If you follow me on Twitter then you will know I make regular calls for ports of the best platforming games ever, Rainbow Islands and Bubble Bobble. At first glance Baboon! looks like it may just fill the Bub and Bob sized hole on the PS Vita, as it has small vertical levels in which you climb to the top while avoiding the colourful animal based enemies.
However, despite the star of the game, Tumbili, being a baboon, he cannot jump. To navigate your way up the platforms you must place a bomb beside Tumblii then use the joystick to slide it left or right which in turn dictates which way Tumbili will fly when the bomb explodes. It’s rather like the controls of Angry Birds but much more fiddly and without (bar the first few levels) the helpful dotted line that shows where the baboon will fly. There is also a power meter, which fills up as soon as you drop the bomb, then reduces and fills on a constant cycle, much like the meter you would find in a golf game. To further complicate things there are also different types of bombs, each with their own unique properties, such as freeze bombs that will instantly cool any flaming obstacles.
As well as determining the direction you fly you can also bounce Tumbili off walls, pinging him around the landscape like a pinball. However, one touch of a spiky red ball or a wall of flame and it’s game over and you have to start the level again from the very bottom. A mid-level check point would be a godsend and reduce the game’s frustration factor considerably.
It’s not just the lack of check points that will cause you to swear and fling your PS Vita across the room. The smallest error in positioning a bomb will result in death, as will the slightest mistiming on the power meter, and if you die it’s back to the start of the level. As you progress you can purchase items that will protect you from some of the enemies but you need to collect currency in the form of bananas which are only banked at the end of a level.
It does take a good while to master the controls but when you do you can zip across the levels at a surprising and satisfying speed, or at least zip about until a bumblebee flies in to your path and you have to start the entire level again. Like all good 90’s platforming games there are also boss battles, which are relatively simple, but like the main game require perfect timing to spin into the boss when he is vulnerable.
Interspersed between levels you will meet a host of charming characters who manage to stay on the pleasant side of twee. There are seals, a ninja turtle basketball team, snakes, chefs, pirate monkeys and completely out of character with the rest of the cast, a couple of giggling anime girls. These characters help you with the story; some might just tell you a tale whilst others have useful items which are required to progress. Much like the gameplay these quests are rather old fashioned, for example you have to find five “smooth bird feathers” to tickle a sleeping seal which has been dumped in the road by a gravity beam. Obviously. There is no clue as to where to find the smooth bird feathers so you have to run back to each character and talk to them until you find the items.
Later levels bring new puzzles with moving platforms, a constantly scrolling play area, a football mini-game and even a clone of Arkanoid. There is also a vertical scrolling shoot ’em up section and a magical pig, because, well I have no idea, there is a magical pig, you just have to go with it.
Baboon is annoyingly hard and the game design – from the checkpoint free levels to the cute character with quests – have been ripped directly from the 1990’s and would be just as at home on the Commodore Amiga as they are on the PS Vita. Happily the developers have also managed to capture the most vital ingredient from games of the past, the “one more go” factor. It may take you twenty, thirty, or more tries to complete a level, but you will go back and finish it. Every time I failed, I failed because of my rash button pressing or imprecise bomb control, and the Vita flinging frustration was accompanied by the knowledge that I could complete the level if I paid just a little more attention.
You can replay each level as much as you like so I found it prudent to replay the first and easiest stage a number of times to stock up on bananas which allowed me to buy protection from the most annoying of enemies. Replaying the level means you can also complete the challenges which are individual to each section. These include completing the task in a certain time frame, clearing all the bananas or killing a specified number of enemies.
The simple fact is that despite turning the game off every ten minutes and vowing never to play it again, I kept coming back to Baboon! It is annoyingly addictive, and I mean that in every sense, it will annoy the hell out of you. I’m still hoping for a pixel perfect port of Rainbow Islands but in the meantime Tumbili and his friends are a fine substitute.