Game-related ramblings.

Scratching That Itch: Gunbuds

This is the ninety-fourth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our next random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is Gunbuds, by Scott LaGrasta. It is also, I believe, the first entry in this series that does not have a tagline in the bundle at all.

Thanks for ruining my intro format, Scott LaGrasta!

Gunbuds is an action platformer for 1-5 local players (up to four gamepads, plus keyboard). Naturally, I was only able to play it in singleplayer. I took control of a member of the Gunbuds, an elite secret military organization that undertakes clandestine missions. But lest you think that this is some sort of military sim, know that Gunbuds is extremely silly. The antagonist is Rasputin Warcrime, leader of an evil organization up to no good all over the globe, and only the Gunbuds can stop him.

The story campaign is short (less than an hour) and consists of several missions, interspersed with dialogue from the handlers at the Gunbuds organization. The writing is mildly humorous, but never sparked more than the occasional smile; as ever with humor, your mileage may vary. The missions themselves are procedurally generated from a set of archetypes. Desert missions are full of gentle slopes and scorpions. The jungle is peppered with mud pits and very hostile monkeys, while infiltrating enemy buildings means navigating sets of (annoyingly slow) elevators. Whatever the location, players will be running around and blasting away with their rapid-firing pistol, making enemies explode into showers of multicolored stars which can be collected. Doing so provides more cash, with totals comically spiraling into the thousands of dollars, and ultimately unlocking larger ammo clips so players can fire longer before needing to reload.

I started with the keyboard, but the on-screen control prompts quickly dropped any hints as to the keyboard controls, so I switched to a gamepad. I’ve finally replaced my ancient gamepads with fancy new ones, but they’re still third-party, and Gunbuds’ control prompts didn’t always match up to the buttons I thought they should. Most notably, the game claimed that shooting is done with the X button, but for me it was actually the right trigger (which is arguably better anyway). Other controls mostly made sense, although I rarely found use for the slide button. Sure, it’s cool to enter a flashy slide while blasting enemies, or to launch into an impressive mid-air dive, but I found it easier to shoot enemies if I just stuck to standard walking and jumping. Movement is mapped to the left stick, which also aims one’s pistol in eight directions. I worried this would be weird, but it worked better than I expected.

Still, Gunbuds is very simple and often awkward. It’s clearly a low-budget game, so it’s hard to criticize it for uninteresting levels and easy enemies, but they still mean it’s not that engaging. I imagine it would be more fun with a group of friends, especially if the number of enemies increases to match the extra bullets that will be flying around. In a group, the jankiness might transform into charm, as players leap around blasting everything and reveling in the absurdity. I also imagine that the different player skins, costumes and hats that occasionally drop from enemies would be funnier if friends are fighting over them, and tailoring the appearance of each player’s Gunbud would be more fun than doing so alone. While it wouldn’t take players long to get through the story, there’s also an “Explore” mode that seems to generate more maze-like levels for those who want to keep playing after the credits roll.

Speaking of which, the end credits sequence is actually really cool. A strange thing to praise, but what can I say? It is. It also came after a more interesting ending than might be reasonably expected given the general silliness. Throughout the story there are hints that the Gunbuds’ memories are lost whenever they are “killed”, or perhaps they are even put into some form of stasis between missions until they are needed again. It’s not a particularly nuanced satire of secret military organizations, but these comedic seeds bear fruit in the ending. And, unlike Rasternauts which appeared recently in this series, Gunbuds doesn’t overstay its welcome.

If you fancy some silly shooting with some friends and don’t mind a little jank, you might want to check out Gunbuds. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $5.

That’s 94 down, and only 1647 to go!

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3 Comments

  1. This reminds me of an old Amiga game called Tanx ‘n’ Stuff, which was nothing fancy in terms of presentation, or even gameplay, but came alive when playing with four people together.

    • I just looked at some footage of Tanx ‘n’ Stuff, and it was strangely familiar. I never had an Amiga, so I wonder if I instead played some crappy DOS port or (more likely) a different game that was trying to copy it. Maybe downloaded from some bulletin board system on a dial-up modem with my dad’s help, or found on some shareware compilation.

      • I encountered it as a shareware demo on the coverdisk (remember those?) of an Amiga magazine. There were quite a few cheap and cheerful games on those disks, some of which provided just as much fun as the “proper” games you could get in shops. Air Taxi was another that was a great laugh with a group of friends.

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