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bit Generations: Boundish (Game Boy Advance) artwork

bit Generations: Boundish (Game Boy Advance) review

"Humorist Lore Sjöberg on Pong: "

Humorist Lore Sjöberg on Pong:

Look. Table tennis is not that interesting of a game. TV is not that interesting of a medium. I can't imagine why combining the two was such a hit, but hey, it was the early seventies, when corduroy was king. I bought an ancient Pong game at a thrift store a while back, rushed it home, hooked it up, and within seconds I was bored. So I played "Sewer Blaster Kombat 64" instead, which was also boring, but at least it was colorful.

Boundish is at least colorful, but it's still boring.

The other bit Generations games start with an original premise - an orbital mechanics sim, a sound-only game, Tron as Eer-minimalist racer. Boundish has Pong - Pong in a pool with bouncy balls, Pong with little stretchy stick people as paddles, solo Pong, Pong in an ice rink, Pong on a '70's turntable, but it's still Pong, and there's no strategy other than "hit the ball back and forth until someone misses". In some games, you can deliver a smash if you hit the A button at the right time, but this seldom makes a difference; none of the additions or changes in scenery alters or reinterprets that gameplay.

Well, I take that back. The floaty gobs of goo in the "Pool Flower" game that slow your or your opponent's movement and change allegiance based on which player last bounced the ball off them might have been an interesting gameplay mechanic if your opponent's didn't latch on you with the celerity of sonic leeches while yours dawdle in the corner of the screen. The addition of goalies to the basic Pong game in "Human League" would've been a good idea if the goalie didn't loiter a scant half-centimeter behind your paddle, allowing you no more than a nanosecond to register that you've missed the ball and need to deploy him. (Thanks to the size of the GBA screen, the only way to get a workable distance from the goalie is to hug the center line, which the CPU will reliably do from the very start of a match to prevent you from doing so.) "Wild Go Round" comes the closest to succeeding - the players can affect the spin of its turntable court, so the ball wobbles wildly clockwise and counter- across the LP; there is no "your side" of the table, only your turn to hit the ball, making things happily harried. The controls for the turntable are tough to use in the heat of the moment, though, and the CPU never lets itself be faked out by your spins, so what's the point?

At the earliest difficulty setting, the computer's a pushover. Its next two settings are Ridiculously Cheap and Everything Must Go. The game's either boring or boring and frustrating. The solo mode, lacking a CPU opponent, evades this somewhat - the meandering music-box BGM is soothing and the game relaxing - but the concept of solo Pong has been long and happily explored by Breakout and the like, and this version has no more depth than a Flash title.

Boundish deserves congratulations for faithfully recreating the '70's line-art arcade aesthetic while introducing a chic modernist color scheme, all offset turquoises, khakis, and mauves or a sporty red-vs.-blue scheme in geometrics. The designers included little touches like the little block-font "WOO!"s and "YEAH!"s from the "Human League" goalies if they block the ball or the stick-figure celebrations and nervous breakdowns on the win-loss cards that come up after a point is scored. The sound effects are perfect replications of the era, little frenzied unintelligible opuses that attempt, in a happily incoherent way, to communicate crushing disappointment or soaring joy in a range of three blippy notes. (One idea doesn't work as well; the soundtrack in "Wild Go Round" changes accordingly as the turntable spins in opposite directions, but this just makes it sound most of the time like the BGM is being played on noisemakers by five-year-olds.)

Like everyone else, I have heard that the 2-player mode is much better. And that's it; we've all just heard it, because we're likely never going to play it with another in real life, as when those of us who aren't antisocial introverts get together, it's not to play Pong on outdated handhelds (no DS wireless compatibility, sorry). We're left with only the solo mode to judge.

I can see, in a way, the logic of Nintendo's back-to-basics retro series going to the most basic and retro title of them all (your Tennis for Twos and SpaceWar!s and Magnavoxes aside). Think twice, though; is there any point in remaking Pong? It's like remaking Edison's first movies of trains running and people sneezing. No one lined up for the content; they were grabbed by the new technology. Pong was popular because you could make images on a TV screen move with a stick. It wasn't that it was entertaining, just that it was possible. We have higher standards than "possible" now, and even if its concept didn't date Boundish, its substitution of abominably cheap AI for functioning game mechanics would have. I'm not asking for Pong Blaster Kombat 64, but I expect at least a little attention to basic craftsmanship.

Synonymous's avatar
Community review by Synonymous (December 02, 2008)

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