Note: This piece was originally published in 2017 as a review for the now defunct game publication Two Credits.
It’s rather rare for me to enjoy an adventure game. On the rare occassion that I do end up playing a point-and-click, I’m usually pleased by the creative world design but end up becoming frustrated by the tedium of the (often bizzare) puzzle solving game loop. It’s not that I think the genre is bad, per se, it’s just not really my cup of tea.
When I saw Bulb Boy, however, I saw a gloomy point-and-click adventure game with an incredibly surreal and freakish aesthetic that almost seems like what you’d get if you tossed Limbo and The Binding of Isaac into a blender- and I was interested.
The story of Bulb Boy is a rather tragic one – you awaken from a nightmare to find yourself completely alone, your dog and grandfather having gone missing. As if that’s not enough, your house has been infested with dangerous and disgusting enemies, and you’ve got to take on them alone. You’re going up against all odds, and will have to make use of Bulb Boy’s unique abilities and attributes in order to survive, such as by “possessing” the body of certain creatures and using your lightbulb head as a light source.
In terms of aesthetic and presentation, Bulb Boy cleverly and seamlessly switches between the brightly-lit and cheerful scenes of the past to the ghostly viridescent and horrifying scenes of the present period. This is where Bulb Boy really shines – its incredible ability to enkindle emotion and tell a story just by carefully setting up the presentation of a situation. The cuts back and forth between the past and present periods do a great job of developing the characters and making you interested and concerned for them- Bulb Boy is a playful (albeit a bit creepy) child that finds joy in even the little things, his dog is a loyal and curious pup that’s always looking for ways to help out, and his grandfather is a gentle old man that cares about them both greatly.
The puzzle solving isn’t particularly difficult or thought-provoking most of the time, and seems to be more of a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles aren’t going to leave you bored- the way the world reacts to you solving them is satisfying and it’s fun to see the way things change as a result of your actions, especially because a lot of the time it’s in ways you won’t expect. That being said, if you’re looking for challenging puzzles that will make you think, you’re not going to find them here. It mostly just feels like something that you have to do for the sake of it- to kill time and bring yourself closer to the next point of interest.
Strangely, there is a point in the game in where you are suddenly given simultaneous control of two characters instead of one, but this isn’t actually explained anywhere and was extremely confusing. I was stuck at that point for a while before eventually figuring it out – the secondary character is controlled with the right joystick, which is only ever used for that one short segment. This is a pretty silly problem that I feel could have been rectified by the game simply taking a moment to explain that I temporarily had access to a secondary character.
There is a pseudo boss fight near the end of the game, which is probably where Bulb Boy is at its weakest. It was a really jarring transition from calm (horrific, but calm) puzzle solving to a frantic and fast-paced boss fight, and it feels really out of place within the context of the rest of the game. Perhaps most importantly, the mechanics of the boss fight themselves were really unenjoyable. You’re forced to evade and evade and evade without being given any chance to retaliate – evasion until the boss tires itself out is the name of the game, and I found that really tedious in what was otherwise a very interesting experience.
My only other (nitpicky) complaint is with regards to the control scheme. While the joycon controls got the job done and were generally alright, sometimes I felt a little uncomfortable and wished the developers would have included the touch controls available in the mobile versions of the game.
All in all, Bulb Boy is one of the most enjoyable point-and-click adventure games that I have ever played. The short two-hour length and complete lack of replayability may be a bit of a turn off for some people, but I found that it felt just right- it came in, captured my interest, and didn’t overstay its welcome. The excellent and evocative presentation combined with some decent puzzle solving and an accessible length make for a title that I think even those who don’t normally play adventure games can enjoy.