Vintage Game Review: Buggy Boy, ZX Spectrum 128K version

I’ve not been very good at updating my blog, have I? I don’t really have many excuses, given that I’ve largely been sitting on my arse since March, although I did recently contract The Virus, which made me extremely ill for a month, and was a pretty horrible and terrifying experience. I now know what all the fuss is about, and I wouldn’t recommend getting it.

Anyway, I’ve been playing around with my vintage computer stuff, and I’ve rediscovered my fondness for driving/racing games. I’ve never been much of a petrolhead – I only learned to drive seven years ago – but I’ve always enjoyed playing at driving on my computer. Back in my teenage years, I was a big fan of games like Chequered Flag and Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge on my humble Speccy, but my favourite driving game was probably Buggy Boy.

This was an arcade conversion that came quite late in the Spectrum’s life, and I got it for Christmas one year. I think it’s fair to say it was an ambitious attempt on the Spectrum, and the machine’s limits really show in this game. Although it’s fun to play, it does have a number of problems. Anyway, more on that later. The basic outline is you have an off-road buggy to drive around five obstacle-strewn tracks split into stages, with a limited time to complete each one. If you hit obstacles, your buggy crashes in flames, and you lose time before you get another one. However, there are plenty of logs that let you launch your buggy into the air, allowing you to fly over the assorted rocks, bushes, barriers and trees that block your path. There’s tunnels and bridges to cross too, both of which present additional hazards.

On top of that, you can collect flags for extra points, and there are bonus gates for either extra points or extra time on the next level. Going through them often involves having to swerve to avoid obstacles. If you want to complete the game, I’d suggest only the time gates are worth bothering with, as if you pass through all three on a particular stage, you’ll get valuable extra seconds on the next stage.

Anyway, here’s a video I found showing someone playing the Spectrum version, and I’m assured it’s on the original hardware, rather than an emulator!

As I said, this game struggles a bit on the Spectrum. The not-very-high-res graphics result in the buggy being huge, and of course, attribute clash is bit of a problem. However, full marks for making it quite colourful, although there’s less detail than many other versions of the game. The 128K version has better sound and a bit of music that’s missing on the 48K version, but the biggest advantage for 128K owners is that all five tracks load at once – on the 48K, you have to load each one in separately.

You’ll notice that the buggy lumbers along pretty slowly. As a result, this is not a hard game by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not a l33t gamer at all, and I usually run out of patience long before I ever complete anything, but this one was a doddle, and after a few attempts, I easily completed all five of the tracks, which are all quite similar anyway (although do get slightly harder as you go down the list).

The hardware limitations are made quite obvious as you approach objects on the track. You’ll see that when distant, they’re reasonably detailed, but as you get closer, they get very chunky, and look like the sort of things you’d expect to see on a ZX81. The coders have saved space and processing power by only storing small versions of each object. As the Spectrum has no sprite-handling capabilities built into the hardware or the operating system, the game engine has to handle everything, and it’s clearly flailing a bit here.

The collision detection is also really dodgy! Unfortunately, it isn’t consistently dodgy, so you can never quite tell what will happen. Sometimes you’ll sail right through an obstacle instead of crashing into it, which is great. However, sometimes you’ll drive at a log hoping to jump over something, only to stay earth-bound, hitting the obstacle instead. Grrr!

Back in my teen years, I remember feeling quite smug about my ability to complete this game with ease, but I showed myself up a bit when I went to the house of an Amiga-owning friend. “I’ve just got Buggy Boy,” he said, challenging me to a game. “Haha, prepare to be pwned!” I said (or would have done, had the Internet been invented back then). He loaded up the game, and…I failed dismally. The Amiga version is incredibly fast compared to the Spectrum version – so much so that it’s pretty much an entirely different game, that needs to be played rather differently. It makes the Speccy version look like trundling around a supermarket car park on a mobility scooter! Behold…

Notice how you can also go driving around the sides of the banks in this, which I guess is also something you shouldn’t attempt in a mobility scooter…

Anyway, for all its drawbacks, Buggy Boy on the Spectrum is a nice bit of fun, and provided me with a refreshing blast of nostalgia. It also made me realise that although the Spectrum was blessed with literally zillions of games, about 95% of them were rubbish!

I guess we were easily pleased in them days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *