Mr. Bones (SEGA Saturn)

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Developed by
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Written by  :  Cor 13 (173125)
Written on  :  Jan 20, 2008
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Blues in B flat and a ribcage is all you need to defeat evil

The Good

Mr. Bones is one of the most imaginative 2D platform-oriented action games around. It is up there with classics like Heart of Darkness and Abe's Oddysee in terms of variety and wealth of ideas.

You control a skeleton who plays blues guitar in this game. I think this alone gives you an idea of how unorthodox it is. One of the most insane and memorable cutscenes involves a skeleton singing a serenade for a wraith, accompanying himself on an electric guitar. The game has an extreme vibe, and there is something in the calm, almost hippie-like attitude of Mr. Bones that makes it incredibly cool.

But of course, what makes it really special is the fact that all this coolness is perfectly integrated into the gameplay. If the cutscenes are all grotesque and insane, but the gameplay is just jumping and eating mushrooms, then we have a problem. But in Mr. Bones, the gameplay is just as weird and as hilarious as the cutscenes - actually, even more.

Mr. Bones is not exactly a full-fledged platformer. Strictly speaking, it has only three real platformer levels - the three bat levels early in the game. Those are the only levels where standard (well, more or less) platform gameplay applies. Jumping around, killing enemies, finding your way toward the exit. All the other levels are different. They are still based on arcade action, but each level is so unique, so unlike the others, that sometimes you'll have the feeling that you are playing different games.

The impressive level variety is the jewel in the crown of Mr. Bones. There are certain level types that repeat themselves (like, for example, on-rails FMV levels), but most of them are drastically different from each other. Each level is conceived as a separate minigame, with different rules and goals. Just when you think you've seen them all, something completely new appears and hits you on the head.

The creativity and the craziness of some of those levels is really outstanding. In one of them, you'll have to play a blues solo on your guitar. Different buttons represent different segments of the solo, and you'll have to arrange them in such a way that they will please a crowd of vicious red-eyed skeletons.

Another level is a variant of a paddle game; but instead of the paddle, you move around the top of the giant Mr. Bones, while the ball is the little Mr. Bones. You'll have to hit the little Mr. Bones around, collecting his bones. Later in the game, you'll have to tell jokes to a guard, combining sentences by pressing different buttons. A successful joke will make the guard back off, otherwise he'll hit you on the head.

Even the more standard levels have very interesting gameplay ideas. In many levels, Mr. Bones will lose his bones when he is hit. You'll lose your ribcage, legs, etc.; if you are badly hurt, you'll control just a head on the neck jumping around. You'll then have to look for your bones and attach them back to your body when you find them. It is a cool gameplay idea and is also hilarious to watch.

The game uses FMV (with some live actors) for cutscenes and even for some of the gameplay. Most of the levels have pre-rendered backgrounds. I like this particular style, and I think it was done impeccably in Mr. Bones. The animation is slick and sometimes very funny. Just look at Mr. Bones doing a dance on a spinning leaf in the mind world.

The music is excellent. Most of it is blues; it is cool, it fits the theme of the game, and it is also made to be a part of the gameplay. And there are some nice little touches, such as the ability to view all the FMVs after you have completed the appropriate levels.

The Bad

The difficulty level is uneven. Some of the levels are fun and rather easy. Others are fun and quite hard. Frankly, I found most of the levels fun. Yes, even the infamous Ice Lake level. It took me well over thirty attempts to pass it, but I liked the challenge, and it was interesting and exciting. But I can imagine that impatient players will probably want to pull their hair out at certain spots in the game.

I think Mr. Bones could have been longer. Somehow, after I completed the game I felt I was just shown a part of a larger product. The game is really entertaining while it lasts, but its lack of replay value becomes significant once you realize there isn't much to do in the game besides what you've already done. You can play the game again and practice your bone-collecting skills, but there aren't any secrets or optional content to unlock.

This is partly to blame on the gameplay concept of Mr. Bones - or, better to say, the lack thereof. Essentially, this is a collection of minigames; admittedly better thought-out and more coherently designed than most others of the type, but still not exactly qualifying for something more substantial. There is nearly zero exploration in the game, and some of the levels are so small and fast-paced that you won't be able to digest their novelty before you are taken to another small place with another challenge.

The Bottom Line

Even if Mr. Bones didn't contain important philosophical messages such as "learn to play guitar and you'll keep your bones intact" or "make marriages between skeletons and wraiths legal", the game's quirky charm and extreme variety of gameplay guarantee non-stop fun. Bring on the blues, baby!