The Game Gear Directory: (Ba-Be)

Nearly every Game Gear game ever, reviewed. Part three.

Baku Baku Animal (1996)

A glorious and severely underappreciated puzzle game that takes some cues from Puyo Puyo but manages to go off in its own off-beat direction. Blocks drop into your "tank" that depict both animals and foodstuffs said animals enjoy - for example a monkey eats bananas, the panda eats bamboo, dog eats bones, rabbit eats carrots. You get it. By dropping these items in and pairing the scran with its respective critter, you'll score points and dump blocks into your opponent's side. Building chains is a riot and the inclusion of full two-player action makes this one of the best Game Gear carts a puzzle fan could buy. Essential stuff. *****

Batman Forever (1995)

Absolutely turgid music and bland level design plagues this one, not to mention the appalling controls and their complete failure to document features necessary to complete even the first room of the game. Even supposing you know what you're doing, I'd struggle to call Batman Forever particularly fun, though it can be satisfying to catch enemies in a decent combo. In theory there are plenty of moves for the sub-Mortal Kombat fighting gameplay, but in practice I found myself unable to pull many of them off. With controls that don't really function and flat, ugly visuals, Batman Forever misses on every level. *

Batman Returns (1992)

As soon as this game boots, an immediate aura of quality begins to spew forth. From the title screen to the following story sequences, the multiple routes... it all feels premium, which bodes well for the game itself. I personally don't think the gameplay here quite matches the presentation, but developer Aspect (of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 fame) clearly put their best into it all. A platformer (of course), Returns makes Batman's iconic Batarangs his primary weapon, fixing the issue some Batman games have with fisticuffs; I'm looking at you, NES Batman. You'll utilise Batman's grappling hook to swing over pits, breaking open floating bats ala candles in Castlevania to gather items. It's a good game and a lot of fun, with great music throughout, but it isn't quite next level. Lots of fun in the vein of GG Shinobi****

Batter Up (1991)

Though I'm far from a baseball guy, this little ball game simulator is enjoyable simplistic, with big chunky visuals that actually resemble an early NES game or arcade title, which surprised me to learn that it was neither. A Game Gear original, Batter Up is reasonably full-featured with a password system allowing the player to save a series of games. You can steal bases, throw curveballs... anything you'd expect from a relatively basic baseball game is here. The music is quite pleasant too. What do you want me to say? It's baseball. I suppose the lack of actual real-life teams is something of a negative, but ultimately you can just use your imagination. Two-player is available, but I think there are more convenient ways to play video baseball with a pal if you really want to. ***

Battleship: The Classic Naval Combat Game (1993)

Yes, it's that Battleship, and as simple as you'd expect. Unlike the tabletop game, you have access to a number of different attacks, rather than just picking one spot on the grid per turn. A destroyer, perhaps, would have a wide spread that hit in six spaces, but can only be used once. Besides these embellishments, this is Battleship through and through, with passwords offered every time you defeat the AI, playing your way through forty levels of action. Critically, though, this game does not include any kind of multiplayer option, which you must admit seems absolutely pants-on-head bananas. **

Battletoads (1993)

Rare's infamous platformer-cum-beat-'em-up-cum-autoscroller-cum-pain-in-the-arse makes it to Game Gear in gently remixed form, with that notorious difficulty somewhat toned down. It has clearly been rebuilt with the smaller screen in mind, making it far more playable than some of its contemporaries. Unfortunately, the already-despised Turbo Tunnel stage has been rendered significantly harder by the fact that the oncoming obstacles no longer even give you a preview of what's to come. It's quite vile, and knocks stars off this release simply by existing. The visuals are pleasant, the music is good and the controls are fine if a little loose. Just be aware that level three is a nightmarish memorisation test. ***

Beavis and Butt-Head (1994)

Any game based on this gruesome twosome is bound to be unusual, but Beavis and Butt-Head's Game Gear adventure is something of a nightmare. Levels are straightforward left-to-right platforming, though to call it platforming is generous as you're mostly just moving in a straight line. Shades of Bart vs. The Space Mutants rear their head as Beavis and/or Butt-Head need to inspect objects such as trash cans and pay phones in order to scavenge coins to buy GWAR tickets. The whole thing is brought down by the fact that obstacles fly, roll or strut onto the screen with zero warning, requiring you to play slowly and carefully - though even then, seemingly-random enemy configurations can mean you take guaranteed damage. This is not a good game, but it's an impressive cart, with a surprisingly high amount of sampled speech for the boys. Of all the Beavis & Butt-Head games I've played, this is probably the weakest. *

The Berenstain Bears - Camping Adventure (1994)

To my surprise and delight, this is a simple platformer rather akin Yogi Bear's Gold Rush, one of my favourite games on the system. You can play as Brother or Sister of the Berenstain clan, pick a level and just jump around. The stages are full of hidden secrets, which shocked me given tht this thing looks like it's gonna be an edutainment atrocity, not one of the better platformers on the Game Gear! It's very basic, but in my view that's nothing but a good thing on such a small screen. It's all about jumping - across gaps, onto enemies, through fake walls to find collectable diamonds. Not sure what the Berenstain Bears are going to do with them, but surely it can't be good. A fun time, with shades of the Game Boy Color Rayman titles in its chilled-out simplicity. ****

Berlin no Kabe (1991)

Inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall - somehow - this is a charming little arcade conversion in which your little fella clambers around icy structures, avoiding or disposing of the various penguins that seem to be out for his blood. Using a mallet, he's able to break holes in the ground in which enemies can be trapped ala Lode Runner, and when defeated they burst into sparks that can also destroy adjacent enemies, leading to a chain reaction if you play skilfully. They'll turn into power-ups when destroyed, some of which can level the playing field in an enjoyably overpowered way. Overall it's an absolutely joyous little thing, running beautifully and looking fantastic, a real arcade vibe to carry around in your pocket. There are myriad secrets including hidden shops wherein you can buy items with your points; a real Bubble Bobble feel. Sure, it's kind of unoriginal in its shameless nabbing of elements from other classics, but what does it matter when the end result is this much fun? Berlin no Kabe is a fantastic little game and I recommend it without hesitation. *****

(Next time: Bi-Bu)