Review: Battle Bull (Game Boy)

In this review, we crush the competition in the Game Boy game Battle Bull. We find out how well this action game plays.

This game was released in 1991.

You are basically entered into a tournament of sorts. The objective is to destroy a set number of other vehicles within a time limit. If you run out of time, flying vehicles enter the arena and place more and more blocks into the arena. It is possible to complete the round, but you won’t get any bonus points.

The battle mechanics are fairly straight forward. You can move your vehicle to a moveable block. Tap “A” and it’ll push the block across the arena. If it takes out an enemy, that counts towards your kill count. Bring the kill count to zero to win the match.

As you take out enemies, more will respawn randomly in the maze. For some of you, this style of battle may sound familiar. It is basically the same kind of battle system found in Pengo. The only real differences is that enemies don’t populate in destructible blocks and you are trying to work down a kill count counter.

Interestingly enough, this game expands a lot on the Pengo style of gameplay. This game incorporates a shopping system. You start with 500 gold. This, of course, isn’t much to work with, but you do earn gold based on the vehicles you kill. The value of each vehicle was never clear, but I did know that destroying vehicles earned slightly varying amounts.

As you earn more gold, there are different things you can buy. Probably the most useful item in the game initially is the engine upgrade. The more expensive the engine, the faster your vehicle will travel across the screen.

The second item is the shovel upgrade. In all honesty, I never really noticed a huge difference in play with these upgrades. So, how exactly they help is a little beyond me.

The third item is the free life. There is the one free life and two free lives for sale. While this sounds like a recipe for unlimited lives at first, the truth is that you can only buy each of these once. With the three free lives you start off with in the beginning, you can get a maximum of 6 free lives in this game.

Item number 4 is the spring jump. The more expensive the spring, the longer you stay in the air. This is one of your two possible weapons you can use in the game. These springs can help you evade enemy attacks. Not tested in the game on my part, but that is my impression of it after testing it out on a single level.

The 5th and final thing you can purchase are the weapons. You can either have a spring weapon or the missile weapon. Whichever you select (swapping out is free), that will be whatever is assigned to the “B” button in game. The second most powerful weapon fires a missile shot directly in front of you. It can take out an enemy and add to your kill count. The most powerful weapon will travel all the way across the screen until it hits an indestructible block. Anything else it comes into contact with (besides yourself if you have a particularly fast engine) is destroyed in the process.

One caveat to the weapons is the rate you can fire. At first, I thought the rate was one missile at a time. Unfortunately, it is actually even slower then that. In addition to this, weapons are slow. Some enemy vehicles can drive faster than the missile. So, the question then becomes, what good is the rockets to begin with? Sometimes, you happen to be boxed in by enemies with nothing to push. So, you can fire a rocket to give yourself a little breathing room. There are other instances where weapons become useful, but the point is, it gives you more options while on the arena. Pushing blocks will always have a faster fire rate, but it doesn’t hurt to have the missiles as a secondary weapon.

If you die in the arena, you have to start over from the very beginning of the level. You gain access to the store beforehand, but that is it. If you lose all of your free lives, you are free to use a continue, but you lose all points and money earned up to that point. Luckily, you keep your upgrades and the free lives will become available in the store again.

The other vehicles you encounter in the arena have their own behaviors. Some will move straight until they hit a wall. They’ll then wait, pick a direction, and move again. Others will continually turn in such a way that they are slowly moving in diagonal directions (unless they are in thin corridors. In that case, they just move in a straight line). Some will move quickly in straight lines. A few will move slowly and fire on occasion. The thing to note is that they won’t often hesitate to send a block at you, so care is definitely needed. There are two sets of enemies, but their behavior won’t deviate save for their aggression and speed.

There are a few things you’ll encounter on the courses themselves. The indestructible blocks are marked with an “X” in the middle of them. They can’t be moved or destroyed. There are the normal darker blocks. They can be used as weapons against other enemies, but you can only move one. Try to move two and you destroy the first block. There are the arrow blocks that can only be pushed the direction they are pointing in. Try pushing them in any other direction and they are merely destroyed. Finally, there are the randomly opening pits. If anything is over top of them while they are open, they’ll be destroyed.

One interesting quirk to note in this game: if an enemy ends up destroying another enemy, then this counts towards your kill count. So, thanks!

The interesting thing about this game is the difficulty curve. For the first few levels, this game really doesn’t seem to be that hard. After a few levels, an engine upgrade is more than sufficient to last you through several more levels. As I upgraded the machine, the difficulty did start to increase, but not by a whole lot even though I ended up spending money on the spring weapon I never used. By the time I got to nearly fully upgrading the machine is when things started getting challenging. Because of this, it’s easy to invest a lot of time into this game, but still find challenge.

The downside to this game is the fact that gameplay can, at times, get tedious after a while. You do spend a number of levels just lather, rinse, repeating your strategies. While the level design does vary a lot, the core concepts stay the same without any variance for long periods of time. It’s easy to end up getting bored part way through before the game starts challenging the player. If you think the game is boringly easy, then definitely try to make it to the end without a continue. That’s a little more difficult than it sounds if you are only on level 7.

Another downside to this game is the controls can give you a little grief from time to time. You can’t move diagonally, so if you attempt to move diagonally, your machine will just stop moving altogether. In addition to this, you have to be directly behind the block you want to push before you can push it. This may not sound like a problem until you get the fastest engine. Then, things start getting finicky.

Some may take aim at the weapons as a point of criticism, but in all honesty, if they fired more quickly at a faster rate, it defeats the original style of the game. So, I see why the weapons system is so under-powering. You don’t want to undermine the block pushing battle system. If it was more powerful, I would complain because the game suddenly changes when you get those weapon upgrades to basically a top down shooter. So, I thought this was a wise decision.

Generally speaking, this isn’t a bad game. It may get tedious for a period of time, but the game does eventually get quite challenging. The shop system works pretty well. The controls do get a little finicky at times though. Still, it’s a fairly decent game.

Graphics is alright. I’ve played handheld games that have better graphics, but there are worse out there in the market by this release date. They are decent, but nothing amazing.

The audio is a little weak in this game for me. The music is alright, but nothing too exciting. The sound effects are alright, but again, nothing special. Fairly average if you ask me.

Overall, this is a pretty decent game. It took the Pengo combat system and built on it which is nice to see. The shop system worked pretty well. The upgrades are nicely done. The controls get a little finicky and play does become tedious for a while. Still, this game does become challenging as enemies become more aggressive. Not a bad play.

Overall
Furthest point in game: Level 32 (after a continue)
High score: 419,900

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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