<i> Battle Bull </i> is a top down action puzzle game published by the now defunct SETA Corporation (株式会社セタ Kabushiki-Gaisha SETA) (Full company name Super Entertainment and Total Amusement). The SETA Corporation had two main headquarters. The first was located in Kōtō, Tokyo while the United States office was placed in Las Vegas, Nevada. They developed many titles over the years, most of which were spectacular failures. If you look closely however, you can find a few gems well worth your time; titles such as <i> Tetris 64 </i> for the N64, <i> Kendo Rage </i> for the SNES and of course <i> Battle Bull </i> for the Game Boy.
In addition to being published by SETA <i> Battle Bull </i> was developed by Jorudan (ジョルダン), who have developed titles for the Game Boy all the way up to the Nintendo Wii. Some of their notable titles include <i> Bubble Bobble Classic </i> (2000) and <i> Alien vs Predator </i> (1993) with most of their other titles being developed almost exclusively for the Japanese market.
The game has an upbeat synth soundtrack that empowers you in a way that music in action games is supposed to. The melodies were composed by Japanese composer Takayuki Suzuki of Jorudan and NCS. Throughout his career he only worked on seven titles, from <i> Target Earth </i> in 1990 to <i> Real Mahjong </i> in 1996. Despite his short time in the industry, he made the most of his work by composing catchy and memorable tunes for criminally underappreciated games during the 90s.
The entire game takes place in variously designed mazes in which you pilot the “Battle Bull”, a little Tank with bullhorns attached to the front. In each stage you must destroy a certain number of enemy Tanks by sliding portions of the maze into them. This is much easier said than done as all these other Tanks are trying to do the same thing to you and without any sort of strategy in place, they will almost always succeed. When you first begin playing you may feel inclined to finish off the required number of enemies before the timer runs out. No worries though, because when the timer hits zero a small, but very quick repair tank appears and begins replenishing the blocks into every empty space. This acts as a sort of sudden death mechanic because the repair tank will destroy you on contact; but also gives you another chance to crush your enemies with blocks, in the event you have come close to running out.
<i> Battle Bull </i> features relatively nice visuals for the era in which it was released. It may only be Grey scale but the graphics are polished and it’s a shining example of what game designers were able to do with the limitations of the hardware at the time.
The overall tone of the game seems very cheery (in a destructively cute kind of way) until the end, where it is revealed that you are in a sort of Thunderdome situation, where the punishment for failure is death by being smashed up against a wall. Kind of changes the childlike magic of playing a great game when you realize that you’re a cold blooded Tank driver in a kill or be killed scenario doesn’t it?
The enemy Tanks possess different abilities and characteristics based on their appearance. Some enemies will home in on you, while others will simply move along a random path paying no mind to their surroundings until you close in on them. Other enemies can fire projectiles at you while another has the ability to drill straight through the walls to come after you. Other than death by way of being crushed or fired upon you can also perish by making slight contact with another Tank.
The game design is done incredibly well considering most of the other games that the SETA Corporation are responsible for. The controls are tight and responsive and death never feels cheap, when you die it’s not frustrating because the game makes you feel responsible for your mistakes, without leaving you with that feeling of an unfair death. The gameplay style is incredibly addictive and will always have you coming back for more no matter how many times it takes to get past any particular level.
When you first start the game you are ridiculously out matched and underpowered. This is easily solved as you make progress through the game. By winning matches (and even losing them) you obtain gold which can be used to upgrade the Battle Bull. You can increase the vehicles speed and push force as well as add the jump ability and a mounted gun.
Jumping allows you to dodge advancing enemies and projectiles but oddly enough won’t allow you to jump over walls. The jump mechanic is easily something that can be removed from the game without affecting the player in a negative way though, so it’s almost not worth mentioning. The game also has a two player Vs. mode, but it requires you to have two copies of the game and two Game Boy systems. It’s simply a race to see who can get the highest score during a set number of matches.
The “Battle Bull” features three different types of projectile weapons. The Vulcan which fires a single shot that will stop after making contact with an enemy or movable block. The grenade which will travel through one enemy or block and the missile which keeps traveling through an unlimited number of enemies or blocks until it reaches a wall. All three weapons fire at the same speed and require the same amount of time to reload.
The engines increase the speed at which you move, doubling your rate of movement at each interval. It’s best to stick with the twin power engine for the majority of the game as the turbo jet engine can be difficult to control due to its speed. It’s also worth noting that the turbo jet engine allows you to fire a bullet and then outrun it but you can’t damage yourself so there’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a funny design flaw.
A few of the upgrades cost a lot of gold, with the most expensive being fifty thousand ($50000). Saving your money can be a gamble in this game though because if you get a game over, you lose all you accumulated gold and have to start saving again. You do however get to keep your upgrades, so there’s at least a small upside to death. The game also features a four digit password feature as a sort of save feature, similar to many games of this era.
The game ends with your character and his girlfriend standing on a cliff at sunset overlooking the sea. Assumingly having been released from whatever life or death tournament you were a part of, after coming out on top.
So there you have it <i> Battle Bull </i> is a fantastic addition to the Game Boy and well worth the time you’ll spend searching for it. If you happen across it in your local flee market be sure to pick it, you won’t regret it. If you’re feeling particularly wealthy however, you can always buy a copy off of Amazon or Ebay at a grossly inflated price.
In the event you can’t find one anywhere, you can always use the various Emulators available across numerous websites.
Given that the SETA Corporation no longer exists, I wouldn’t count on ever seeing a sequel to <i> Battle Bull </i>. But like I said in the beginning of this article you can always play <i> Bomberman </i> if you want to play something that has the same mechanics and game play style.