An insatiable thirst for video games reveals a forgotten forebearer of bad storytelling.
As a lowly teenager, I spent most of my time angsting and playing video games, but as a lowly poor person, there were times when video games were hard to come by. For a slight cross section of those two circumstances there wasn't even a console in my life, there was a mere joystick. That joystick housed five classic Namco games. Dig-Dug. Played it. Galaxian. Played it. Pac-Man. Let's just say my nerd cred is legit yo.
Look past those everyday classics that sell the joystick to impulse buyers. Bosconian was the filler that padded out the "5 games in 1!" roster. Anyone that has bought a classic games compilation knows that there are a few great classics, but more often than not, many of the games are forgotten also ran titles that are tossed in to bulk up the list of games.
For filler, Bosconian is a surprisingly inventive take on the burgeoning shoot-em-up genre. Of course, back in those days we called them shooters, until you kids usurped that moniker for your CoDs and your GoWs. Now there are first-person shooters, third-person shooters, shmups, arcade shooters, rail shooters...
Even though Bosconian did poorly outside of Japan, it held some impressive innovations for the time. For one, you could move beyond the field of the screen, pretty mind blowing back in 1982. The ship could fly in not just four, but eight directions! Your only weapon, a gun that fires in front and behind you simultaneously, which is actually a damn bit better than even modern shoot-em-ups can be sometimes.
The objective is to destroy all the evil space stations junking up space. You can do this by either attacking the six gun-pods surrounding each station, or throw caution to the wind and dive straight towards the weak point Independence Day style and destroy the entire space station in one attack. Here in lies the addictive strategy of the game. You can safely float about space, carefully picking off space stations, but that attracts more space fighters towards you. My goal when playing was to blast away a space station with one well placed bullet before zooming off to the next one.
While you're doing your best to single-handedly save Earth, the Bosconians have a slightly better tactical strategy of using a lot more than one spacefighter to keep you from achieving that goal. Shmups have always baffled me as far as sending one ship to stop an intergalactic army goes. Why not, perhaps, send two ships?
There are actually some shoot-em-ups that have gone through some pain to explain this. A few even have introductions that show the rest of your squad of pilots being destroyed at the beginning of the game. So perhaps I'm not the only pilot that set out to stop the Bosconians, but I am apparently the only one who's even worth the crappy spaceship I'm flying.
Here would be the part where I discuss the zaniness of the archaic storyline. I would love to, but I am feeling somewhat bitter right now because there is a slight hitch with the storyline.
The storyline starts simply, “How the Bosconian Wars started, no one knows.”
Really Namco? That's all? That's it? No one knows!? You wrote it! You know! If anyone could describe a Bosconian it would be you! So just tell me!
I know that back in those days, stories were no more complicated than what you could fit somewhere on the arcade cabinet, but this is taking it to another level. I can't help but imagine that the entire trajectory of not only the putrid level of storyline in shoot-em-ups, but maybe even the power of story (that is to say, almost none) in much of video games could have been different if someone at Namco just hired one out of work writer to write a definition for the made up word Bosconian.
The storyline doesn't go into any level of detail. Apparently the “Federal Council” built the “Star Fighter” to fight the “Bosconians” but those are just names of objects, not a story. I have an exponentially growing list of questions, but will refrain from listing them since there is no possible way to even conjecture what the hell is going on in this game. As far as I am concerned, the game is about one paranoid, space-faring man destroying cable satellites so that the reptile people can't read his mind.
The most annoying part though, is what Namco closes with, “The Bosconian War was about to close...”
Damnit Namco, who adds a cliffhanger? No one is dying to see the final resolve to this twisting psychological thriller. Although I should add that it never did have a true sequel, so it could be argued (by nobody ever) that Bosconian is the arcade generations Mega Man Legends 2.
Ah the noble and mighty shoot-em-up. A tradition going all the way back to Space Invaders in 1978. A lone ship shooting at an overwhelming amount of aliens has perhaps been one of the most tried and true aspects of video games. Basically I have shot a lot of aliens and I don't regret it. I don't regret shooting those robots either. Well, as history goes, Space Invader clones soon came, and with it the shooter label that this style of games has carried in some form to today. Back then, it seemed every developer was tossing a little something in the pot to differentiate themselves. Back then the graphics were so bad that everyone had to use clever gameplay to stand out from the pack. Imagine that.
Unfortunately, the thing about innovation is that one never truly knows what innovation will actually make kids skip class to toss quarters into a machine all day. Bosconian had some fun ideas but just wasn't a break out hit when it made it to US shores. Don't feel bad though, the company responsible, Nakamura Manufacturing Co., (or NAMCO for short) quickly established themselves as a premier arcade developer on the weight of those other classics I mentioned were on this joystick.
The game was a perfect thrill for someone who is into early 80's arcade games (me), and had a lot of innovation at the time it hit arcades. Perhaps relatively complicated controls and guidelines doomed it to irrelevance in the arcades, but it lives on in random Namco collections across several systems, as well as that Joystick I had, which is now broken by the way. Why? Playing too much broke the joystick, making it as dead and limp as an Atari 5200 controller.
The thing with shooters is, sadly, there just isn't a ton of variety. From Gradius guys to bullet hell lovers to whoever the hell Cho Aniki is for, everyone has a shmup preference, and I don't expect you to change. Give this game a try. It's interesting, but more of a museum exhibit than a game by today's standards. I will admit I would like to see newer games take into mind a few of the shmup innovations that Namco dropped on us thirty years ago. Unfortunately, I have come to learn that shoot-em-ups are a very stubborn breed of game.
This is part two of a multi part series (see part one Burgertime) where I examine games created and released before I was born (1986).
* Bosconian Logo via Arcade Gear.
**I don't think anyone has ever made fan art for this game.***
***Just another testament to the popularity of the games I want to talk about. Maybe that is why no one reads my articles...