Warning: we're breaking through society's simple definitions of taste and decency on this one, going beyond the safe and cosy world that all those sheeple inhabit, somewhere free of the suffocating embrace of the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality. For the first time, VGJunk is bringing you a game that is not licensed for play on your Nintendo Entertainment System - Color Dreams' 1989 infant protection simulator Baby Boomer.
Yep, this is an unlicensed NES game by Color Dreams, a company infamous for bypassing Nintendo's lockout chip and releasing a slew of low-quality titles from outside The Big N's corporate aegis, as well as being known for creating bible-themed games like Super 3D Noah's Ark under their Wisdom Tree imprint. I'm almost a little excited to play this this rebellious relic from the early days of home gaming, but as I've played Wisdom Tree's platformer-slash-scriptural-quiz-em-up King of Kings before I'm well aware that frisson of interest will quickly be ground away.
Help baby Boomer find his mom. Alternatively, guide Boomer to Social Services because anyone who names their child "Boomer" should not be allowed to look after kids. How do you help Boomer find his mother?
By picking up a firearm and blowing away anything that stands in Boomer's path, like some sniper rifle-toting guardian angel. Boomer automatically crawls from left to right, heedless of the dangers ahead of him, and to progress through the game you have to use your NES Zapper - or the control pad, if you're especially unfortunate - to pick off the Bad Things that want to hurt Boomer. I say "want" to hurt him: I don't think the exploding oil drums truly desire the death of a toddler, but a lit fuse has been placed in them so someone's got a real grudge against poor Boomer. Maybe it was that shifty-looking green snake.
This was Color Dream's first game, and I think it's fairly clear why it ended up being unlicensed. Nintendo were unlikely to be thrilled by the idea of releasing a title where the player spends the whole game pointing a gun at a baby, even if Boomer himself is completely immune to gunfire. How do I know that? Because I shot him, of course. It's the first thing I did. I don't believe anyone who says they've played this game and did not immediately turn their Zapper on Boomer, because really, how often do NES games let you get a defenceless baby in your crosshairs? If you said "not often enough" then fantastic, we can both be totally edgy together and I won't have to be so desperately lonely.
So, yeah. Baby Boomer. Shoot the things that want to hurt the baby, like snakes and improvised explosive devices, and also shoot everything else because sometimes that can help, for example when there's a pit in Boomer's path. Whenever there's a hole, there's something above the hole that you need to shoot in order to cause a single snowflake to fall down and form a bridge to Boomer to waddle across. In this first stage, it's always a cloud. Just go with it, alright?
If you clear all the obstacles in Boomer's path, he'll eventually crawl all the way through this tranquil (if chasm-strewn) park and complete the first stage, his cheery smile lightening the hearts of all who see it as he makes his way from one colourful location to the next on his wacky adventure. Where to next, Boomer?
I'm not sure about this, kid. Wouldn't you rather go to the adventure playground or something?
Well, this took a turn for the macabre in record time. Skeletons rise from their catacombs to stop Boomer's relentless march, black cats frolic about the place and if you're not careful Boomer can fall into an open grave and die. Again, it's likely that some changes would had to have been made to that scenario in order for Baby Boomer to receive Nintendo's blessing, but don't get the wrong idea and imagine that Color Dreams broke free of Nintendo's tyranny so they could release games that contained the full purity of their artistic vision. There's no grand yearning for creative freedom here, just a desire to shift some cheap NES games
There are a couple of extra wrinkles in the gameplay, both of which are conveniently pictured in the screenshot above. No, the blood-spewing fountain is not one of them. That's just part of the scenery. The first thing is that brown lump in front of Boomer. That's a nugget, presumably of gold but the game doesn't clarify so it could equally be a large piece of fudge or a great steaming turd, who knows? All I know is that if you collect twelve of them, you get an extra life. Be careful, however, because you can accidentally shoot the nuggets and destroy them.
The other thing you need to bear in mind is milk. If I know anything about babies - and I don't - it's that they're essentially fleshy little perpetual motion machines who run on milk as a car does on petrol. You can see the "Milk" bar at the top of the screen, but it's really a timer - Boomer gradually runs out of / digests his milk, and when the bar is empty you lose a life, presumably because Boomer has starved to death. To keep his milk levels up, you have to shoot the bottles that appear throughout each stage, like the one in the clouds there.
Remember the milk mechanic. It will be back later, returning to exact a terrible cost.
For now, though, Boomer has made his way through the graveyard and found a lift. I wonder where it goes?
Oh, of course, it leads to the fiery pits of Hell. Can't think of a better place to send a baby on a colourful cartoon videogame adventure than the Realm of Eternal Torment. I might have thought it was just some cave system if it wasn't for the appearance of the chubby little pitchfork demons that appear here and which I forgot to take a screenshot of, but trust me, they're around and this is Hell. Maybe Boomer will meet Satan and there'll be a wacky and hilarious scene where the Prince of Lies has to change Boomer's nappy. Maybe Boomer will be eaten by Baphomet. Maybe something interesting will happen.
