The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout is a side-scrolling adventure game released by Kemco for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. Alternate titles are "The Bugs Bunny Blowout" (Europe) and "Happy Birthday Bugs" (Japan). It was one of many titles that followed a ubiquitous philosophy of the time: toss a well-liked licensed cartoon character into a Mario-esque platformer and watch it sell on the virtue of this novelty alone. As someone who wanted this game in the worst way when it came out and proceeded to wear it out upon acquiring it, I can attest that this strategy isn't entirely cynical.
The storyline is pretty straightforward: it is Bugs Bunny's 50th birthday, and like all quinquagenarians Bugs must trek his way across grasslands, deserts, canyons, caves, jungles, and a haunted mansion to get to his own damn birthday party. Nice. And, much like the nursing home residents who resent that one fucker who always gets the chair with the padding, his "Looney Tunes pals" are bitter. No one has ever given parties in their honour! Never mind the fact that about 90% of them act like total assholes in their classic namesake cartoons. So the gang decides to make Bugs earn his carrot cake by tormenting him fiercely through six levels of mayhem. So what kind of mischief do they cook up along the way? Well...
The game is pretty standard NES platformer fare. Bugs must navigate the varying terrains armed only with a mallet and a burning desire to get to his birthday party, which may or may not net him a pair of "Old Fart" novelty house slippers. The controls are very tight; Bugs jumps high, lands solidly, and stops on a dime, which is a true blessing as some of the platforming sequences can get precarious. Bugs is armed with only his moxie and a mallet, which incidentally I like to pretend is one of those oversized novelty inflatables you might find in the prize bank at a carnival. He may whack his foes head on, enemies ranging from anthropomorphic mallets to walking soapboxes (no, really) or land atop them and smack them dead for an easy victory. A minor downside is that Bugs swings his mallet with all the vigour of a 90 year old woman, requiring a bit of practice in timing. Enemies can and do get in a few cheap shots this way, but since Bugs can take a total of nine hits before expiring and health powerups are plentiful, this is more of a minor annoyance.
Each level consists of four stages, most of which feature a Looney Tunes character in the role of either mini-boss or level boss. None of them are particularly good at this role, mind you. Case in point: Daffy Duck, who appears at least once in every level, "attacks" you by strolling back and forth across the screen like he's looking for a lost contact lens, and while he cannot be harmed, he can easily be jumped over and left looking the fool. And what good is Yosemite Sam without a conservative amount of dynamite strapped to his person? The end level bosses, ranging from a shotgun-toting Elmer Fudd to a skunk fart-toting Pepe Le Pew, are rather innocuous as well, with three hits from Bugs' mallet rendering them hors de combat. Even the final boss, Taz, is painfully easy. Incidentally, he wears what was probably meant to be a football helmet but more closely resembles a bus helmet, and throws things that are likely, given the helmet, to be footballs but look more like pies, which, well, would fit nicely with the bus helmet theory.
This game is, perhaps not surprisingly, very easy, though not to the point where it stops being fun. With the possible exception of the Jungle stage, with its timed jumps between swinging vines over bottomless pits, most deaths will occur by sheer carelessness. But even if that happens it's nothing to lose sleep over, since the game seems determined to obliterate its own challenge factor. Case in point: throughout each of the stages Bugs can collect carrot icons, because what's a platformer without collectible gewgaws, and what would Bugs Bunny be without his carrot fix? Said carrots are used as currency in the end stage mini-games, where our intrepid long-eared hero has the chance to win fabulous prizes. I was hoping for a new washer and dryer set or maybe a all expenses paid trip to Cameroon, but alas, the eggheads at Kemco don't know how to think outside the box, and instead decided to go with that perennial favourite, extra lives. And the game makes it basically impossible not to have a metric fuck-ton of lives.
Anyway, games. In the first three stages of each level the game du jour is a classic bingo game (way to phone it in again, Kemco) where ten carrots will buy one attempt to line up three numbers for one extra life, or all five numbers for ten. The latter happens more often than one might imagine, and as such it's not unheard of to make it to the fourth or fifth level with nigh maximum lives. The level end mini-game, a beautifully frenetic rendition of Whack-a-Mole, doesn't afford itself to this phenomenon, but it more than makes up for it by being far more fun. All in all, the lack of a need for hoarding extra lives ups the fun factor in its own way. It's almost a challenge unto itself to see just how hard you can break the bank with the loosest slots in town.
While it's somewhat redundant to say the graphics in an NES game are not so hot, the graphics in B4 are just that, though not in the traditional sense of poorly pixelated sprites and power-ups that look more like moldy bananas than something actually useful, though I'm now thinking that stinky old fruit would actually be pretty apropos. The enemies are fun to look at, and the Looney Tunes gang look as good as one might expect, even though Bugs' stilted gait suggests he really needs to find a bathroom, and how. The real problem is with the side-scrolling action. The screen jerks instead of rolling smoothly, and the background and sprites blur a bit with the movement. Twenty minutes into my playthrough saw me with a nasty eyestrain headache.
The music is something else again. Something rather awful, that is. With the notable exception of the final level theme, each song is about twenty seconds long, loops infinitely, and has all the aural integrity of a wood rasp in the ear. The worst offender has to be the music that plays when Bugs snags a jump boost powerup. I suppose they were going for "zany," but in reality it's just loud and obnoxious, and it plays in the same maddening loop until Bugs is hit by an enemy. Not the best motivator for self-preservation.
As is my custom, I played through the game prior to this review. I didn't think to time myself but it couldn't have taken me much longer than an hour. It is essentially a rental game, something to while away a rainy afternoon, and that's exactly what I did with it back in the day. There are no hidden secrets, bonus levels, or multiplayer options to pad out the game enough to warrant it a second playthrough. It is, however, a good candidate for those times when you want to play a game but don't want to exert any semblance of brain power. Besides, it is still a fun game. Where else can you watch a walking alarm clock explode while soapboxes belch bubbles in your face?
As previously mentioned, I lusted after this game when it was released, and upon receiving it on Christmas morning of 1990 I thought I was the luckiest little fucker on God's blue marble. At the time, famous licensed faces in video games still had that holy shit wicked cool vibe, so even if such a game was average in every way, as this one is, it was still pretty great. And even though I don't exactly get all sentimental to the point where I absolutely have to play it again, I still regret that I no longer own the cart. According to Atarihq.com, the game has a rarity list rating of B, meaning it is rare. Copies of the game with box and manual go for upwards of $60 on eBay. Alas, in a veritable orgy of poor decision making I sold off all of my old Nintendo and Super Nintendo games some time ago. Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout was among them. While I didn't exactly turn a profit each time I hauled in a truckload of games, I am especially peeved that I let my copy go so cheaply. $2 is a far cry from $60, and a 3% profit is tantamount to selling one's car for beer money. Ah well, hindsight is 20/20.
Since I don't really miss the cash, my biggest regret is selling my childhood memories. As pathetic as that is, it's true. For all its flaws, The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout still harkens back to a time when gaming truly was a simple pleasure; a time before save points at every level's end, before cheat codes, before long winded in-game tutorials that spent ten minutes showing you how to mash B to attack and A to jump. A time when something as gloriously stupid as exploding alarm clocks and homicidal lawn sprinklers could grace a game and that just happened to be what made it memorable. A time when it was a true accomplishment to beat a game, yada yada. There, I had my Elderly Gamer Rant. Review done. Now get off my lawn.
See it in action here.