The Legend of Bum-Bo will have you thinking thoughts you probably won’t expect. “I need more poop!” “If only I had a bit more pee over here, it would let me combo with the boogers for mega damage!” If you’re familiar with The Binding of Isaac then it’s probably no surprise that creator Edmund McMillen’s penchant for bodily byproducts is alive and well here in his new match 4 puzzle prequel.
The Legend of Bum-Bo is exactly what you think it is; the Isaac dungeon scouring, rogue lite formula, turned into a Bejeweled-esque puzzle game. You move through rooms fighting disgusting monsters with a boss at the end of each floor, picking up items along the way to make you more powerful in the face of tougher enemies. The difference here is you’re matching poop and pee symbols on a board to attack or defend against enemies, while building mana to utilise your spells. These do a variety of things, from direct damage to manipulation of the board, allowing you squeeze every bit of efficiency you can out of each turn. It’s an addictive formula that will have you unlocking new floors to reach, and new characters to play as, each with their own spin on gameplay that keeps things fresher than you might expect from the constraints of the match 4 gameplay.
The most striking thing about The Legend of Bum-Bo from the outset is its art. It’s one of the best realised versions of the cardboard cutout/papercraft style I’ve seen. Rooms have a diorama look to them, like looking into a popup book. Your weapons are attached to ice cream sticks as they swing out at enemies, giving the impression that someone is just putting on an elaborate puppet show. My favourite visual effect is the red lighting that shines during enemy turns. It’s been modeled realistically, like someone is shining a torch through some red plastic, and really adds to the toy like presentation of the game. It’s a great art style to channel the lo-fi nature of Isaac while giving the game its own identity.
Something I’m really impressed with is how diverse the gameplay is across the various characters. There’s a good mix of strightford characters who hit hard with basic attacks, with more complex characters who have to intricately navigate the board in order to be the most efficient. One of my favourite characters gains bonus movement on kills but has an expensive attack that sacrifices an entire colour on your board. With careful moves I can keep my turn going almost indefinitely against the right group of enemies, and it’s immensely satisfying when you pull it off. Add to this the various passive and active items you pick up along the way and you can craft out a build that compliments your playstyle. Your builds aren’t going to vary wildly from run to run because there’s only so much you can change with the gameplay, but they do enough to make each run feel different.
There are some minor gameplay annoyances I’ve had with being limited in my decision making. You currently can’t opt to skip an item drop and are forced to replace part of your existing toolkit, even if what’s being offered is worse than what you currently have. You also can’t always check your current skills when making decisions about optional upgrades, which forces you to rack your brain about man costs of various spells when you should just be able to pull up a menu before committing to anything. These are complaints McMillen has directly spoken to in the most recent patch notes, saying some of this will be fixed by next week, but it’s a little surprising some of this wasn’t there on release, since it can make or break a run.
The most important question with any rogue lite is how replayable is it? Are countless hours of your life going to sucked away into a vortex of poop and pee? Well, the answer is no, I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, for a $15 game it’s great value, it just won’t hold up for the potentially hundreds of hours its predecessor became famous for. For reference I ‘beat’ the game in about 10 hours. By that I mean I unlocked all the floors and all but one of the characters. You do this by completing a run up to whatever floor you cap out at, with the most recent character you have access to. You eventually unlock the final floor, two new items, and ‘everything is terrible’ which Isaac fans will know makes the game harder by default. The only remaining challenge as far as I can tell is to complete the full game twice with every character (the partial completions you’ve been doing up until now don’t count) to unlock the final character, who I’m guessing is probably a hardmode character like the Lost. Depending on how good you are, I’d say you can get everything done in 25-30 hours, unless there’s some secret progression I haven’t seen yet. There’s no complex achievement system with unlocks tied to it like in classic Isaac, so if that is something that motivates you you might find it lacking beyond attaining the characters. It’s not really fair to compare it to Isaac because at the end of the day it’s a match 4 puzzle game, and they’ve done a great job at making it an engaging experience for what it is. However, the person who created The Binding of Isaac is always going to have heightened expectations put on him whether it’s fair or not.
There are two areas where I feel the game is lacking. First up is the game is kinda buggy. I’ve had some audio bugs where the music just cuts out, and one complete crash which happened on an end boss and was very deflating. I’ve seen from other people’s gameplay a similar situation so it’s disappointing it’s a fairly common issue. The second is the game’s presentation and features are very barebones. By that I mean there’s literally no in-game options menu, so even basic things like turning the volume down has to be done through your PC’s volume mixer. There’s a pregame launch menu that lets you set resolutions and windowed mode, but the complete lack of even basic in-game options feels strange. Things like the main menu also just feel very basic, it’s just a static image of a piece of paper taped to a wall with the options on it.
The other area this is noticeable is between floors you visit a casino where you can spend money on upgrades to your build. What’s strange about it is there’s no background, it’s just a black void with characters in it. Maybe this was a design decision but it feels off, and it would have been great to see what they’d do with the casino theme in their great artstyle. I’m being a bit nit-picky about this stuff but only because the game’s art in general is so fantastic it simply would have been nice to see more of it.
It’s been great jumping back into the mildly disturbing world of The Binding of isaac through this game. It’s a fun twist on the match 4 formula that has enough going on to keep it engaging for longer than it might look on the outset. It’s been a great pallet cleanser between bigger releases, and at the very least will make you say things about human excrement you probably never imagined.