REVIEW: The Legend of Bum-Bo

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

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Title The Legend of Bum-Bo: Bum-Bo Want Coin!
Developer Edmund McMillen, James Interactive
Publisher Edmund McMillen
Release Date November 12th, 2019
Genre Rogue, Match-3, RPG
Platform Steam
Age Rating N/A
Official Website

There was never any question that I would be the person reviewing The Legend of Bum-Bo for the oprainfall site. After all, I quickly became a convert to The Binding of Isaac in recent years, which was also created by Edmund McMillen. Unlike that game, The Legend of Bum-Bo is a rogue dungeon crawler styled game with match-3 mechanics and brutal difficulty. Despite all that, it looks and plays much like fans of McMillen’s art would expect. The question is, did it blow away this Binding of Isaac fanboy? Or should Bum-Bo have stayed home with his coin?

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The Legend of Bum-Bo is a prequel of sorts to Binding of Isaac. We play the hapless partner from that game, Bum-Bo himself. He was a strange character even then, starting as a floating head who eats coins and slowly evolves into a more robust form. The only thing this iteration has in common with that version is his love of coins. In fact, the story starts when Bum-Bo’s lone coin is stolen by some sinister force, and Bum-Bo races into the sewers after it. Thus begins this twisted tale of vengeance, comedy and twisted storytelling.

Bum-Bo | Tutorial

Unlike The Binding of Isaac, this game is not a twin-stick. It’s still rogue, but more of a mixture of dungeon crawling and match-3 with rogue elements everywhere. I started to envision it as Puzzle Quest with McMillen flair, since you match pieces on the board to initiate attacks and collect Mana to activate spells. There’s 5 different primary types of Mana, and as you might expect, they’re all pretty gross. There’s Yellow Mana (pee), Brown Mana (poo), Green Mana (boogers), White Mana (bones) and Black Mana (teeth). By matching 4 or more of any of them, you’ll be rewarded with something helpful, but not always an attack. White and Black Mana are turned into attacks, with Bum-Bo flinging bones or teeth at foes respectively. Brown and Green Mana are defensive in nature. Matching enough Brown creates a turd wall that blocks an attack, while matching Green hurls a gooey booger at foes, paralyzing them for a turn. Finally, Yellow Mana will provide energy, making it the most vital of all Mana. The reason is, most every version of Bum-Bo in the game only has a limited amount of energy, which translates to how many moves you can make each turn on the puzzle board. Thankfully this doesn’t restrict your spells, which can be cast again and again so long as you have enough Mana. At first I was bothered by having such a limited amount of actions each turn, but it turned out to be a wise decision, since it forced me to be more strategic and not just go for attacks every turn.

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Speaking of multiple Bum-Bos, there’s more than one “class” in The Legend of Bum-Bo. They sort of split Bum-Bo into multiple variations, each with different stats and spells available. You start as Bum-Bo the Brave. He’s pretty basic, having the most health and hitting adequately hard. He starts with one spell that does damage using White Mana and another that rerolls the puzzle board using Black Mana. Frankly he was my least favorite, but a good starting point. Afterwards I unlocked Bum-Bo the Nimble, essentially the thief version with a rapid attack spell, followed by Bum-Bo the Stout, a hefty beast whose Mana pool drains at the end of each turn, forcing you to play super aggressively, followed by my favorite, Bum-Bo the Weird. On paper, Bum-Bo the Weird looks horrible. He has the lowest health of the starting group and his strength is nothing amazing. What makes him my favorite is that whenever Weird kills an enemy, he gains more energy, which means he can move again. When you combine that with his spells that create more of a selected Mana on the board or removes all of a specific Mana to fling it at the foe as a puzzle piece, you start to see how amazing he is. There’s other classes too, but I don’t want to spoil everything. Suffice to say, much like The Binding of Isaac, there’s a lot to do even once you think you’ve totally beaten the game, including some really insane achievements.

