NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A strategic roguelike with puzzle elements
Expect to pay $15/£11
Developer Edmund McMillen and James Interactive
Publisher Edmund McMillen
Link Steam page
As I'm playing The Legend of Bum-Bo, I find myself in a David and Goliath situation. It's me, an angry naked baby with a monobrow and a trash bag, versus a huge gelatinous blob three times my size. This grotesque, writhing monstrosity known as 'The Duke' coughs up a continuous stream of flies that keep hitting me. It's taken me several turns and precious health to set up, but I'm ready for a final attack. I've set up my poo barricade, I've got plenty of teeth and snot, and I have collected loads of wee just in case I need to cast an ability spell. It's definitely grosser than David's rock and slingshot but the outcome will be the same. After this one turn I will be victorious. A nasty, but well earned, victory.
Fans of Edmund McMillen's The Binding of Isaac will recognise Bum-Bo as the beloved passive item from Isaac's creepy basement. McMillen, together with James Interactive, have given the coin hoarding character his own game, replacing twin-stick chaos with a strategic turn-based puzzler. It's a fun twist on the traditional turn-based roguelike, though it's a little frayed around its cardboard edges.
The story follows Bum-Bo the Brave as he ventures into a dark, damp sewer in pursuit of a mysterious creature who has stolen his special coin. It's a straightforward setup: match four tiles in a row to use items and abilities in battle, defeat the dungeon's enemies to progress. If you die, you start over from the beginning. The simple and streamlined structure keeps you focused on the calculated combat rather than the fact you're flinging poo at monstrous flesh creatures.
In the beginning, you'll be fighting flies, rolls of toilet paper, and squishy slimes, but as you progress further into the dungeon's chapters the creatures start to take a dark turn. You might be up against a child-like monster with its eyes gouged out and blood pouring down its face, or a creature that's just a grotesque mass of flesh and bones. I prefer the creepy enemies over the toilet humour but there's a charm to McMillen's uneven universe—it has moments of body horror interspliced with a poo joke. The 3D cardboard cut-outs make you feel like you're trapped in a cardboard box along with a group of deranged papercraft dolls.
Bum-Bo's actions are carried out by matching four symbols on a puzzle-board. Bones and teeth are used for physical attacks, poo is used as a defensive shield, wee droplets give you extra movement, snot is used to deter enemies for a round, and hearts replenish your health (but are hard to come by). Enemies are lined up in a 3x3 grid and you can choose between the left, right, and center lane to lob your chosen item, always hitting whatever monster is at the front of that column. Creatures will move around the grid, forcing you to adapt your strategy.
Matching any of these items also grants you mana that lets you cast a number of spells, reshuffling the puzzle board, unleashing a powerful melee attack, or manipulating enemy movement. There's a small shop in between rooms, and a bigger shop in between chapters where you can refresh your game plan by buying new spells. These are, of course, represented by creepy syringes.
Deciding between the combination of different moves and spells elevates combat from a simple match-four system to a multi-layered battle of planning. You're not only reacting to this round, but setting up the puzzle board to help you out on your next turn, like setting up balls in the world's grubbiest snooker game. Each battle is a fun exercise in thinking ahead.
Bum-Bo inspires forward-thinking, but there's a cardboard barrier to your strategies. Leftover spells from efficient play do not carry into the next room of the dungeon, leaving you at the mercy of the random puzzle board. It's frustrating that The Legend of Bum-Bo asks me to think ahead, but doesn't reward me for planning further than the box I'm currently in.
A bigger issue is that the game froze on several occasions, erasing my progress. Fixes are coming, but for now be warned that a good run can end abruptly through no fault of your own. Despite this, I'm making slow but steady progress with The Legend of Bum-Bo. I've unlocked some new characters, and have gone deeper into it's dark, damp world. It's a smaller game than its predecessor but it feels more focused, with combat that offers a distinctive spin on turn-based strategy.