Monday, November 21, 2022

Dough Boy (1983)

Taken from Mobygames
Name:Dough Boy
Developer:Synapse Software
Time:50 minutes
Won:Yes (54W/52L)

(The spelling of the title is inconsistent, but this is what it is everywhere on the internet and on the version I'm playing)

A very mundane game with a very curious coating. Doughboy, as you probably don't know, is a curious title applied to American infantry from the time of the Mexican-American war to WWI. Many reasonings have been given as to why, but the one I'm going to stick with is that dust setting on their tan uniforms made them look like they were covered in flour, and as anyone who has made baked goods knows, that's what dough tends to look like. A fact the Japanese missed when they did the 1985 Famicom, giving the player character a modern military getup and M16 drawn by someone who has never seen a M16 before.
The story is a matter of public debate. That sounds like a joke, but nobody knows. The back of the VIC-20 and C64 versions (which actually depict vaguely WWI warfare) mention that you're there to take supplies before the enemy gets them, but nowhere else mentions it. Mobygames says you're there to rescue the president, while others say you're there to rescue generic POWs. Its possible that the plot changed between versions, but I see no mention of the president on the back of the Japanese box art. I am not quite perfect in that regard yet, however.

I'm unsure if this is simply because its NES port, but the game feels slightly better than other chronological top-down shooters. Now, don't mistake that for words of high praise, because this is only good in comparison, not good in general. This is still one of those games where you die in one hit, everything on a level respawns after you die, and the game wants to do way more than you can do with a NES controller, although not entirely. I'll get to that one. I shudder to think how obnoxious this must be to play on a C64.
This playthrough is indeed done with save states, but just at the start of each level. Playing this legit seems like it'd be a chore.

The green guy is me, the white guy is an enemy
Each stage (or map as the game calls it) consists of a screen that pans from left to right, with the first being a sort of trench area. Enemy soldiers fill trenches as you try to get across the screen. This is where the back of the original box comes in, gather supplies here. Things like TNT, wire for the TNT, mines, wire cutters and ladders. You'll need them. They're not optional. Dough Boy is a deceptively easy game, in that unlike other games of the era you don't have to deal with a million things at once. At worst, you'll be dealing with four. Everything dies in one hit, and enemy rate of fire is reasonable. Better yet, touching enemies results in their death.
The problem comes with the controls. At this point their full badness doesn't come into play, but its clear this isn't good. Movement is fine, but to shoot you have to hold down the A button and press a direction. This feels really awkward and oddly enough it makes running into enemies more appealing than actually shooting them. Still, the first stage is fairly simple and beatable after a few tries at most.
I can't help but look at some of the curved ground pieces and wonder why they bothered
Then comes the second stage. To advance, you need to destroy all these things with TNT. Okay. Select enters a menu, pause enters a different menu. Not sure why those needed to be different. B seems to activate the wire cutters...sometimes. Holding down A, waiting for a beep and then releasing it drops a mine. You can and will screw yourself that way. What you need to do is hold down A, wait a bit after the beep, and then start moving away, dropping TNT with a wire that follows you as you decide how long to make it. And no, you can't cut the TNT's wire. Isn't this supposed to be a console for children? What kind of kid has the patience to deal with that crap?
To top it all off this is a finicky level despite looking like it was designed to allow the player to practice using explosives. You get a boat shooting at you from the right, fair enough, its not that tricky to dodge. But all that blue stuff is water, and if you step on it you are dead. You have a weird bit of mercy in that your hitbox seems funny for this, but that just makes it worse.
Stage 3 is where things get interesting. Now you have to blow up all the barrels in what I presume is a fuel dump. Previously, you've needed the key to get out of a level, but they've been so close to the end it doesn't matter. Meanwhile, here it only seems to appear after destroying all the barrels. As a result to advance you have to destroy your own cover, which is a bit awkward. Tanks appear at the ends of stage, along with wire fences. Which you can indeed use the wire cutters on. This is harder, but I guess its manageable.
Stage 4 is less difficult but a bit more annoying. Now you have to climb ladders. Really, the only difficulty involved was figuring it out, Hold B and a direction, then press B to take a ladder back in. I only had two, so that was extremely necessary. Even with a tank at the end it wasn't too bad. Guess it was intended as a breather for...
See that black lump? That's a mine. Have fun with that
Stage 5 is a hateful little thing where you wander around the dark avoiding landmines. You have to slowly approach this. Did I mention this is a timed game? There isn't even a way to get past this without dying once. TNT is also having this weird habit where you're laying out a wire, but somehow stop in the middle of it, start shooting. And here its frequent for that to result in me being caught in the explosion. If a kid beat this without save states he was nuts. Its only after you get past this minefield that the level really starts. Now you have to blow up all the buildings on the map, including some towers with spotlights. Enter a spotlight or a certain area around the tower, and a single guard appears. Not all of them, just one.
Once you blow them all up, you get a key to unlock the area to another building, which you have to blow up to retrieve a POW. Then you crawl backwards with a very awkwardly done AI companion and the game ends with good luck. Well, the game then restarts but with a shorter time limit but I have no interest in that. Nor in the Mode B which now includes missiles being fired at you or in the two-player mode where the second player fires the missiles. Probably because this wasn't that good.

