Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Adventures of Bayou Billy

System(s): Nintendo

Genre: Action Adventure

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

Release Dates:
Japan - August 1988
North America - June 1989
Europe - January 1991

I'm sure I'm not the only person who, upon seeing Bayou Billy for the first time, thought it was a Crocodile Dundee knock-off. My first impression based on cover art alone was that Konami had somehow failed to secure the rights to the franchise and resorted to playing copycat instead. It seems too much of a coincidence that Crocodile Dundee was at the peak of it's popularity. Perhaps there was some inspiration from the Australian hero, but the Louisiana setting, pitting Billy against a gangster known as Godfather Gordon "the gangster king of Bourbon Street", attempts to make this game stand alone. And stand alone it does.

Bayou Billy was a budget game on release, for all intents and purposes, but a decent one at that, and better than a licence game would have merited anyway, if the relationship between NES games and movie licences is anything to go by (I'm looking at you LJN!). It features three distinct gameplay styles in one game, being subdivided into side-scrolling beat em' up, driving and light gun sections. The main menu has game modes "A" and "B", although only leafing through the manual gives you any clue as to what the difference is. This certainly doesn't make the game feel like it's aged well. I mean, when was the last time anyone actually had to read a manual to figure out a game? But I digress. The difference between the modes simply boils down to using the controller only for "B" rather than the light gun for the shoot em' up sections, in case you don't have a light gun (or can't be bothered/forgot about plugging it in). Why they didn't just make this a separate menu screen literally asking you if you wanted to use the gun or controller, I have no idea. Maybe they ran out of data for the cartridge?

The action in Bayou Billy was and still is known for it's difficulty. This is supposedly because there was an error in the international versions, making the enemies 1.5x faster and giving them more hit points. At least I hope it was a mistake and not a means of making the game last longer. Bayou Billy is a short game, so this sort of trick wouldn't surprise me. At any rate, the beat em' up stages can be frustrating as a result. Enemies feel a bit cheap and they can be damage sponges, soaking up hits while they corner you three on one. Health is also pretty scarce and continues few. This is unfortunate because these stages are pretty fun otherwise. Apart from the crocodiles. Oh these crocodiles.....having to kill them is tedious and takes way too long, which could be said for most enemies in the fighting stages. To get past these crocs you either wade in and time your punches perfectly and get REALLY close, or stand on dry land and kick from a distance, which is tedious in the extreme.

These stages do give you a variety of weapons like bullet proof vests, guns, two-by-fours and best of all, a whip. The whip is the most fun I've had in a NES game with a power up. You can kick, punch and use a jump kick, but I found the punch mostly worthless, as it requires you to get in very close. The jump kick is useful on occasion but as soon as you get your hands on a weapon you'll really want to use it. You also get some bosses thrown in for good measure, although thankfully they are reasonably slow compared with regular foes. The boss music is particularly good too, as is the beat em' up stage theme.

The shooting stages of Bayou Billy are the most fun I had with the game. I actually played through the game anticipating the shooting stages, and every time one of the others appeared instead, my heart sank a little. I think that's a good indication of how engrossing this part of the game is. You contend with bazooka enemies hiding in the swamp, who
occasionally drop nifty power ups like more bullets, or stars that destroy all enemies on screen at once. Also out to take you down are machine gun wielding thugs that drop down from seemingly nowhere. They can be a pain, as they will run across the screen back and forth before stopping to fire. It does add to the tension though. There is a very nice non-swamp gun stage as well. The action is engaging enough, even if it doesn't last too long. It's a pity there are so few stages, most of those to be found in the game are the beat em' up variety. More shoot em' up stages would have given this game a whole lot more replay value. The bosses here are probably the more memorable ones in the game besides the final encounter and the pressure during the fights is enormous. You start back at the boss when you die but it's probably just as well as going all the way back would be a nightmare.

Finally, you get two driving stages. There's not a whole lot to it, you basically dodge rocks and blast other cars, while firing grenades at planes and helicopters, all while trying to manoeuvre your way along tough bends and beat a time limit. It's probably a good thing there were only two of these, as they were probably the least memorable stages in the game, and a little simplistic. It can ratchet up the tension a bit when you are dodging rocks, destroying jeeps and blowing up planes all at once, but there is very little else worth mentioning. The controls of both the driving and fighting stages are pretty poor, and with a NES controller, is a sure-fire way to give yourself hand cramp.

Bayou Billy looks very good given the limitations of the NES. There are a variety of enemy sprites although the first enemies look a bit boring and have a bit of a strange colour palette. Shocking pink is more likely to draw laughs than anything else, so you have to wonder what they were thinking making the tougher of the standard enemies pink. Most enemies' toughness is denoted by colour in this way, so it's standard 8-bit character design.

There really aren't a whole lot of locations in the game to be honest so it's good that they fill the space between stages with cut scenes featuring Gordon. Between levels he will taunt you, with stereotypically distressed damsel Annabelle tied up helplessly beside him, thankfully not tied to any railroad tracks. It's a nice touch to have these scenes. One highlight is at the end of a fighting stage where you come across a truck driving away with Annabelle's screams heard from inside. The game over screens show a similar dramatic flair in spite of the limitation of the technology. They show Billy lying in the mud, arm outstretched toward the player, and during the gun portions Billy's hat is flying off while he clutches at a bullet wound in his chest. It really feels like you've failed the poor guy. As if the frustration of failure wasn't enough, you have guilt to add to that too. The narrative is a towering strength of Bayou Billy. There was originally an amusing alternative ending in the Japanese version, but unfortunately that was left out in subsequent releases.

Bayou Billy is a passable attempt at a very diverse action game, where the shooting segments stand out as the core strength of the gameplay. It probably would have been more acclaimed on release had the street fighting not been made more difficult in the worldwide release, and the driving stages are mostly forgettable filler. Bayou Billy PAL/NTSC fails to feel like an epic quest to save Annabelle, because it's too short, but is also inferior to it's Japanese counterpart, Mad City. It's not a game I would recommend easily, although anyone interested in playing one of the few games that used Nintendo's Light Gun peripheral well but not exclusively might want to pick it up.


+ Most fun I've had with the Light gun since Duck Hunt
+ Great narrative for an 8-bit game
+ Some fun weapons
+ Gameplay gives people some variety, even if all parts aren't equal
+ Nice graphics

- Inferior to the Japanese version
- Very short
- Fights can feel cheap
- Driving stages forgettable
- Not enough of the one thing that kept it going - the shoot em' up stages
- Confusing title menu
- Most stages have poor controls

Overall Score


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