Everygamegoing26th August 2018
Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron
Buffalo Bill's Rodeo Games
I guess that there comes a time when every different type of game is available, in one form or another, for every machine. Up until then, an enterprising publisher doesn't have to think too hard - "I'll just give them something they haven't seen before on the Electron!" it thinks. But when it does happen, buyers become more disconcerning. They won't shell out again for a rehash of something they've seen before, and ideas start to thin out.
Over at Tynesoft, which started life with a collection of shoot-'em-ups and platformers, an idea seemed to seize them. "We can be the best in the world at compendiums!" And from that came Superman, Circus Games, Summer Olympiad, Commonwealth Games and this wild west themed outing, Buffalo Bill.
As a big fan of country music and a moderate fan of Western movies, I hoped there might be something to see here. Alas, although there are six events included, none of them are really up to much and they have aged fantastically badly.
First up is Trick Shooting, a two stage event in which you control a crosshair and shoot at things in order to increase your score. The targets aren't real people; instead they are cardboard cut-outs, the type you would associate with a rifle range. Set against a sprawling desert backdrop, they sporadically pop-up and collapse, affording you a few seconds to loose a shot toward them if you want to.
Your aim is not to shoot everyone but to only shoot the bad guys. To this end, every game of Trick Shooting gives you a quick reminder of who's bad and who's good. Rather puzzlingly, all the women should be spared a mouthful of lead, whilst most of the men should be hammered full of it.
Occasionally, a bird skirts over the shooting gallery and can be plugged for a fat bonus. But ultimately, once you've committed the different sprites to memory, the game becomes very samey very fast. There is some attempt at variety with a different style of play every few minutes. This introduces an old sheriff who tosses some of the slowest-flying bottles ever into your line of fire. It's also kinda boring kinda quickly.
Next comes Knife Throwing, an event I associate more readily with the circus than the US of A. This is much more difficult. Play involves positioning a crosshair next to the spinning body of your female assistant. You then launch a throwing knife at her with Return and, more often than not, my assistant ended up with a "mortal wound" to one of her extremities. How much rotation will occur between the knife leaving your thrower's hand and making its mark upon its target is hard to gauge.
The third is Calf Roping, an event that takes place within an arena and is viewed from above. It starts with a gate opening. A calf then runs out onto the screen and, a few seconds after, your cowboy on horseback follows it. The aim of the game is to "lasso" the calf by riding almost alongside it and then throwing the lasso just in front of it. If your luck's in, the calf will be caught. You must then quickly decrease your speed so that the calf doesn't drag you off your horse.
To make capturing the calf more challenging, as soon as it reaches the screen edge, the arena starts to scroll. The calf then sways from side to side across the breadth of the arena. At the same time, there are numerous obstacles to be avoided in the arena itself. This means riding alongside the calf and pulling off the lasso is far from easy!
Steer Wrestling is viewed from the side but is, in part, rather similar. Again you're on horseback initially, and must pull alongside a steer. At the crucial moment however you must yell "Ye-haa!" (alright, that's optional!), and leap from your horse onto the top of it. This is easier than Calf Roping, but still takes practice. If you don't end up flat on your face, the game becomes one of those key-bashers and you must hammer the Z and X keys alternately to wrestle the steer to the ground before time runs out.
Bronco Riding is a simulated version of riding a wild, bucking bronco and trying to stay on its back for longer than a minute. I've done this one for real (albeit in a pub on a mechanised bull) and physically it's about balance and thighs with a vice-like grip. In this simulation, it's about trying to "correct" both a horizontal and a vertical meter which take the form of a large plus sign. ZX*? must be used to pull back the "balance" of the rider as the meters veer dangerously from one extreme to another.
This is a real feat of concentration and, although it may seem slightly ludicrous to compare the physical demands of bronco riding with pressing and holding down keys, it does seem to work quite well. The only real problem with this event is that you need to keep focussed on the plus sign at all times and so you're merely "aware" of the bronco bucking, twirling and dancing elsewhere on-screen - you can't really admire the graphics.
Finally we have Stagecoach Rescue which is a real oddity. It's not a rodeo event at all but a game in which you must ride a horse alongside a stagecoach and jump onto it. Your cowboy is hampered in his progress by an Indian on the stagecoach roof who throws "things" at you and then has a fist-fight with you if you do clamber onboard.
This one is played from the side and feels a little unresponsive at times.
Welcomingly, although rather unusually for the Electron, a different piece of music starts each event and there's a resume of progress accompanied by a lively rendition of The Sweetest Little Rosebud That Texas Ever Knew. The tunes chosen seem a little peculiar but you can't fault their inclusion. They're really lively and give you the impression something 'special' is on the way. The little animations which introduce the events, and the graphics themselves, also couldn't really be described as anything other than great.
Which makes it all the more disappointing that Buffalo Bill doesn't actually deliver the goods. Firstly, the events are unbalanced. For example, if you miss a target in Trick Shooting, the event doesn't come to a sudden end. In Knife Throwing, if a single knife hits your assistant, it does. Likewise, if you're immediately thrown from your horse in Bronco Riding, the event is over in just a few seconds.
Secondly, the games aren't addictive. Everything in them looks good but feels sluggish to play. Shooting a bottle out of the sky or manoeuvring a cowboy alongside a runaway horse doesn't really compete with the excitement of Chuckie Egg or Felix In The Factory. Stagecoach Rescue is particularly weak. "Fighting" the indian is very tedious and takes place in a very small area of the screen indeed.
Thirdly, and quite obviously, the game is a multi-loader. On tape, each event takes an age to load in, and they must be played sequentially. If you're going to play them all, then you'd best settle in for the night. And finally, the very first thing that happens when the game loads in is an 'enter your name' routine. This is the slowest, and most cumbersome, thing you will ever experience!
It all adds up to, as Acorn User thoughtfully put it at the time, "something for everyone, but not that much for anyone". Electron User, in its usual misguided way, begged to differ, somehow managing to find it "addictive". It isn't. It is all style and no substance and, unlike many Electron games, it quickly fell from the collective consciousness as a result.
There are two versions of Buffalo Bill, the full-price Tynesoft release and a rarer "Micro Value" budget release that is very hard to find. Each have the BBC Micro version on the flipside which has better sound and more colourful graphics but of course the same drab events included. Expect to pay around £7.