Nothing interesting happened. Hell is not other people, it's grey walls, stalagmites and, for some reason, daisies. Boomer stops for a moment whenever he reaches a flower, which is a shame because I'm already wishing that he'd hurry the (ha ha ha) hell up.
There's another elevator at the end of Hell that'll take you up to stage four, although calling it a stage is being a bit generous - it's barely two screens long and feels more like a bonus round than anything else. The gimmick? Enemies constantly pour in at high speed, an endless kamikaze wave of disgruntled living pickaxes, sentient fire and admittedly adorable ghosts. I think the ghosts just want to be friends, but Boomer must be allergic to ectoplasm or something and ghost-contact proves immediately fatal.
The mini-stage was a hectic, fast-paced shooting gallery that might not have been impressive or even really all that interesting but which was at least simple and clear in how it worked. After that comes the crypt, and now Baby Boomer demands that you stop having fun.
It's the same basic goal as every other stage - get Boomer to the end without anything touching him because babies die at the slightest contact with anything that isn't milk or flowers - but everything about the gameplay is turned up just a few notches for the game to switch from "basic but acceptable" to "grinding torment."
There are new enemies, specifically a new kind of ghost that explodes into four smaller, bouncing ghosts when you shoot it. They can fill a screen very quickly and overwhelm you with both their capering antics and the deep theological questions posed by the division of the human soul. They're just about manageable once you seen them a few times and gotten used to their bouncing patterns, though. Well, they are if you're using the Zapper, at least: if you're trying to play Baby Boomer by using the joypad to move the crosshairs around then this is where you'll give up if you haven't already. I honestly don't think it's possible to complete the game using the controller. It's not fast enough, and when you need to quickly switch from shooting enemies on one side of the screen to shooting milk on the opposite edge, the cursor is just too slow to keep up.
The other thing is milk. Boomer will instantly perish the second his milk reserves run out, so make sure you keep them topped up by shooting the bottles that appear unless you're some kind of child-killer, you sick freak. The problem is that milk doesn't appear on screen in this stage: you have to uncover it yourself. Luckily for Boomer, someone has hidden milk in the tombs that line the walls of this crypt, so shoot open the resting places of the unfortunate dead and hope that there's some milk inside. Pick the wrong tomb and it might have a random item inside that you can shoot for points, or it might spew forth an endless stream of murderous ghosts. That's just a chance you'll have to take.
So, you uncover some milk and shoot it. Excellent! Now Boomer won't starve to death! Except he totally will. In your haste to collect the milk, you have condemned Boomer to death by malnutrition. You see, due to the constant drain of milk and the way the refill bottles are spaced, you have to leave each bottle of milk on the screen until the last possible moment and then shoot it, giving you a few extra seconds for Boomer to crawl to his goal. It took me a while to figure this out, partly because I'm a bit thick but mostly because years of videogame have left the idea of grabbing power-ups as quickly as possible so firmly ingrained in my mind that to delay collecting the milk just didn't occur to me.
Even without the milk-balancing shenanigans, this stage is still a tough one, with plenty of enemies that move quickly and attack from all angles. Then you get kicked in the balls by a select-your-path moment at the end of the stage.
You see that black doorway? There are three of those, standing next to each other and looking like totally innocuous parts of the background. If you shoot one of them, Boomer will enter that door. Only one of them is the real exit, while selecting one of the others will sent you back a few stages. At no point does Baby Boomer let you in on this little secret. The first I knew about it was when I reached what I thought was the end of the stage and this message popped up:
Oh gee, thanks a lot, that's very helpful. I'm sure that now I'm armed with this piece of advice I'll definitely be able to make it past the unmarked, unexplained Triple Doors of Bullshit. They're even worse than they sound, because even if you do know which door you're supposed to be entering, (it's the middle one, by the way,) it's extremely easy to miss the enemy you're trying to hit and accidentally shoot the wrong door, condemning Boomer to another trip through the areas he's already cleared and costing you a NES Zapper because you'll end up chewing through yours in a fit of frustrated rage.
All in all, the crypts can fuck right off.
If you manage to make it through the crypts and choose the right exit door, Boomer will find himself in a mine. No exploding ghosts here, plentiful bottles of milk and a gimmick that's easy to figure out - shooting the wooden blocks at the end of the cart tracks causes that minecart to fly off the tracks and disappear, but make sure you clear them out early because otherwise they'll fly through the air and land on Boomer, killing him. Well, it's a more understandable death than running out of milk.
So, the mines are a welcome reprieve after the exasperation and plain ol' "screw you"-ism of the crypts. Right?
