The Adventures of Bayou Billy ReviewJoe Shaffer
We old-schoolers are no strangers to the hype game. Circa 1989, we were begging our mommas for extra money, asking them to withhold our allowances, or performing extra chores so we could get our little mitts on Konami's "revolutionary" new title: The Adventures of Bayou Billy. What mesmerized us wasn't the idiotic Cajun man in the commercials wrestling a fake gator, but the insanity spewing from his mouth: "For the first time ever, Konami combines hand-to-hand combat with drivin', shootin', and, of course, zappin'!" What?! A brawler, a driving game and a rail shooter all in one? This game transcends genre! Crossing genres back then was so rare that it was reserved for only the greatest of games.
So you pulled extra hours mowing the lawn and taking out the trash. You abstained from renting Legend of Zelda for the fiftieth time because the second coming of libido-driven mayhem was waiting for your hard earned cash. When the day finally came that you nabbed that title, you thought you'd die from the euphoria. When you heard the groovy first BGM, like a funky Crocodile Dundee, and saw the earthy 8-bit beauty of the bayou in level one, you thought everything was going to be a-okay.
...until the first enemy approached. You tossed a punch and an alarm somewhere in your brain went off. You ignored it, because this game was awesome (Konami said so). You tried to ignore it, but deep down you knew: combat was stiff as a board. Billy was incapable of throwing more than one punch or kick at a time. Combo attacks and smooth fighting are essential for a great beat 'em up, as these are the features that keep them action-packed. In other words, Bayou Billy was screwed from the get-go.
Instead of combos, combat was all about rhythmic button pressing. There was a small wait time between attacks, usually about half a second, before you could throw another punch. Mostly, you held still and tapped the button repeatedly, and hoped your opponent didn't interrupt your rhythm. The two of you usually traded blows, and the game became a turn-based brawler. Your only means to spice up battle was to alternate between punches and ballerina-like toe kicks. Since kicks reached farther and dealt the same damage as the punches, the punch button was just about redundant. Fights more closely resembled a collection of Swan Lake tryouts than 8-bit knuckles-to-face action because of this.
Bit by bit, your hopes sank. As you advanced, the number of baddies on the screen increased. Combat worked fine against a single opponent, despite the tedium it created. However, when more than one showed up, it went from tedious to downright frustrating. There you would be, toe-kicking with a ballet punk when another prick would sock you in the back of the head. You'd turn to fend him off and ballet punk number one would resume his onslaught. Remember that momentary delay when you attack? Yeah, you were wide open every time you'd cut loose another assault. It's like Billy had horrible arthritis that caused him to pause with each kick. Erstwhile your nemeses took advantage of the delay and double-teamed you until your health depleted.
Most of us weren't good enough to survive the first stage. There were some of us, though, that saw level two after some practice. That's when the game prompted you to plug in your light gun and get ready for some zapping action. You hoped the rail shooter stages would assuage the rage you felt playing the initial beat 'em up segment...
You managed at first, blasting assassins with hit boxes big enough for Ray Charles to nail. But still something didn't feel right. Every time you fired, the screen flashed and enemy hit boxes stood apparent for a second or so. It was a rather cheap effect, one that tried to replicate the atmosphere of arcade shooters, yet failed. You were still in your living room or bedroom, and the effect was more out of place than anything. Once you got over that, you could focus on the stage for about three minutes before it became hairy. Enemies poured onto the screen and soon overwhelmed you. Not only did you have to contend with them, but their rockets and throwing knives as well. One would draw your fire while the other took chunks of your flesh. Your finger squeezed like a gamer possessed, imaginary bullets rained from your zapper, and sometimes losing a life because you ran out of ammo from a frenzied attempt to survive. It was easy to do with enemies everywhere.
You eventually reached a boss, an antsy helicopter, that can only be killed by a trigger-happy marksman. It moved about the screen, way too speedy to hit and far to strong to take out with a shot here and there. You had to attack in a fit of rage and make every shot count. Soldiers dropped from the copter while the metal beast showered you with unavoidable bullet sprays. You prayed as you fired that your health and ammunition would not run out, and that you would see this grim battle through. It was the same story here as with the first stage: overwhelming and frustrating.
Scratch two genres. You knew the third was going to blow, but you played it anyway. Billy hopped into a jeep, armed with an unlimited supply of bullets and grenades. Why he didn't take this bottomless grenade box with him after the jeep ride is a mystery. While scanning the HUD, you noticed it lacked a life bar. You drove into a pole at the side of the road and found out why. One shot is all it takes to lose a life. You knew then that this level would separate the men from the boys, or at least the people who value their sanity from the ones who were still incredulous to the fact that their weeks of allowances were down the tubes. Many reports of rage quits came after trying out the fierce jeep stages, what with their stiff controls and overabundant curves. Worse yet, most of the vehicles you had to blast appeared on the curves, and shooting them at that point was impossible. The bullet never found its target, as it usually flew diagonally off the screen, and you always crashed into the car instead.
It was at that point that you decided it was the last straw, that you were lied to, and that Bayou Billy would collect dust. But when you got to school the next day, you pretended to like it because everyone else did. It wasn't for a few years that everyone would come clean and admit that the game was a disaster, usually after professing their false love for the current fad game.
What's baffling about Bayou Billy's creation is that we're not talking about some hole in the wall company releasing an unlicensed title. This is Konami, an established name, faltering in the attempt to create what would have been the ultimate testosterone trip. Here you have a game with plenty of brawling, high speed chases, gunplay, attack dogs, and scenes where you fight alligators with your bare fists, and somehow this mighty company drops the ball. It was unthinkable then, and it taught us all a thing or two about placing too much trust in established names.
We all thought Bayou Billy would be remembered as a classic, but instead it faded into obscurity. The only traces of it are the tales told brokenhearted kids, now grown up and still stung by later lies spun in the hype game. Years later, Game Genie would come along and make the game playable, but you shouldn't require a cheat device for such an end. Even then, The Adventures of Bayou Billy's drawbacks were more than a challenge issue. It's a multifaceted problem, where the challenge isn't balanced, the mechanics are stiff, and the all around experience tedious. It wasn't that Bayou Billy didn't live up to the hype because it didn't make good on its sweet promises, it was an all around poorly made game.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.