In the past, we have seen some adventure games flirting with the survival horror genre. Lone Survivor, Home, and Cat Lady are just a few examples of how exploration and puzzle solving can mix up well with a dark setting. Many adventure games are also well known for their charming art-style and charismatic characters – such as Day of the Tentacle or Broken Age. Although not perfect, Bulb Boy features all of those characteristics, and performs in an overall outstanding way.
The surrealist adventure of Bulb Boy starts after a short sequence in which you meet the members of the titular hero’s family. The boy, his grandpa, and his adorable mothdog are having a good time together – but then sleep time comes, and with it invades a myriad of nightmarish creatures. Alone and scared, Bulb Boy has to do what he must in order to find and rescue his beloved family.
Often looking like something out of a Ren and Stimpy sketch book, the game is visually a lot of fun. In contrast to the ever-cheery Bulb Boy himself, the settings he often finds himself in are typically dingy and somewhat nightmarish. Even better, some enemy creature designs left me both shocked and amused. It’s the “what the hell am I going to run into next?” question that drives you to overcome each set of challenges put before you. In general, you are rewarded for your persistence.
Originally Bulb Boy was a point-and-click adventure title for PC via Steam, but the Switch port is controller-based only. This isn’t a huge issue as the characters control fine, if not a bit slow, although it would have been nice to have point-and-click kind of controls available by touching touchscreen when in handheld mode.
Most of the game is spent finding a selection of items in each room, and figuring out how they work together to solve the single or multiple puzzles of said room. When close to items that can be picked up or interacted with an arrow will show up. Puzzles here are simple, and I didn’t have any fuss solving any of them. Maybe even too simple to the point that it feels like the game is just stringing you along with things to do that aren’t all that interesting, but I didn’t mind due to its short length.
Some trial-and-error solutions to problems are involved, followed often by certain death, but you never lose too much progress since the autosave occurs quite often.
A few sections require hiding from monsters in stealth sections or taking paths to avoid enemies from catching Bulb Boy. I despise hate stealth in most games because I’m more one to go in guns blazing, but here I didn’t have a problem with it. There is a boss fight, kind of, at the end of the game that is the most game type thing about Bulb Boy and also probably its weakest moment thanks to it not being obvious what to do. Another such moment is one where the left stick controls Bulb Boy and the right controls his dog, which the game doesn’t tell you and I figured out on accident by pressing buttons randomly. Aside from this moment the right stick is never used.
Generally speaking, Bulb Boy is an easy game – and most puzzles consist of simply finding and using items to overcome your enemies. There are a few sequences that demand the player to react fast in order to avoid environmental hazards (my Bulb Boy died a lot on some of those), but again the game is very generous when it comes to checkpoints and is constantly saving your progress. The few times I found myself really stuck on puzzles ended up being because I hadn’t found a well-hidden item. Even in these moments the game in generous however, and there’s always a help option on the pause menu. Instead of simply solving the puzzle for you, the help menu in Bulb Boy gives you a visual hint – refraining somewhat from robbing you of that eureka moment.
The lower difficulty level of Bulb Boy also comes from the fact that it is entirely composed of self-contained puzzles. Each area works as a separated level, so every item you find must be used on that very area. Consequently, you don’t find the more long and elaborated puzzles that are so common in adventure games.
As enjoyable as Bulb Boy’s adventure may be, it is important to know that it is not a very long game. The full campaign only lasts up to three hours if you’re really thoughtful on your exploration; and while there is an option to revisit any previous level on the game’s completion, there isn’t much appeal in redoing the puzzles after you know their solution, not much in the way of collectables. That said, if you’re looking for a short and enjoyable experience then Bulb Boy may be exactly what you need, perfect for a plane ride or long car journey.