further items that Tumbili can recover, so there is actually an incentive for well placed use of direct confrontation if you want to access those items, although it may not always be worth trading your insect repellent for!
Some of the most brutal and frustrating levels in Baboon! are the boss fights, which force Tumbili to defeat an enemy by recognising patterns and avoiding attacks, then somehow damaging the boss (usually) by landing on them during a brief period of vulnerability. Boss fights are usually poorly explained, and as always, trial and error leads to frustration. Most bosses also seem to take an unfair amount of damage before being defeated, with all needing four, five or more hits to kill, and Tumbili only being able to take one by default.
So, Baboon! is breezy and attractive, but the saccharine sweet coating often hides a bitter pill to swallow. The control scheme is novel and interesting, but at times it feels like hard work and outdated, which is frustrating in itself. That feeling is made worse by some of the levels themselves, which would be hard based on normal controls, let alone those in Baboon! Bosses further compound the misery, and in general feel incredibly unfair.
With all of these negative connotations around control and difficulty level, it’s hard not to feel frustration and irritation towards Baboon!, but it isn’t a wholly bad game. It feels like a game from another time, when unfair levels of difficulty were more palatable and this kind of slightly wacky, experimental control scheme was more commonplace. Baboon! looks great, and if you have a particularly tenacious ten or eleven year old, this is the kind of game I could imagine might appeal to them. For most people however, Baboon! is going to be kind of frustrating, and I doubt many people will have the attention span and patience to see if through to the end.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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