Bucky O’Hare, everyone’s favorite space-going green rabbit, burst on the scene in 1991, unleashing a full multimedia bombardment including his own animated series, toy line and as with many properties of the time, a video game. Although he first appeared in comic form in the 80’s, Bucky was repackaged and revitalized following the success of another hot property during that time period: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The late 1980’s and early 90’s were rife with imitators, both good and bad, seeking to capitalize on the incredible success of the Turtles, who had spawned comics, a popular cartoon, a huge toy line, video games and a plethora of other merchandise in just a few short years. Bucky, a series focusing on anthropomorphic toad-fighting space animals led by the green guy himself, was originally published by Continuity Comics in 1984 before finally being re-launched in 1991 with a short-lived cartoon, Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars, and a toy line produced by 80’s powerhouse Hasbro. The NES game followed shortly after, all with the intention of grabbing a piece of that sweet, sweet TMNT pie.
Hasbro and animation studio Sunbow Entertainment had established a toy and cartoon juggernaut by the mid-eighties, having previously rolled out similar cross-over hits like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Transformers and Jem. But Bucky and his crewmates couldn’t reach the heights of those series or help a struggling Hasbro, with toys that never approached the success of Playmates’ TMNT line and a cartoon that lasted a paltry 13 episodes.
The series did, however, leave a lasting impact in a different way. Nearly 25 years after its release, Bucky O’Hare on the NES can no longer be considered a “hidden gem”, and the game stands out as both the franchise’s greatest contribution to retro history and as one of the best games on the system.
Developed by Konami, nearly a sure-thing on the NES, and released in January 1992, the Bucky O’Hare game features everything that was great about the cartoon, including colorful design, enjoyable music, and a cool space setting. Anyone familiar with games knows that licenses aren’t always a slam-dunk for a successful title, making it even more special that Konami put such care into this game, which was released months after the Super Nintendo hit shelves in North America.
Starting out as Bucky, the player sets out to rescue the rest of his crew who have been captured and stuck on different planets, including Dead-Eye Duck, Willy, Blinky and Jenny, each of whom have a different ability that will be needed to progress. For instance, Bucky can jump higher than the rest, Dead-Eye has a spread shot and Jenny has a boss-destroying charge shot.
The gameplay is instantly reminiscent of Capcom’s Mega Man series, with the ability to choose which level to begin with, as well as hot-switching between characters and their powers as you rescue them, much like being able to choose between Robot Master weapons.
The platforming is challenging with a large variety of levels from planet to planet, while the music for each stage is top notch. Tomoko Sumiyama (Base Wars) composed a number of 8-bit tracks that accurately recreate both the cartoon opening as well as some original songs, but despite her apparent skill, it would be her final NES project.
The game is difficult, but not unforgiving, as there are unlimited continues to make up for the fact that you will be dying quite often while trying to learn patterns. There will be a few blind jumps, spike traps, and plenty of toads on your journey, so a little bit of memorization goes a long way in this title.
Something that has always struck me about this game is the sprite design, as it uses large, detailed and colorful characters that well represent the crew from the cartoon series. Bucky and Dead-Eye look especially great, and being able to switch between crewmates on the fly really steps up the variety.
Despite its short lifespan, I have always been nostalgic for this series, as I’ve had a Dead-Eye Duck action figure for as long as I can remember, and I have fond memories of watching the show. In recent years, I’ve collected a few of the figures from Hasbro’s line, which are mostly very colorful, well sculpted and faithful to the cartoon appearance of the characters. In total, twelve figures were released, along with two vehicles, before the line was discontinued. For those who are interested, it’s still an affordable set to collect.
The character design by Larry Hama and Michael Golden is a strong point for the series, with bright, aesthetically pleasing heroes well represented on screen, in action figure form and even in 8-bits. For the period, the Bucky franchise did a nice job of keeping a standardized look across different types of media.
A number of other similar series dipped their feet into the video game waters in the early 90’s, including Biker Mice From Mars and Stone Protectors, both Super Nintendo titles, and although TMNT itself spawned several classic games, it would be tough to say that any of them are as important to the overall franchise as Bucky’s game is to his.
You can still track down the figures on eBay or look up some grainy cartoon clips captured from an ancient VHS tape on YouTube, but it’s the cartridge version that has stood up the best to time. It’s a game that I always come back to for a quick burst of platforming awesomeness, and one that I’m glad received such quality treatment from Konami back in their glory days.
Now enjoying the current wave for nostalgia that the retro game scene is experiencing, Bucky is as popular as ever. The game is no longer a secret to collectors, as both its quality and its late release on the NES have helped it rise in price in recent years. But if you’re looking to recapture a bit of 90’s nostalgia, Bucky O’Hare is a great choice, as a game that’s faithful both to its fun source material and the amazing era that produced it.
Bucky O’Hare toy ad taken from: http://www.buckyohare.org/merch/toys/frenchad1.jpg
Cartoon screenshot from: http://www.cartoonscrapbook.com/B/buckyohare1992.htm
Screenshots taken by me via a Retron5 and Bucky O’Hare Cartridge
Thank you for reading the first edition of “Game & Toy”. I really do enjoy writing about both video games and action figures, and I hope to use this space to share my passions with others of a likemind. If you enjoyed this article, please join me next time when we delve into a three-part series on TMNT entries on the NES. If you’d like to get in touch, please feel free to talk with me about Bucky O’Hare or anything else on Twitter, @Ringman_.