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SummaryBlues in B flat and a ribcage is all you need to defeat evil
The GoodI wouldn't hesitate to include Mr. Bones in the top list of imaginative 2D platformers, up there with classics like Heart of Darkness and Abe's Oddysee.
Mr. Bones can be called a humorous game. There are no in-game dialogues, but the whole idea of the game, the design of the levels, and the FMV sequences between the levels (of which there are plenty) contain a lot of crazy stuff.
You control a skeleton who plays blues guitar in this game. I think this alone gives you an idea of how unorthodox the game 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 cut scenes - 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 amazing level variety is the jewel in the crown of the gameplay 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 mini-game, 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.
In what is perhaps the craziest of all the levels, you'll have to tell jokes to the 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 to attach them back to your body. 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 funny as hell. Just look at Mr. Bones doing a dance on a spinning leaf in the mind world.
The music is just fantastic. 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 BadThe difficulty level is uneven. Some of the levels are fun and rather easy. Others are fun and quite hard. Frankly, I found all 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 some impatient players will pull their hair out at certain spots in the game.
The story is really silly, and doesn't make much sense. There's the good hero and the evil guy, but the other characters, amusing and grotesque as they are, are there just for the sake of being grotesque, for the humor value. And the game seemed kind of short to me, but maybe it was just because I liked it so much?..
The Bottom LineBeside philosophical messages such as "learn to play guitar and you'll keep your bones intact" or "make marriages between skeletons and wraiths legal", there isn't much here in terms of narrative; but the game's charming personality and extreme variety of gameplay guarantee non-stop fun.
I know what you're thinking: "Yeah, yeah, it looks like a cool game, but is it worth buying a Saturn for?.." Hell yeah. Even though there are other great games released exclusively for that console, Mr. Bones alone justifies this purchase. Bring on the blues, baby!