Too Long; Didn't Play: Bulb Boy

Sponsored By: Hobear

Time Glowing: 91 Minutes

First Attempted Review

A point-and-click game as developed by Wednesday and Pugsley Addams, with guest artwork by Mark Tatulli.

Twelfth Attempted Review

Some things don’t seem like they should go together, and yet they do. Hot Ice Cream is an example of such a thing. You don’t think of ice cream as being hot, but then you go to a restaurant and see Baked Alaska on the menu; often at the same restaurant that features gazpacho.

Bulb Boy is full of oxymorons like that. Sure, he doesn’t eat cold soup or anything, but you can’t even describe Bulb Boy without seeming contradictory. Take the art style, for example: It’s adorably gruesome, or cutely disgusting (which is different from disgustingly cute) or maybe chibi macabre.

Incidentally, if "Chibi Macabre" wasn’t the Japanese localization for Death Junior, it should have been.

Bulb Boy is a treacly cute character immersed in a world that looks like a combination of Spongebob Squarepants and something H.R. Giger would paint after taking mushrooms and reading Call of Cthulhu and Ready Player One in rapid succession. Everything is drawn in shades of green and has a lot of tentacles but still radiates this earnest friendliness that is hard to reconcile with the circumstances. It’s like if Freddy Krueger showed up in your dreams, but instead of killing you he gives you the answers to the test you didn’t study for, and a spare pair of trousers.

The art style is grotesquely beautiful (or maybe that should be beautifully grotesque) and works for the story that the game is telling: Bulb Boy is made of glass, as is his grandfather. One night an evil creature of indeterminate origins invades Bulb Boy’s house, kidnaps the grandfather and puts monsters in all the rooms. You have to overcome Bulb Boy’s fragile nature and rescue your grandfather from the bowels of something with lots of tentacles, teeth and eyeballs.

Which brings us to the next contradictory pairing: The gameplay. Bulb Boy is a point-and-click adventure game with boss fights and platforming. Here’s where the contradictions stop being interesting and start being annoying, because point-and-click adventure games should have neither of those things. While the combination of the macabre and adorable work like cookies and slightly-past-its-sell-by-date milk, the combination of timing puzzles and the floaty, delayed controls go together like peanut butter and broken glass.

The developers seem to understand this too, because the game takes a bit less than two hours to complete, and is generous with the save points. Most of what I’d consider the “classic” point-and-click puzzles are fairly straightforward to the point of being trivial, but the puzzles that involve moving in a specific way to avoid a gruesome death feel far too much like trial and error to me (which just makes me think the developers are being a little too precious with their death animations, because they want to make sure you see all of them), and the controls don’t do a good job of supporting the sort of precision that some of the puzzles demand.

On balance, I’d say Bulb Boy is a decent experience, though. I’m willing to accept that my problems with the puzzles might just be personal preference, and the art style alone is worth the price of admission. Also, just to round out the parade of contradictions, it’s available on both PC and iOS, which makes it an iOS port that isn’t terrible. That in itself is worth throwing some money at, if only to encourage it.

Shine on?

After 91 minutes, I finished the game. There isn’t anything else left to see. I might go back and play it again, if my son insists (we played couch-co-op on this one) but if it were up to me I’d be done with it.

Please note that being done isn’t the same as hating. It’s just that there isn’t enough there to keep a player coming back for seconds. The art style is good, but the puzzles aren’t interesting enough to make me want to speed run it like I do with, say, The Silent Age.

Is it the Dark Souls of grimdark Nick Jr. cartoons?

There is nothing hard about Bulb Boy. Even the boss fights, annoying though they were, were not difficult to figure out, and once you’ve died a couple of times you learn where not to be during certain phases of the boss animations (spoiler alert: It’s usually the mouth).

So no, it’s not the Dark Souls of its kind. It is, however, well suited for gaming tourists who just want to soak up a gorgeously realized world painted in shades of green. Sometimes that’s enough.


I really like the term Gaming Tourist.

alexjg42 wrote:

I really like the term Gaming Tourist.

It's a thing!