Johnny Bazookatone – Sega Saturn
Platform: Sega Saturn
Developer: Arc Development
Publisher: US Gold
Release Date (NA): February 1996
Nerd Rating: 6.75 out of 10
Reviewed by NerdBerry
Johnny Bazookatone is one of many cross-platform games released for the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and also the 3DO. Featuring probably THE longest introduction I have ever seen (possibly over 5 minutes long), Johnny Bazookatone looks like nothing you have ever seen before. The introduction features a group of musicians playing guitar, keyboard, saxophone, and our eponymous hero playing an odd guitar-like instrument (which we later learn is the bazooka-guitar). The graphics are exceptional and really do a solid job setting the tone as a sort of cartoonish game that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Save the Soul of Rock ‘n Roll
The year is 2050 A.D. and the hottest thing to hit Rock ‘n Roll is Johnny Bazookatone. Johnny’s brand of music has swept the world into a new age of peace and harmony. Enter Mr. L. Diablo, Lord of the Underworld. In an envious rage, he steals Johnny’s greatest love – his guitar ‘Anita.’ Diablo also sends his demons to kidnap the legends of the music industry. With Anita gone and no music left, Johnny sets his sights on blasting the netherworld to Kingdom Come! The hordes of Hell await as he begins the greatest solo performance of his career!
Johnny Bazookatone looks like your traditional platformer at first glance, but quickly you’ll learn that it’s anything but standard and formulaic. First off, the developers had the gall to create a 2D platformer at a time when a game’s measure of success seemed entirely based on how “realistic” or “3D” the game could be. Instead of following the current trends in the gaming industry, the team at Arc Development felt they had a good idea and they stuck to their guns. My hat is off to those folks for blazing their own trail.
The Look and Sound
Johnny Bazookatone has a sleek design set to rival any cartoon-animated game of its time. There’s a fairly decent amount of detail in each level, and everything has a noticeable polish to it. SGI-rendered characters really help everything pop out of the hellish underworld in which Johnny is battling. Not only is Johnny rendered in full 3D, the enemy sprites are also 3D rendered, giving Johnny Bazookatone that “next-level” look even without a full 3D environment. One of the benefits of the 2D design Arc Development chose to use is that the graphics in Johnny Bazookatone will never age to a point where the game feels unplayable. There are too many 3D games out there for the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, 3DO, Sega CD, etc that have such terribly pixilated and blocky graphics that they feel almost unplayable in 2014.
The underworld in which Johnny is trekking to retrieve his guitar is richly detailed and has a very dark (hellish) sort of feel to it. No matter how damn good a game’s graphics are, if the details aren’t there or a solid foundation (the look), then the game will feel bland. Johnny Bazookatone is anything but bland. The colors are mostly dark, but this IS the underworld, folks, so we wouldn’t expect bright sunny skies like in Super Mario World. When you destroy some enemies, they sort of implode and then explode into particles and dust. The details of this “explosion” caught my eye and immediately made me say “holy crap that was awesome.”
But the overall tone of a game is only part of the equation. Bad music can flat-out RUIN a game! No amount of detail, solid gameplay, or graphical capabilities can make up for a terrible soundtrack. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine for the Sega Genesis is a damn fine game, but the music is so loud, obnoxious, and anxiety-ridden that it forces the players to play the game on mute! That’s no way to play a game! In Johnny Bazookatone, the music IS the game!! Each level has a distinct soundtrack that is tailored to that stage. The music is masterfully composed and every song is laced with some form of smooth jazz saxophone, rock ‘n roll, electronic rock, psychedelic rock, or some other oddball genres. Regardless of the genre, the soundtrack is fitting. One of my favorites is in level 2 when the saxophone is playing and doing a little back and forth number with an electric guitar. Without this one-of-a-kind musical score, it’s hard to image Johnny Bazookatone being such an enjoyable game.
