Everygamegoing26th August 2018
Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron
Do you like games with very simple controls? Well, long before we were all rhymically bashing our space bar to Flappy Bird or thumping along to DJ Mix Tour, the Electron gave us the joys of Bug Eyes or, as you may know it from the later Audiogenic Power Pack, Space Agent Zelda Meets The Bug Eyes. Two controls only - left and right, and only one goal: Drop from the top to the bottom of each of the ten screens, without colliding with the "Xxabaneans".
I remember playing this game as a very young child and I found it reasonably tricky to get further than screen four, probably because its simplicity made it a little bit hard to take seriously. The first screen features only two platforms and features a load of descending-then-ascending "stompers". You simply wait in front of the first one until it's ascending and it's above your head, and then you move right to go underneath it. You arrive at the next one, you wait in front of it until it's ascending and it's above your head, and then... well, you get the idea, I'm sure.
This sort of tedium on the first screen doesn't really bode too well for the game itself and, alas, things do not really improve as it continues. Bug Eyes' formula doesn't really allow for anything that deviates in any way from "avoid being crushed by something from above and avoid being neutralised by dropping onto anything that moves". Some screens show a little bit of promise by introducing walkways which expand and retreat but common to every obstacle is the need to position your player in exactly the same pixel-perfect position every single time you play the game.
Your ultimate aim is to reach the generator and power it down but, disappointingly, Bug Eyes only has a grand total of ten screens. I can tell you now that, although I found it tricky as a child, I quickly polished it off as an adult, clearing all of the screens in less time that it took me to write this review.
Before I dissuade you all from bothering with this game at all though, there are a few elements in its favour so let me try and redress the balance by highlighting them. Firstly, although sound is sparse indeed, the graphics are passable, and the high resolution four colour mode provides a pleasing, if a trifle small, playing area. Secondly, there may be only ten screens, but each screen shows some creative flair - the same graphics are not re-used throughout the game; each new screen brings with it a new range of aesthetic qualities. When you reach a new screen for the very first time therefore, you really have no idea what to expect before it pops up. Five lives are generous, the collision detection is fair and there are more than a few hair-raising moments, such as needing to duck under a falling portcullis with nano-seconds to spare lest you find yourself stranded on the left-hand side of the screen. Plus, as we all know, simple-key-control games like Flappy Bird appeal to a wide swathe of gamers who find graphic adventures far too complex. So, in short, it's not all bad.
Nevertheless, when Bug Eyes was originally released by Icon Software in July 1985, the gaming press unanimously considered it as mediocre as I found playing it today. The sad truth is that it's a game that just seems to just plod along with no sense of urgency and, once you've completed it, there's precious little to go back to it for. When you are killed, you don't swear vengeance or itch for another go; instead, you feel more of a sense of resignation and, once you're sent back to screen one's "stompers" for the umpteeth time, probably more than a little despair. Consider that originally this retailed for £8 (Around £34 in 2018) and you really understand why Bug Eyes not only didn't fly off the shelves, but why it's now practically forgotten. Once in a blue moon, you do find it for sale on eBay or Everygamegoing but it doesn't command either a high asking price or indeed, much attention from collectors. Bug Eyes? Blah Eyes, more like!
Trivia time: If you played this back in the day, note that there appears to have been two versions of the game that were actually distributed, albeit in the same packaging. The first version featured a white spaceman sprite and the second a multi-coloured yellow spaceman sprite. By the time the game appeared on the Power Pack compilation, the white spaceman sprite had been chosen and it was he who featured in the sequel (The imaginatively titled Bug Eyes II) which did the rounds just over a year later. (There was also a very similar game by the same authors distributed only a year later called Vindaloo, which you won't be surprised to find featured exactly the same advantages and disadvantages.)