It’s easy to write off Boogerman: A Pick and Flick Adventure as a product of its time that’s not worth bothering with today. A 16-bit mascot platformer from ’90s Interplay featuring deliberate grossout humour and “attitude”? Hmm. Not what we might call a winning combination… at least if prejudice is to be believed
I must confess, I never played Boogerman back in the day and indeed don’t remember seeing much about it at all. So my first real experience with it has been the SNES version, which can be easily found today as part of the Interplay Collection 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming system. And you hopefully know by now that one of my favourite things about that platform is the fact it provides us with the opportunity to explore and celebrate some of the lesser-known (or lesser-loved) titles from the land of retro, as well as some of the big names.
So get ready to pick it, lick it, roll it, flick it; we’re heading in for the snotty adventure of a lifetime. Bring a tissue or three.
Boogerman first appeared in November of 1994, a month after its stablemate Earthworm Jim wowed everyone with its impressive visuals, animation and sense of personality. While there are no direct connections between the two games, both Jim and Boogerman appeared as rivals in the Nintendo 64 fighting game Clayfighter 63 1/3, suggesting that Interplay was keen to develop a stable of characters who inhabited the same “world” and could perhaps be used to cross-promote one another’s games and other pieces of media.
Boogerman’s narrative embraces two noticeable trends in children’s popular media from the early to mid ’90s: environmental consciousness, and dirty, messy physical comedy. Its setup sees a scientist named Professor Stinkbaum attempting to solve world pollution problems by banishing garbage and filth to another dimension with a special machine — but naturally this raises a few questions as to what impact that might be having on said other dimension. The eponymous superhero, actually the alter-ego of an eccentric billionaire named Snotty Ragsdale, decides to infiltrate the professor’s laboratory to investigate for himself, but during a sneeze-related accident manages to not only accidentally open the portal to Dimension X-Crement, as it is known, but also allows a nefarious presence to steal the Snotrium-357 that powers the machine. Only one thing for it, then — jump into the portal and track down the villain!
The gameplay of Boogerman unfolds as fairly standard mid-’90s platform fare in that you start at one end of a level and have to find your way to an exit, which is usually (though not always) at the opposite end to where you started. Along the way, there are various ways to deviate from the main path (which is usually conveniently signposted), and exploring these alternative routes will reward you with collectible items or, in some cases, extra lives.
Naturally, Boogerman has more than just the environment to contend with during his journey; each game world introduces two or three new types of enemy, which have to be either avoided or dealt with. Thankfully, our hero has numerous abilities at his disposal to dispatch his foes: besides jumping on them Super Mario-style, he can flick a bogey at them while standing, crouching or jumping; he can belch at them while standing, or fart at them while crouching. Both of these have limited uses that can be replenished with collectible items around the levels; snot is replenished by… well, collecting snot, while flatulent gas is recovered through the consumption of — what else — cans of beans.
Both the belch and the fart can be let out immediately for a short-range melee-esque attack, while holding the button to store up a charge allows the emission to be sent out as a ranged attack that pierces enemies. Given the nature of the fart attack, successful application to an enemy requires that Boogerman turn his back on the target before “firing”.
There are a couple of power-ups that affect Boogerman’s capabilities along the way. Drinking milk replaces his snot-flicking with hocking up loogies; this is helpful as the bogeys fly in an arc, while the milk-powered spitballs fly straight. Eating a chilli pepper, meanwhile, powers up his belches and farts with flaming spice power, dealing additional damage and even allowing him to “fly” with creative use of his gaseous rectal discharges. Both power-ups only last until Boogerman takes damage, however; neither are necessary to progress in the game, though the chilli in particular can be useful to reach hidden areas.
Boogerman’s strength is in its clearly laid out level design. The critical path is always obvious to see even when the route you need to follow doubles back on itself — as it frequently does — while taking the time to explore usually rewards the curious with some worthwhile goodies. Besides the aforementioned power-ups and replenishing items, there are capes that allow Boogerman to take an additional hit before expiring, and plungers to be collected. Acquiring 30 of these by the time you reach the exit allows you to get an extra life.
