Arcade conversions on Commodore 64, despite sounding like a bad idea for most players, were a major source of revenue for many publishers at the time. Naturally, most coin-ops from the mid 80s were way beyond the beloved breadbin’s limited hardware. Plenty of times, the public was horribly letdown by subpar or unplayable conversions, like Super Hang On or E-SWAT.
Buggy Boy is, luckily, a rare exception.
Developed by the talented Thomas brothers, the guys behind the Pendragon series, and released in 1988, Buggy Boy (or Speedy Buggy in the US) brings all the excitement of the relatively little known Tatsumi arcade original to the home computer. The Commodore 64 was far from being the ideal machine to develop behind view racing games, as even decent ports like Out Run and Enduro Racer seemed to prove again and again.
But Buggy Boy seems to go against this principle, by being especially smooth, playable and colorful. How did the Thomases manage such a feat? Well, by making it exciting to play, first and foremost. The player controls a buggy on five different circuits – distinguished by generic names – with the goal of finishing the race before the time runs out. It’s arcade racing, sure, but it mixes in quite a lot of typical platforming features: the buggy can jump, go on two wheels and collect items for high score records.
Each tracks differs in difficulty, from the easiest one, a simple oval track that loops, to more challenging ones like southern jungles and beaches or nordic mountain scenarios. The flags are the first obvious collectible, scattered everywhere in the tracks: collecting all the different colors in the order suggested by the interface grants 1000 bonus points. Even more peculiar is the soccer ball to kick for 2000 points, then there’s various points gates and, of course, the TIME gate which grants two extra seconds to the player.
The gameplay is fast but remains manageable most of the time, the key to victory is memorizing the circuits, since even the littlest error, like taking a jump at the wrong moment, may lead to disaster. As it is typical of games from the time, the emphasis is on being able to achieve the highscore, rather than just finishing the race, but since the highscores were not even saved, achieving first place felt like a rather fleeting joy.
The tracks feature obstacles like bridges on water, tunnels and the occasional brain-dead opponent. Essential to the fluidity of the gameplay is the framerate of the Commodore version, which, while having the smallest buggy sprite out of all the different home computer conversions, also runs the fastest. As one may well imagine, the framerate makes a whole lot of difference in an arcade race where avoiding obstacles is the main feature. A textbook case of size not being everything.
The sound design in Buggy Boy is perfect, really one of my favorite in racing games for the C64. Even though there’s no music, the sound effects spectacularly compliment the gameplay: from the jingle when all the flags are collected, to jumping and landing sounding appropriately cartoonish. Especially of note is the reverb effect when the buggy enters a tunnel, a very nice touch.
The other home computer conversions range from rather disappointing (Amstrad) to close to the arcade experience (Amiga), but all seem to lack the real immediate feeling of the gameplay of the Thomas brothers’ version.
It may not look the best, but it plays even better than the coin-op.
Some people go as far as defining Buggy Boy as the best arcade racer on the Commodore 64 and well, while an entirely arguable statement, it is an understandable feeling. It is a simple, smooth and perfectly oiled design that harkens back to most basic 80s arcade racing pleasures: collect points and try to not let the time run out while racing on the tracks.
Personally, I’ve never felt comfortable with the huge buggy sprite in the original arcade game, even now, despite having the chance to look at most other versions, I find myself going back to the C64 version; I loved it as a kid and still do. Buggy Boy showcases the Thomas brothers’ special sense for the platform and their awareness of thelimited technical framework they were working in.
An entertaining fluid arcade racer with just the right amount of challenge to keep the player busy for hours. It may not have the impressive three screen display of the original arcade, but it had what mattered: heart.