Welcome to another installment of Retro Weekend, the weekly feature where I play a classic game and write whatever I want about it! This week, I played Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose for the Super Nintendo. Usually, I try my best to play games I’ve never tried before on this feature. This week though, I’ve dived back into my childhood and picked up a game I haven’t played in nearly 20 years. I feel conflicted in my nostalgia…
I’ve always been a fan of the Tiny Toon Adventures cartoon ever since I first watched it back in the early 1990s. Thanks to Youtube, a couple times of the year I’ll search for some of my favorite episodes to satisfy my craving for the show. The crazy thing I never realized was that the show didn’t last very long, only 3 seasons. However, in that short amount of time, nearly 100 episodes were produced. This left game developers with a healthy dose of source material that in turn led to the release of nearly 20 games within the Tiny Toons universe. One of my favorites as a kid, Buster Busts Loose, has always lived in my memory as being a great game that looked just like the cartoon, but always too hard to beat. Now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve gone back to the game with brand new – and a bit more critical – eyes.
Nostalgia can cloud your better judgment in a lot of ways. I have fond memories of specific parts of the game but playing it after so long has definitely made it easy to look at it critically, see what really worked, and what didn’t. I’m still enjoying Buster Busts Loose, but it’s not quite the gem I remember it as and I think it’s interesting to see how opinions change as we get older, wiser, and most likely, more cynical.
The big problem in Buster Busts Loose is level design. It’s just not that good. I spent three days trying to beat the second level because of a ridiculous autoscrolling level that is filled with obstacles the player has almost no time to react to. It makes navigating through Sonic levels at top speed looks like child’s play. On top of the incoming obstacles, there’s a section where you need to jump from one falling train car to the next. However, the gap between being able to make the jump is so short you pretty much have to jump into nothing and hope the next platform appears for you to land on. You don’t have to do this once, but three times in a row, And I nearly broke my controller. When I was six, I didn’t mind repeating a level over and over again. I thought I just needed to be better. But it’s easy to see now that the difficulty is a result of poor design and less about the skill of the player.
Then there’s the football level. Young Austin never got past this level but it didn’t stop him from thinking of it as a highlight of the game. This week, I was able to get past it for the first time with a little effort! The idea of this level is Buster and his team have to score a touchdown against the opposing team in a 2D side-scrolling version of football. Each play, you’re given a choice to run or to pass and make your way up the field. If you can’t move at least 10 yards in four plays, you’ll lose a life and have to start over. It’s a level that’s completely unique to the rest of the game, with its own gameplay, sprites, and music. As a kid, it stood out to me as being incredibly “cool.”
In Old Austin’s reality, it’s actually not that great. Yes, it looks pretty awesome, and it adds to the huge variety in the game, but it just doesn’t play that well. Again, because Buster is forced to dash toward the right of the screen, you’re left with such a brief window of time to react to the blockers that you’re left to randomly jump and slide in hopes of getting another 1st down. SO basically, you bang your head against the wall until the wall eventually comes down. Okay, it’s not that bad, but you get my point here.
On a positive note, the game really does look fantastic. The sprites are big, colorful, and a bit chunky but they clearly represent each character with great detail. Even the environments are given a lot of detail that makes every character feel like a part of that world. Too often the backgrounds feel glossed over, but Buster Busts Loose never skimps on its art. Young Austin and Old Austin can absolutely agree that this game not only just looks great, but captures the cartoon’s look in extraordinary detail.
And what pushes the visuals even further in my eyes is the amount of variety found throughout the game. There are few sprites that get repeated throughout the game and almost every level feels completely new and independent from the next. I already talked about the Football level, but it’s ideas like this that get used throughout the game that keeps Buster Busts Loose from ever getting dull. There are even bonus mini-games after each level that allows the player to get extra lives. Regardless of the hit-or-miss level design, it’s easy to keep playing and enjoying Buster Busts Loose because there’s always something new around the corner.
Though the game only allows you to play as Buster Bunny, there’s plenty of cameos from the rest of the Tiny Toons throughout the game that add to the variety and help to keep the game familiar to the cartoon series. Young Austin loved this and felt like it further cemented the belief that I was playing the cartoon. Old Austin notices one major gripe. The game has a few sections of dialogue and interactions between the toons that are all incredibly bland. While the cartoon is bonkers, witty, and just all-around funny, Buster Busts Loose is filled with very basic “matter-of-fact” dialogue and interactions that seem to only push the game forward or conclude a level. Humor is something that video games are still trying to figure out, but after playing games with some hilarious dialogue and humorous situations, it’s hard not to look at Buster Busts Loose and wish it could capture more of what made the cartoon so special. Having just one of the writers from the show could sky-rocket the games appeal, in my opinion.
In the end, though my nostalgia for the game has been put in check, I still really like Buster Busts Loose. The great art, the music, and the sheer variety the game throws at you makes it feel like the cartoon in a lot of ways, but it’s not quite as there as I once thought. We all grow up and get older, looking at things in a new light. My people do it with their friends, family, career, I’ve done it with Buster Busts Loose. And since it led me to finally beating the game after 20 years, I’m pretty happy about that!