The “plunger” mechanic can actually be manipulated somewhat, as most levels feature a toilet that Boogerman can dive into to visit a separate area that contains its own goodies. When emerging from the “exit” toilet, all of the collectibles and enemies in the original area respawn, meaning you can simply go back and collect them all again to easily take your total above 30. This feels like a bit of an exploit, but there are quite a few levels where it appears this is necessary to achieve the goal number. There’s no penalty if you decide to make a bee-line straight for the exit, however. In fact, given that the game’s password system effectively allows you unlimited continues — and is even good enough to provide you with a base score appropriate for how far through the game you are upon resuming — one might argue that it’s largely pointless tracking down the plungers, but it does at least add some variety and interest to the levels.
Where some players might feel Boogerman falters a bit is in its pacing. Each “world” in the game unfolds over the course of five levels, the last of which is a self-contained boss encounter. This means it’s easy to tire of seeing the same scenery in different arrangements, and indeed many of Boogerman’s contemporaries and peers had already figured this out by 1994. The developers of Sega’s iconic Sonic the Hedgehog series, for example, realised that even three Acts to a Zone was pushing it in terms of pacing back in 1991, and both Sonic 2 (1992) and Sonic 3 (February 1994) reduced this to two per Zone, giving the games a much snappier sense of pace. This, in turn, helped make the player feel like they were always moving forwards through the game rather than stagnating in one area.
Unique level gimmicks are also fairly minimal; in terms of mechanics, one Boogerman world is quite like another in terms of the environmental features you’ll come up against, with the main difference being the audio-visual aesthetic that accompanies the action. To be fair to the game, though, each world does have a very distinct look, feel, sound and colour palette to it, which provides a solid sense of satisfaction when making progress — some may struggle with how slow that progress can feel at times, however.
Probably the core appeal of Boogerman over and above its mechanics is how well it’s presented, though. The animation on both the eponymous hero and his foes is spectacular, and the game manages to pull this off without the animation ever feeling like it interferes with gameplay. At the same time, the level backgrounds are clear and easy to parse; this alone makes the game feel much more enjoyable and accessible than its peer and stablemate Earthworm Jim, whose visually striking but vastly overdesigned levels are often difficult to understand at a glance, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with them.
Alongside the excellent visuals is a strong audio presence. The digital music wouldn’t sound out of place as the backing to an early ’90s Saturday morning cartoon — which is presumably the ambience the team were going for — while the sound effects include a wide selection of flatulence (both oral and rectal) as well as plenty of squishy noises and a surprising amount of digitised speech. Playing Boogerman on the Evercade, it’s actually quite easy to forget that this was a SNES game; the quality of the audio-visual presentation is, at times, closer to what we would typically associate with a 32-bit 2D game.
Whether or not you will enjoy Boogerman from a modern perspective depends on a few things. Firstly, and probably most importantly, is your patience. Five levels in the same scenery is quite a long time, regardless of the varied maps; it would be completely understandable for someone to start feeling fatigued with the game around the third level of the Flatulent Swamps.
Alongside that, you also need to have patience for the most lowbrow of toilet humour. This will likely not be a problem if you are a Brit like me, but your mileage may, as always, vary. Remember, this is a game about burping, farting and flicking bogeys at people; a game where enemies let out a right ripper of a guff when you land on them, and where you get a bonus for how many zits you popped (with a delightfully juicy squishing sound) on the ground over the course of the level.
To be fair, the game commits to the bit and doesn’t feel like it’s overplaying the grossout angle at any point. After a while, you sort of stop actively noticing it; the flatulence and oozing pustules just sort of become a natural part of the aesthetic, and the colourful cartoony nature of everything counterbalances the actual grossness of it all. To put it another way, none of Boogerman’s toilet humour feels like it’s attempting to shock or upset; there’s nothing malicious about it anywhere. It’s just an acknowledgement of the fact that, to some people, flatulence is fun.
But you probably get the picture by now. I ended up enjoying Boogerman a lot more than I expected; I’d actually go so far as to say that it’s been a highlight of Interplay Collection 1 on Evercade for me personally. As previously noted, your mileage may, of course, vary — but give it a chance. You might just be surprised.
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