Wrong. Color Dreams, not really understanding how vampirisim, bats, milk or babies work, decided that the best way to give the player a fun and exciting experience would be to make a stage with a blindly fast, nigh-unkillable enemy that constantly flies around Boomer and steals his milk whenever they collide. Because it's a vampire milk bat, you see. Yep. They're extremely hard to hit and very distracting, and they leave you with two clear choices: either you concentrate your fire on the bat, leaving Boomer with plenty of fresh milk energy to crawl into an enemy and die, or you clear a path by shooting the enemies / minecarts and watch Boomer have his life-essence drained away until he dies from theeffects of total milk withdrawal. Which will you choose? I recommend the third way, which is turning off your NES and going outside, getting some fresh air, maybe calling up an old friend you haven't spoken to in a while. It is my considered advice that if you get to this stage while playing Baby Boomer, just stop. The amount of fun you'll get out of it - an amount somewhere between "unanaesthetised rectal surgery" and "constant loops of the Cheeky Girls greatest hits piped directly into your brain" - is simply not worth bothering with.
I bothered with it, like a fool. Do you want to know what lies beyond the mines? Don't worry, I won't be offended if you say no. I didn't care either, but here you go.
This is the final stage - Super Mario World! Well, obviously it isn't but I doubt there are many videogame players who don't automatically associate large green pipes with Nintendo's golden son.
The gimmick here is that Boomer will walk into the pipes and emerge from one of the several possible exits. Which exit he takes is supposedly based on how many times you shoot that black cross, which is probably supposed to be a valve, but as there's no feedback at all when you do shoot it the whole affair quickly devolves into a guessing game. The pre-stage text says "pipe notches are a clue" but this game also declared itself the "best rated light gun game" on the cover so I wouldn't believe a word it says.
You also have to shoot the fountains to raise them up and create bridges for Boomer to crawl across. Boomer can crawl on water, huh? And he did rise - literally, using an elevator - from the grave. Is this milk-guzzling innocent actually the second coming of Jesus Christ? It would explain why there's some unseen force protecting him. I'm not so clear on how the flying, baby-seeking hammers tie in to this religious interpretation, unless it's an ironic punishment based on his carpentry skills.
After the diabolical machinations of the previous stages, this final area is a buttercup-and-daydream-filled romp by comparison, relying as it does almost solely on how good you are at shooting things.
In the end, Boomer is finally reunited with his mother, who doesn't seem perturbed by the way her infant son can walk on clouds, adding further evidence to the theory that Boomer is the reborn Messiah. Mary 2 here probably sees this kind of thing all the time.
A swell of harps burst forth and sunlight pours down as mother and child are reunited. There's just time for a terrible "baby on an adventure" themed rap to play over the credits to really give the whole thing that 1990s family-comedy-adventure-movie vibe.
Hold your horses, there'll be no happy endings here. It turns out that Boomer has crawled to the wrong person and this isn't his mother. That's all well and good for us, the game's still over, but you can't help but feel bad for that poor woman and her missing baby Hubert. Without a Zapper-packin' hero to look out for him, Hubert has almost certainly been eaten by the snakes and rats from the first stage. What a cheerful thought.
With its dying breath, Baby Boomer offers up one final wicked barb - the threat of a sequel. There never was a Baby Boomer 2: The Boomening, and for that we can all give thanks.
Baby Boomer is a game that takes the extremely simple lightgun game formula - shoot bad guys before they hurt you - and manages to completely wreck it by trying to make it interesting, like painting an Aston Martin with a tiger-stripe pattern. You know what the big problem with this game is, don't you? That's right, it's an escort mission. The whole game is one long escort mission. The actual shooting action is... well, it's mediocre at best and nothing too reprehensible, but having to shoot things while protecting a baby? Not much fun, because no-one likes escort missions. Your success and failures should be your own, not dictated by the whims of your squishy charge as they wander into a floating pneumatic drill.
On top of that it's smeared with dismal, simplistic graphics, small, uninteresting enemies and occasional attempts to inject some "wacky" "fun" that just feel forced and awkward, like the "wha wha whaaa" ending.
The positives? For once, I can't really think of any. I haven't played every single NES Zapper game, but none of the ones I have played are nearly as frustrating as Baby Boomer.
Oh wait, I thought of something I like. The blobby enemies in the mines are okay, but that's just because they remind me of Belial from cult 80's horror movie Basket Case. So, my considered advice to you is that instead of playing Baby Boomer, you should go and watch Basket Case.
P.S. - I've just seen the back of the box, and it implies that at the end of the graveyard stage you can choose whether to go to Heaven or Hell. I'm glad I ended up with Hell. It feels much more appropriate, and there's no way I'm playing through this again just to see Boomer run out of milk on a blocky cloud.