Bulb Boy is disgusting. It’s also vile, shocking and unnecessary. But it’s also a damn fine game. Previously released on Steam a few years ago, this old school adventure game from Bulbware is now out on the Nintendo Switch.
The story tells of the eponymous Bulb Boy who one night wakes up from a nightmare into his surrealist horror world to find out that his family are missing. His old man and dog have been snatched away by something sinister and the fearful little boy braves his way passed the numerous puzzles and monsters that stand in his way.
The gameplay is an adventure game at it’s core, with a surreal horror theme over it. It takes inspiration from point ‘n click adventures of old, just with out the actual pointing and clicking. You move around the decrepit environments of Bulb Boy’s home with the analogue stick, pick up items using the A button and select an item from your inventory with the shoulder buttons. Using these basic mechanics you solve the puzzles and cleverly defeat some monsters around you.
There is threat in Bulb Boy, you can die and it’s not shy about giving opportunities to do so. Bulb Boy himself is quite defenceless and you need to use your items with the environments in order to survive some of the weird enemies you’re put up against. Dying isn’t the end of the world though as you go back to the last generous checkpoint almost instantly.
In a remarkable coincidence, just like our previous review of I and Me (released the same day), at points in Bulb Boy you control two characters at once. Unlike I and Me however, the characters here are controlled independently with an analogue stick each. Funnily enough, the game doesn’t give any indication at the point you can control the second character, leading to me getting stuck for quite a while wondering what I should do. I felt stupid, but it was the games fault.
One of the most important aspects of adventure games is the story. I’ve already told you the overview and that’s as deep as I’ll go since it’s not a particularly long game, only a couple of hours in fact. I will say that I absolutely loved the concept of the story, definitely fascinating. What I did miss, however, is any banter between characters. That’s something that usually makes or breaks an adventure game for me. It’s something that made me adore Monkey Island and Broken Sword so much. In Bulb Boy character interactions are told through gibberish natter or through thought bubbles and I do understand why. Maybe the tone of the game wouldn’t have suited dialogue, but it’s really my most loved aspect of the genre.
Let’s get to the main point though. It’s the art style that very much makes the game. The gameplay itself is very minimal and the story is only told visually so it’s the art style that makes it worth experiencing. While I’ve never played the Binding of Isaac, I would imagine it’s a decent start for comparison, although Bulb Boy definitely lacks any subtlety, it goes for full on disgustingness. I’m going back a while, but it reminds me of a more nightmarish, extreme version of Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, which if anyone gets that reference, well done.
Maggots, insects, faeces; Bulb Boy is no holds barred. When you end up fighting your own giant turd, formed from the monstrous deformed chicken you ate after poisoning it, you know the game isn’t scared to go all out. These visual nightmares are just wonderful. It gets to the point where you don’t want to look at it, but actually you really do. You want to be disgusted. And disgusted Bulb Boy will make you. The sickly green colour just matches the visual art style so well too. It does become hard on the eyes after a while but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s the icing on the cake for the completely disgusting style of the game.
The story constantly switches between the present and flashbacks of the past. This is when the visual style really helps with the tone. As mentioned before, Bulb Boy has a very distinct colour; monochromatic green. In the present the green is shaded with black, making it very dark and depressing; whereas the past is contrasted with white, showing a happier, more innocent time. It’s really well thought out.The music really adds to the whole atmosphere of the game too. It’s very well presented in both the audio and visual department.
There are very few complaints I have with Bulb Boy. It may sound like nitpicking but I actually despised the way during cutscenes when you couldn’t perform an action, every time you pressed anything, an annoying icon constantly appeared in the top left corner. It was incredibly immersion breaking and I wish it wasn’t there.
There was also a time when a puzzle became impossible to be completed. I was messing around trying some things during a time when you need to throw your dog a ball. In order to do that you need to send a bee to disturb a bird from its nest. At some point the bird stopped being disturbed and I had to restart the game. Thankfully, checkpoints are created every time you do something slightly important.
How can something so surreal, so ugly and grotesque, be so lovely to play? I don’t know, but Bulb Boy manages it. The gameplay is really quite standard, the puzzles aren’t particularly taxing and the story is interesting but I do miss character interactions that made me love point ‘n clicks of old. But the style is so damn good. It’s got a lot of balls and you can’t stop playing as you want to see what the next horrific visual will be. I personally think that Bulb Boy is a game to experience, not only for adventure game fans, not only for horror fans; for everyone, except kids. Keep kids away from this as it may give them nightmares just from the sheer creepiness and messed up designs. It may be a short game with little replayability which may put off some, but it’s a recommendation from me.
Game provided by Bulbware.