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The one bit of advice I’ll give players is to pay close attention to the character select screen, since the passive abilities of each Bum-Bo are spelled out there, but only there. I was initially confused about this, but after playing for some 14 hours, every quirk of each character became second nature. Which is a good thing, since The Legend of Bum-Bo is a hard game. Though that’s hardly unusual in the rogue genre, I will say this game can take it to new heights on occasion. It’s very easy to die only a couple rooms into any run, and each and every boss can wipe the floor with you if you’re not prepared. Hell, even the basic enemies can throttle you, but a lot depends on the RNG that provides your free trinkets and upgrades. Each chapter is peppered with a few battles, and in between you’ll get a freebie. These items will give your chosen Bum-Bo new spells, or even single use items like Tarot cards on occasion. You can only have so many spells at a time, and if you get a new one when you’re full, you’ll have to swap it out for an old one. Another way you can improve your chances is with the Stat Wheel. Once you beat a chapter by defeating a boss, you’ll find yourself in a strange area full of vendors, including a Vanna White looking lady. By spending 15 coins, you can spin her Wheel and improve your stats. I can’t express enough how important this is. You can get more health, more energy, or even boost how much damage your puzzle matches and spell attacks deal. Besides that, you can spend more money to reroll your various spell parameters, such as Mana cost, or try your luck to win a new trinket. So you do have some control over how your game progresses, but never quite enough to feel you’re totally unbeatable.

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I should probably spend some time discussing the primary loop of the game. At the start, there’s just one chapter and one Bum-Bo. By beating it, you’ll unlock another Bum-Bo. Beat the next chapter with the unlocked character, and you’ll unlock another chapter, rinse and repeat. Each chapter is punctuated by several floors full of enemies, and you have to beat them all to reach the boss. As I said earlier, you have to match at least 4 of the same Mana to do anything, though by matching 5 or more, you’ll get more powerful effects. For example, if you match 5 White Mana, you’ll get two bone tosses instead of just one, whereas matching 5 Black Mana throws a more harmful tooth at foes. If you’re able to match more than 6, you’ll get a floor-clearing mega attack, though I usually stumbled upon those. Another important mechanic are the lanes. There’s three lanes that enemies can move on, and they’ll generally get close before readying an attack. This is referred to as Priming, and you can tell it’s gonna happen when you see an exclamation mark above an enemy. You want to kill them quick or block their attack the following turn. It’s just important to keep in mind that you always attack the foes in the front and at the highest altitude of each lane first. Meaning if there’s a fly hovering above another enemy’s head, it will take the attack first. There’s also Hearts (Red Mana) you can match to heal yourself on the puzzle board, though finding these is so rare that I ended up relying on spells and items to heal myself. Especially since matching 4 Red Mana only rewards you with half a heart. If you’re lucky, you find a wildcard, which can match with anything. I liked the combat in the game, though it can be frustrating only having a couple moves each turn. That’s a huge part of why I loved Bum-Bo the Weird, since he was able to effectively attack again and again in a single turn.

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Aesthetically, The Legend of Bum-Bo is quite interesting. The whole game has a handmade cardboard cut-out aesthetic. Think a demonic Paper Mario, and you’re on the right track. Everything is made out of cardboard, even the stalactites in caverns or burning flame foes. Thankfully I didn’t find this off putting, as it meshed well with McMillen’s cute yet creepy art style. Color-wise the game is dark and dreary, which fits it to a tee. Musically, the game has different tracks for each chapter, and they all do a good job. That’s probably because they’re by Ridiculon, who also did the music for Binding of Isaac. So if you liked the tunes in that game, you’ll enjoy it here too. Besides the music, there’s good sound effects, such as the various grunts of Bum-Bo or the squishy sound of worms firing projectiles. Altogether, The Legend of Bum-Bo is great looking and sounding.

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While I did very much enjoy my time with The Legend of Bum-Bo, there’s a few minor niggles I need to mention. One is that the game’s initial tutorial doesn’t explain many of the advanced mechanics, such as some of the lane strategy or additional effects for matching extra Mana. A larger annoyance is that you can’t save your progress in one run and return to it later. I was frankly really surprised by this, especially given how The Binding of Isaac allowed this feature, as well as Seeds to replay runs. While this isn’t a huge problem, since most complete runs won’t take you longer than a half hour or so, it still was a constant irritation. Also, I absolutely hate the blue and purple enemies, which are immune to spells and puzzle attacks respectively. And though I didn’t encounter much in the way of bugs or glitches, one run I was inexplicably unable to hit one type of worm enemy with attacks or spells, and had to restart my game. Other than these, I really found the experience quite enjoyable.

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It’s true that The Legend of Bum-Bo isn’t for everyone. It’s demented, crude, immature and hard as hell. And yet, it’s crazy addictive, fun and very compelling. If you don’t mind losing a lot and like a game with good strategy, I think you’ll enjoy it. I know I loved my time with it, and found it an incredible bargain for only $14.99. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this prequel to The Binding of Isaac, but should have known I’d end up appreciating it. Especially the super clever ending you’ll get once you beat the Basement for the first time. If you’re a fan of rogue or Edmund McMillen’s work, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the darkness with Bum-Bo.

Review Score

Review Copy Provided by Developer

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.