The controls are about as solid as they come for a platformer, but I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of utilization of the 6 face buttons or 2 shoulder buttons (trigger buttons if you’re using a 3D Control Pad). The only buttons that really matter in the game are A, B, C, and then R. The A-button fires your bazooka-guitar with electric “riff-tunes,” the B-button makes you jump, and the C-button fires your “ultra-blast tunes.” By holding down the C-button, Johnny charges up his ultra-blast attack and, once fully charged, blasts out a large sound wave set to kill anyone in your path. (*The Ultra Blast attack is entirely too jacked up to really use. It has the benefit of going through walls, but it requires about 8-10 seconds to charge up fully, and can only fire left or right, not up or down. This long waiting period is enough time for any enemy to attack you.) The Right shoulder button makes Johnny run, jump higher, or jump farther. Unfortunately, before he can start running or anything he has to do a pirouette first, for whatever reason. I guess because all rockstars do a jumping-360 before sprinting in hell. The left shoulder button makes Johnny put his gun to the ground and suck up stuff. The X button makes Johnny lift particular items. These 2 features wouldn’t see much use until later levels. There were so many other buttons they could have found a better use for! But they failed to properly use them. Perhaps this was due to the cross-platform nature of the game. The 3DO controllers only have 3 face buttons and the PlayStation controllers only had 4.
Besides a lack of button options, Johnny Bazookatone feels very good to control, and he is a responsive little fella. I really like the way Johnny feels when he jumps, walks, runs, etc. The simple button commands are, well, simple. But the fact of the matter is the advanced controls are very challenging at first, though they do get a little easier as time goes on. Other than the standard jump or shoot features, Johnny does have the ability to hover by jumping and firing his bazooka-guitar gun downwards. And actually, it is less of a “hover” and more of a “glide” as he will slowly descend back to the ground until he either touches the ground or stops firing (at which time he will go into a free-fall).
The button combination required for such “hovering” is very awkward and difficult as it requires jumping first then pressing down, left or right, and A simultaneously. Not to mention that many times you will be required to press this button combination at the apex of a short jump! Timing is critical and can (and many times will) lead to death if you take too many missteps. This difficult button combination that is required far too often will almost certainly result in some serious frustration and anger. Even if you master the controls, the stages possess their own challenges that aren’t always remedied by a knowledgeable gamer.
Johnny Bazookatone is one hell of a hard game, and the challenging controls really add to that level of difficulty. Fortunately for me, I have the Action Replay* code that gives me infinite lives! There IS an in-game cheat code that allows for infinite lives, and that code is TAEHC. The password input screen can be found in the options menu. Use it, as Johnny only has 3 hits until he is dead, and finding extra stars (extra lives) can be challenging. The level designs are never awkward and there are never any areas where something feels out of place. One great thing about Johnny Bazookatone is I always knew where to go next.
Simple stage set-ups and identifiable enemies make things recognizable at least, but the sheer difficulty of traversing these tough lands makes Johnny Bazookatone a hard sell. In any given stage there are virtually no checkpoints (if there are, they’re not easily accessed or identifiable, so I’ve never seen them) and with only 3 hits before death, Johnny Bazookatone can make your patience wear quite thin. Considering the lack of checkpoints, save features, or any other related aides, when I would spend 5 minutes on one level, only to be forced to start all over again, Johnny Bazookatone almost bought the farm at the expense of my hand.
Overall, Johnny Bazookatone is a pretty damn fun experience. It’s unlike almost any platformer I have ever seen in gameplay, controls, visuals, and most definitely in music. While unique, it does have a similar cartoonish look and style to that of Earthworm Jim, but not enough to be considered a rip-off by any means.
I might be known as perhaps one of the biggest platforming fans on The Bacon. Pair that with the fact that I love any gaming system / game pre-PS2, and you’ve got yourself a biased dude. I wanted to love Johnny Bazookatone and be the first person to say “Hey! I found a friggin’ awesome game that you guys have never even heard of! Nah-nah-nah-nah-naaaaah-naaaaah!” But the more I played Johnny Bazookatone, the more frustrated I became and the less I felt like continuing to play.
At first, I was stunned by the sleek and polished visuals and unique look. The music captured my soul and dragged me into the TV where I laid astounded in a world of jazz / rock fusion. But soon after being captured, I felt incarcerated by the complicated control scheme and poorly designed checkpoint system, or lack thereof. But in the end, I was ultimately pleased to have stumbled upon such a distinctive title for a failed gaming system. You can find this game on Amazon for roughly $25 in complete condition, or $10 for the disc only. If you like platforming titles or anything Sega Saturn, Johnny Bazookatone is a good pick up and is worth your dollar!
Nerd Rating: 6.75 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
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