Its definitely a 1983 game. Mired in that arcade spirit to make what is a very short game into a game that could last months, while having cohesive levels and objectives. Something that would plague the NES for most of its life, but here it feels like we're seeing that kind of design for the first time. We've seen sparks of it in Castle Wolfenstein, but that was randomized, this is not. There's something about it that feels recognizably like the kind of game I would enjoy from the '90s, even if it doesn't live up to that standard.

This all gets away from the fact that this isn't a very appealing game. Visually, this looks like something someone would make in their very first video game. Granted, I feel some sympathy for ground, as water and concrete is generally hard to get right at such low resolutions, but bombs that are basically just a box? Are you kidding me? The music, meanwhile, is what you expect from the NES. I think its some kind of American tune I should remember, but it escapes me at this moment. I know the NES was capable of a little better, I liked the Legend of Zelda theme the first time I heard it, but despite using three channels its not all that good in actual games.

Some very confusing to use gun and explosives. 2/10

Two different general varieties, shootable and ones you have to use explosives on. Curiously, the AI on the enemies is interesting, because they don't necessarily make a beeline at you or shoot with 100% accuracy. 2/10

The single POW you rescue doesn't have much of an effect on gameplay, beyond annoyance. 0/10

A series of different areas that despite the developers best efforts, feel like fresh new challenges. Even if they don't always work. I dislike how you have to get everything on the first level though. 3/10

Player Agency:
Functional, but they tried to do too much with too few buttons. None of the items or weapons are very easy to use and because you sometimes have to deal with tight situations this can screw you over. 2/10

You can destroy a lot of scenery objects, but for the most part this is just stuff the game expects you to destroy to advance. You cannot destroy a tree, for example. 1/10

That bright sunny NES disposition...for a game involving warfare. 0/10

Yeugh. 0/10

Go rescue some POWs. That's like the most generic possible story outside of "kill Hitler". 0/10

Blaring public domain AMERICAN music along with some typical NES sounds. 1/10

That's 11.

Reviews of the game almost universally give it a worse rating than I do. Quotes like "absolute trash" and "worst game on the NES". I'm not entirely sure I'd count it among the worst titles on the NES, but that's simply because I think there are stacks of worse titles. Not really worth a look though.

That's it for console games in 1983. I also note that we've seen the last of the Atari 2600 for the foreseeable future, as I eliminated the last of them to get to this point. I can't say I'm sorry to see it go. While its place in history was important, today it feels like a collection of simple one note games without much point in playing for more than a little while. Said not long after the release of Infogrames as Atari releasing yet another Atari game collection for an obscene amount of money. Now the NES is going to take its place as king of console trash.

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