It's C64 Month - Bombuzal

by Paul Morrison


The Commodore 64 was a computer which had a wealth of different and interesting puzzle games written for it.  That was unfortunate for me because, as you'll know if you've read much of what I've written in the past, I usually hate puzzle games.  So why am I playing one for C64 month?

To be honest, I haven't always hated puzzle games.  It's only as I've grown older and my brain has turned to mush that I've gone off them, with the odd exception.  Back when the Commodore 64 was in its prime, though, I was almost a connoisseur of puzzle games!  I certainly played and enjoyed my fair share, from Split Personalities to Zenji to Tetris and many more besides.  One of the puzzle games I enjoyed the most was a from-out-of-nowhere oddity called Bombuzal.

As you can see, I've completely cocked this level up.

As you can see, I've completely cocked this level up.

I call it an oddity because although it was written by the extremely well-known Tony Crowther (along with David Bishop, in this case), there seemed to be no advance publicity and the first anyone heard about it was when it blasted into ZZAP! 64 and earned a Gold Medal.  I remember seeing the screenshots featuring this crazy character with a big comedy face and snooker referee hands and being drawn to it.

It wasn't universally well-received though.  Commodore User slaughtered both the C64 and Amiga versions with a review that makes me wonder if they played the game for long enough to properly understand it!  Having said that, this is said with hindsight and at the time I put my trust in the lads at ZZAP! 64.  That trust turned out to be well-placed.

Look at that crazy fella! He doesn't half make a mess wherever he goes.

Look at that crazy fella! He doesn't half make a mess wherever he goes.

For your first couple of plays, you might be more tempted to side with Commodore User than ZZAP! 64.  As you'll see if you watch my video at the bottom of the page, it can be a little too easy to lose control and plunge off a platform to your doom.  Initially this is because, in the isometric 3D version of the game, the controls seem to be 90 degrees off from where you'd expect them to be.  Once you've got used to that you might find yourself pushing the joystick too many times in one direction because the game pauses for a split-second when you detonate a bomb.  It's a bit frustrating, but easily compensated for.

OK, so... what would YOU do here?

OK, so... what would YOU do here?

Once you get used to how the game plays, your frustrations will lie in working out the levels.  It's funny because although they're quite devious, you can often figure them out first or second time.  The game mechanics are such that in many cases you can look at a level, know what each bomb does and know which one to set off to win the level.  Clever game design, that.

There's a choice of viewpoints to use when playing the game: an overhead 2D view and the aforementioned isometric 3D affair (which is where you get to see the comedy face).  In all honesty, you can't really play the 3D version until you know your way around the game.  You don't really see enough of the level map from that angle to be able to figure it out.  It looks good though, with your daft character waving his hands around manically as he walks across the platforms.  Still, it's a great challenge after you've completed the 2D version of the game.

The countdown is on!  Explodey goodness will follow!

The countdown is on!  Explodey goodness will follow!

That's where you'll probably spend the majority of your time.  Taking that as the main game, you've got over 100 levels of chain bombing mayhem to tackle, and it's incredibly compulsive and enjoyable.  There's a handy password system so you don't have to play from level one every time if you don't want to, although if you do you can always improve on your high score.  That's something that would have been much appreciated by anyone who truly wanted to attempt to see all the game's levels.

Bombuzal, for me, is one of the best puzzle games the Commodore 64 had to offer.  It had that all-important "just one more go" factor... in fact, even worse than that, you tended to think of a solution to a level you'd been stuck on while you were almost asleep or miles from home and your computer!  That's the sign of a great game, right there.  As an added bonus, some of the game's levels were designed by coding superstars of the era.  Why don't you play it and see if you can work out which ones they are?