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Bucky O’Hare

Show of hands, how many of you remember or have even heard of Bucky O’Hare?  I thought as much.  Bucky O’Hare was a short lived comic book series published in the mid-80s by future G.I. Joe scribe Larry Hama and Michael Golden.   Apparently someone believed in it enough to spawn a cartoon series, toy line, and in this case a few videogames.  The NES game sees Konami taking a page from Capcom’s book and adapts the Mega Man formula with excellent results.

On a routine trip through the Aniverse (short for anti-matter universe) the Toad Air Marshall ambushes the crew of the Righteous Indignation, leaving Captain Bucky O’Hare as the lone escapee.  With his crew scattered across different planets it’s up to Bucky to reassemble his posse and lay the smack down on the Toad Empire.  While I never read the comics I was a big fan of the cartoon and looked forward to it every Sunday.  Bucky O’Hare as a whole has been forgotten (was it ever really popular?  The cartoon only lasted one season) but that doesn’t mean the ancillary products, like the NES and arcade game should share the same fate.

In my addled 12-year old brain Capcom and Konami were eternal rivals like Ken and Ryu, releasing a consistent stream of the best 8-bit games of all time in a bid to see who was better.  Don’t ask why, I can’t make sense of it either.  So it was a bit of a shock to see Konami ape Mega Man.  That was practically sacrilege in my book!  But that quickly disappeared in the face of just how awesome the game turned out and in many respects Bucky O’Hare is a more enjoyable experience than the last few NES Mega Man games.

With the crew scattered across 4 planets you are free to tackle them in any order with the exception of the Blue Planet, which requires Blinky.  And that is due to everyone’s special ability.  While everyone is equipped with different variations of the standard blaster they each possess a unique power.   Bucky has a super jump, Blinky can fly for short periods and destroy ice blocks and stone, Dead Eye can climb walls, Willy has a Mega Buster (Capcom ®) and Jenny has a controlled shot.   For the most part these abilities aren’t necessary until the second half of the game to give players the right to tackle the game as they see fit.  Once a crew member has been saved you can switch characters at any time, which comes in handy during the game’s fiendish levels.

The greatest strength of Bucky O’Hare is its level design.  Each level is broken down into many Acts of varying lengths.  Some are brief lasting a few short seconds while others are longer and pit you against different stage hazards.  Each planet in the first half is themed, such as the ice of the Blue planet, the lava and fire of the Red planet, etc. with traps based around them.  Due to the ever changing nature of each Act the levels never get stale and feature an assortment of challenges, such as the careful timing required to land on the balls that protect you from the spikes of the red planet.

The second half of the game features a drastic jump in difficulty.  The game will force you to partner up with a specific character at times, one that is mandatory to complete each level.  The time spent learning each member’s abilities is put to the test in some of the most challenging and creative platform levels on the NES.  The Dark Areas of stage 6 and the furious platforming segments of stage 7 come to mind.  Even the boss battles are challenging and will take a few tries to learn their patterns.  Allegedly some future members of Treasure worked on the game and the polish is evident.  For fans of platformers Bucky O’Hare was a heavily refined version of everything you loved about the 8-bit era; fitting for a game released in 1992.

Bucky O’Hare is a strong contender in the best NES graphics category.  There is a stunning amount of background detail at times and excellent animation.  Most levels feature copious amounts of parallax scrolling, often 2 layers deep.  There is a ton of details going on in the backgrounds, such as fleets of ships flying by or erupting volcanoes, the type of stuff that wasn’t too common during the NES’s reign.  Bucky and his crew are well animated sprites and the bosses are on the same level.  While the music isn’t exceptional it’s very well composed and fits the game nicely.

While the game is a bit challenging the password feature makes it more than bearable.  Perhaps its late release doomed it to obscurity or just the lack of brand awareness; either way Bucky O’Hare is an excellent NES platformer that I recommend to any fan of the genre.

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Little Samson