Rubber Ball, Come Bouncing Back To Me...
Back in the days of the 8-bit home micro computers, a game could be made based on absolutely anything - regardless of how mundane. There were games about a dustbin man (sorry, "refuse collector"), someone mowing their lawn, collecting shopping in the supermarket, and even a simple tennis ball bouncing along. That last one is, of course, Bounder, a successful top-down bounce-em-up from Gremlin Interactive - the same fellows that brought us the excellent Monty Mole series.
Taking control of the titular ball, you must navigate along the vertically scrolling stages, avoiding any pitfalls and hazards. Bounder is constantly bouncing and the screen constantly scrolling, so you have to be quick and think ahead regarding where you move. The tiles you can bounce off are often spaced quite far apart, or have spikes, birds, spinning sticks and other traps in the way. Certain tiles are adorned with arrows - which give you one long super-bounce, and question marks which can award you with extra lives, or instant death (by chattering teeth or a dart). Reaching the end of each stage puts you in a single screen bonus stage where you have a limited number of bounces to land on all the question mark tiles.
Bounder's visuals are fairly sparse, but reasonably colourful and easy on the eye. It is always easy to see what is going on - essential in a game like this, and the level backdrops change often enough to keep things from getting stale. The music is catchy, but the same tune plays throughout the entire game so gets a bit repetitive.
While simple in premise, Bounder is extremely challenging. The number of tiles you can bounce on become less and less as you progress, with larger gaps between them. The number of projectiles and stationary obstacles increases too, meaning you not only have to have sharp reflexes, but also a knack for planning ahead. With the screen constantly scrolling ever upwards, it is all too easy to end up with nowhere to go if you hang back too much. Bounder is pretty fun to play, but becomes quite repetitive rather quickly. It is also too difficult and you will struggle to get past the first couple of stages. While still worth a quick play, Bounder is a game that fails to live up to the memories I had of it. There was also a sequel called Re-Bounder on the Commodore 64 which switched the scrolling to horizontal, and even added bosses and the ability to shoot. While similar in concept, and still reasonable enjoyable, I would say the original is the better game thanks to the purity of the gameplay. There is also a recent remake of the game, entitled Bounder's World, available on iOS, though I hear it is pretty weak - unfortunately I do not have an iPhone to see for myself.
Title : Bounder
Developer : Gremlin Interactive
Year : 1986
System : C64
Also on : ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX