C64 Retro-Gaming: Bounder

Game: Bounder
Made by: Gremlin Graphics (1985)
Genre: Action/Puzzle
Did I have this? No

What Is It?
You play a tennis ball or basketball bouncing its way over floating platforms and avoiding all sorts of bugs. If your ball falls down a hole, or hits a critter or mountain, you lose a life. It's pretty simple in concept. In execution though...

Gameplay

It's almost entirely a matter of timing. As this is a top-view game, you have to gauge when your ball is at its smallest (touching the ground) and its biggest (at the apogee of it jump) so you can maneuver it (physics be damned) to the right place before it bounces again. The levels offer different puzzles/courses and along the way, you can bounce on Arrows and Catapults which will make you jump higher (still not over mountains though, in other words, for a longer hang time), and Question Marks that can give you extra lives, extra jumps, bonus points, or more often than not, something that kills you on the spot. Later on, you'll also be able to jump through warps All the while you're avoiding monsters that fly around the screen in different patterns. At the end of each of the 10 levels, there's a small bonus screen that isn't scrolling by, and you have a certain amount of time - and jumps, this is where your extra jumps come into play, confusingly nowhere else - to hit on all the Question Mark tiles to get a point bonus (after a certain number, you get an extra life).
You start with six balls and get more fairly early, but you need them because the game is TOUGH. And it's tough not because it's really challenging, but rather because it's badly designed. When you die, the screen keeps scrolling by and your ball is placed near the top. You know, where you don't know what's coming and maybe still in the spot that killed you in the first place. It is in fact quite common to get stuck bouncing on a mountain or force field gun where you die over and over and over again. The only way to get through this game is really to map it out. Which way to go, which Question Mark tiles to hit or avoid, you need all that stuff practically written down. That is a LOT of trial and error when you have a limited amount of balls (ha!) and time, I think you'll agree. For gamers who are obsessive, sure. For everyone else, frustrating.

Graphics and Sounds
It's a very simple design, but the elements are clear, which is a must. You need to know where the ball is in relation to the ground, and which parts of the ground you can actually touch without being destroyed. I do think some of the monsters' elevation is hard to gauge, but that's from lack of practice. Since it's basically a matter of jumping on gray platforms as green, blue and brown scenery scrolls underneath, the game at least tries to enliven its world with platforms that spell out words. "Hi!" comes up early. "666" ominously shows up later, turning our kids into pawns of Satan, I'm sure. In later levels, there are basketball hoops that, if hit, give you a lot of extra jumps, which I guess means Bounder is a basketball, even if his markings are more like tennis ball's. I mean, he's yellow on the game's packaging, but orange-brown in the game. It's unclear. Much weirder is the boxing glove that appears at the bottom of the screen when the Goal is in sight. It's also on the game art. What's THAT about?

The music in this thing is pretty painful, if appropriate to the game. It's a bouncy, rhythmic tune, entirely repetitive, with maddening midi files during the bonus levels that make you crave for the mind-numbing central theme. Sounds are the glittery stuff you'd expect, though I really question the Catapults sounding like bugs chittering, since the game is filled with bugs. Made me think those tiles were gonna kill me at first. So not a great grade on sound design, I'm afraid.
The World
Well, according to the game's packaging, Bounder is a sentient ball running from that boxing glove, jumping on top of buildings... which isn't really borne out by the graphics or mechanics! So there's that. If you read the back cover copy, you'll see there's still some attempts at world building, like the names of the alien monsters - BINOCULOIDS, STICKITS, MOSCITA, BIRDS (ooh, how alien), CHOMPER, DOMES, PTERRIES, COINS, EXOCETS - but none of that is necessary or particularly explainable. In any case, this is a world where scrolling metal platforms spell out words and your ball has to turn corners around mountains mid-jump. When you're that high-concept, I don't think you need a back story.

Bottom Line
I no like Bounder. I could. I might have. But it just doesn't play fair with the gamer, puts the ball in the wrong spot almost every time, and that's just no fun. I hope the sequel, Re-Bounder (which I don't have nor have ever played) fixes those problems. It probably does. Anybody know?

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