What I remember
Buster Busts Loose! was one of the first licensed games I remember playing on the SNES. During an age where every classic character had a baby version of itself, Tiny Toons lead the trail with its wacky cast of characters. I was ever hopeful for a Muppet Babies game, but this would have to suffice. God, why was I so into babies as a kid? In this game I remember collecting carrots and sprinting across levels as Buster, a baby Bugs Bunny, being an all-American rascal. There were cameos by other enemies, like a buff dog that is compensating for something and a tiny Porky, but Buster just sprinted. Did he have a terrible case of indigestion from all the carrots he ate? That was my only reasoning. I remember that when Bugs was moving fast, he was completely invincible, which made the game as easy as finding the way to Albuquerque.
Playing it in 2012
It’s tiny, it’s toony and this music is driving me incredibly loony. It’s the same few intro bars to the Tiny Toons on repeat. This game is intentionally trying to drive the player insane. Is madness the only way to appreciate Tiny Toons? I suppose when I was a kid I could barely comprehend more than an intro song, so of course it didn’t bother me then. Now, equipped with my adult brain, this music found its way into my labyrinth of wrinkles and refuses to leave.
Now Buster and Babs, a pink bunny, are telling me about the premise for this game. Weary of spoilers, I hit the start button and skipped their pitch. I was thrown into the game where Buster just stared at me, his red shirt coming down to his navel, his ears wiggling with anticipation. Buster had a yearning in his eye. Like a racehorse, he just wanted to run and be free in the fields of grass and carrots. Was freedom the purpose of this game? I can’t believe I missed these overtones when I was playing as a kid.
I hit a button and Buster sprinted, arms forward like a zombie. Buster sprinted through mice and they vanished. He sprinted up walls, across chasms, through a library. Fueled by carrots, Buster was unstoppable. Yet, as soon as the “dash bar” ran out, Buster was as helpless as Plucky Duck on an elevator.
After sprinting through the level, I came to Hampton, a young pig worrying his tail off. “Dizzy Devil is eating everything,” the pig oinked to me. Buster and I locked eyes thinking the same thing: Hampton, you’re just jealous that you’re not the one eating everything. Despite my suspicion, we agreed to help Hampton. So how do you stop Dizzy Devil from eating everything? Overfeed him!
As far as boss battles go in this game, to its credit no battle ever feels contrived. The encounters fit into the wacky story, a liberty that a game set in the Tiny Toons universe has. I mean, of course Dizzy is the first boss. And later it makes sense that I would have to destroy a train at the end of a level. In the vein of the cartoon, the game plays out like mini-episodes. They vary drastically from one to the next, so you never feel like you’re stuck watching repeat at 6 a.m. when you’re getting ready for a thrilling day of middle school.
After battling Dizzy, the game switches to an old-western motif. Great, I thought. Just a palette swap of the previous level. This was certainly the case until I began chasing Montana Max through a train.
This train level far exceeds the critically acclaimed train level in Uncharted 2.
Buster arrives on a train full of ruffians. After dispatching a few enemies, the words “DASH” flashes onto the screen. So, I dashed. The train burrowed into a tunnel like a snake heading back into its hole, and I dashed up the side of a mountain. There was still plenty of mountain left and my dash meter was depleting. Buster’s lungs were burning, his legs were turning to rubber, but slowing down meant death. Then, a carrot appeared and Buster’s dash meter was refilled. I felt secure, until the words “JUMP” flashed onto the screen. I jumped and narrowly made the leap across a chasm. Buster continued to sprint and jump over gaps when needed. Reactions at this point are paramount; a delay in a command can spell certain death. Then, I landed back on the train as it popped its head out of the other side of the tunnel.
The excitement was over, and I continued my way toward the front of the train, until it suddenly began coming apart. The track was exploding underneath it. The plot thickens; is someone trying to murder Buster? As the piece of train Buster stood on was about to vanish off one side of the screen, another floated into view on the opposite side. With gusto, I dashed and jumped at the last moment to make it on to the train. I did this a few more times until I found a train that wasn’t damaged in the explosion.
This sealed the deal for me. Buster Busts Loose! is an incredible game that understands what’s so fun about platforming. It’s not just about jumping, but it’s jumping in the context that your jump means something. A simple mistake means death, which encases these portions of the game in high pressure—so much pressure that an increase of even one degree would turn Buster into rabbit stew.
After surviving the train, I am emotionally exhausted, but I push on. I am increasingly worried that this series of events will find Buster murdered. Buster feels the same way and decides to go home, but on his way it begins to rain. And thunder. And lighting. And hey, look there’s a mansion. Then Buster says, “This stereotyped situation must mean the next stage is…SPOOKY MANSION.” Game of the Year, 1993.
The haunted level wasn’t anything special. I was afraid that all the gusto of the game was left in that train level. I sauntered through the haunted house with confidence and bravado. Then, in as long as it takes Bugs to trick Daffy into saying “Duck Season,” the level is over. To celebrate? Buster is on a football field. This went from platformer to football simulation in seconds. Like I said, Game of the Year.
The football experience is legit. It boils the game of football down to its basic components: running to the right and picking plays. You have the option to pick a pass or run play, then it’s up to Buster to ensure those plays end in positive yardage. Play calling is supreme, as the team is wily enough to rush or lay back and defend a flying ball. After making it 100 yards, complete with a few first downs, the simulation ends and it’s onto the next level. No mention about why that happened, or how it fits into the over arching theme. Buster just had a football game to go to and nothing was going to stop him.
The football level was the last level I played. I thought this column was going to be focused on me facing my childhood and coming away with horror, but I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s obvious that this title was built around careful use of the dash mechanic. It was a novelty that the game relied on to separate itself from its contemporaries. For the most part, it works. It’s fun to run up walls, slide into enemies, and sprint like a rabid rabbit. Translating cartoon characters to video games isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to consider how zany the characters are, then provide a set of rules for each character to fit into. The dash is a great way to inject some controlled loonyness without making it game breaking. This game holds up surprisingly well, and I’d encourage you all to petition the current license holder to reboot this.