Hover Bovver (Commodore 64) review
"Video games can answer many questions for us that relentlessly plague our minds all through our comparatively boring lives. What was previously just a part of our imagination can now be brought to life on the screen, putting us in wondrous "what if?" scenarios. What if I had been in charge of the Battle of Normandy? What if I was hunting for treasure in an Aztec tomb riddled with traps? What if I was the last line of defense against an alien invasion? Or, most thrilling of all, what if I had to ..."
Video games can answer many questions for us that relentlessly plague our minds all through our comparatively boring lives. What was previously just a part of our imagination can now be brought to life on the screen, putting us in wondrous "what if?" scenarios. What if I had been in charge of the Battle of Normandy? What if I was hunting for treasure in an Aztec tomb riddled with traps? What if I was the last line of defense against an alien invasion? Or, most thrilling of all, what if I had to mow my lawn but didn't have my own lawnmower? Jeff Minter's "Hover Bovver" answers that last burning question once and for all.
In a short introductory sequence, you see your hero, wearing a hideous yellow hat, a blue striped vest, and his hands tucked nonchalantly in his pockets, close on the garage of his good friend Jim, speaking the immortal words: "Jim won't mind if I borrow his mower..." As it turns out, Jim does mind. You leave with the mower, and the first level appears; a top down view on a big grass lawn with some flower beds, one slightly insane dog, and Jim, chasing us while attempting to entice us to return his property to him through verbal abuse. The objective, then, is simple: mow the grass while avoiding the owner of our temporarily borrowed mower. Oh, and the dog, of course. The dog's got a story of his own: his name is Rover, he belongs to us, he's somewhat obedient, and the sound of a lawnmower drives him stir crazy. At first he'll sit quietly in a corner and watch, but soon his patience runs out and he'll insist on biting the hand that feeds, or in this case, mows. While a bite from jolly old Rover is not deadly, it does hurt, and causes temporary paralysis. This will, obviously, give Jim time to catch up and reclaim his mower if he catches you. Thankfully, Rover is also trained to kill, and a simple press of the fire button will set the dog on Jim, keeping them both out of your hair for a while. As luck would have it, though, Rover will only obey so often before he happily ignores your commands and goes after you instead.
As if dodging both the disgruntled owner and the crazed canine wasn't enough, there is also the very protective gardener who will enter the lawn and chase after you as well if you accidentally mow away some of his flowers. Steering the lawnmower deftly around the flowers can be tricky, particularly if you are being chased already, so the occasional flower death is a pretty common occurrence. With two people and a dog to avoid, you'll discover soon enough that it might have been a better idea to keep the dog locked up inside and just buy a bloody lawnmower. But fun would that be? If Jim manages to reclaim his mower, or if the gardener confiscates it, thankfully you have two more friends, Tom and Alf, who also possess mowers. But that's the extent of it, and if all mowers are lost, our hero is forced to dig into his pocket and buy one; or a llama, of course.
The presentation of Hover Bovver is a bit of a mixed bag. The sequences where our hero "borrows" a lawnmower from a friend's tool shed are quite funny and, by Commodore standards, pretty well drawn. The actual levels not so, however. The top down view on the characters makes their movements look rather silly, and the majority of every screen is taken up by boring green grass. The flowerbeds, at least, feature flowers of many different colors, which helps break the monotony somewhat. Sound effects are limited and simple, but they're not really needed thanks to a great, catchy background tune that repeats over and over without getting all that annoying. It's not a very varied soundtrack, but on a Commodore game I'm usually happy to have any music at all. This one is a definite mood setter, and one of the best ways to experience Hover Bovver is with a friend, and sufficiently drunk so that you're both humming along with it throughout.
Hover Bovver's controls are simple, as they tend to be on Commodore games. The lawnmower does not respond smoothly to your input, however, which is intentional. Turning corners takes a while, and when you start mowing, you move slowly at first and only gain speed (speed that's necessary to stay ahead of your pursuers) when you've gone in one direction for a bit. If you manage to mow a lawn entirely, you are then moved on to a new one with a more complicated layout, and you'll be happy to learn that everything starts moving faster too. Staying clear of the mower's owner, setting the dog on him when necessary to distract either or both of them, and praying hard you won't accidentally hit one flower so you get yet another enemy, is a major challenge and a refreshing change from shooting at aliens. As is typical with Jeff Minter's title, the game is insane, well executed, but not top notch. Later levels are frequently not possible to win without losing at least one mower, because there simply isn't enough room to hide and the dog is constantly on top of you long before you're done. Clever maneuvering that takes advantage of the oddities of your opponents (always trying to move toward you in a straight line, and the gardener won't walk through his own flowers, for instance) can go a long way, but ultimately there will be situations where you have to expose yourself, and in the later levels that often means being caught inevitably. There are only so many levels you can play until a game over simply cannot be prevented. This is very regrettable, because it brings down an otherwise extremely original title. Still great fun to play, but the replay value takes a serious hit because of this problem.
The answer to the question if you should play Hover Bovver remains unchanged by the above. Any Jeff Minter game is an absolute must play, and Hover Bovver is one of the best. Hover Bovver deserves praise for its originality, and while it ultimately falls short of what it could have been, I still highly recommend you try it; as long as you don't presume that Sash doesn't mind if you borrow his Commodore. And keep that dog away from me.
Community review by sashanan (April 28, 2009)
Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.
If you enjoyed this Hover Bovver review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!