The Legend of Bum-Bo review

Release Date
12 Nov 2019
Edmund McMillen / James Interactive / Ridiculon
Edmund McMillen

Ghosts keep cursing my poop.

This is one of the many totally normal problems you might have while playing tile-matching roguelike The Legend of Bum-Bo. A prequel to indie legend The Binding of Isaac, Bum-Bo is another addictive blend of dopamine drip-feed mechanics and gross-out humour, but perhaps not one destined to grip players with the same obsession that drew players back to Isaac’s basement again and again.

For those unfamiliar with developer Edmund McMillen’s very particular tastes, imagine Catholic mass filtered through Nickelodeon cartoons. Now make it weirder and ickier. You’re halfway there. Moving away from Isaac’s pixel art, however, Bum-Bo wholly commits to a world constructed out of cardboard and paper. It looks like a puppet show put on by the world’s weirdest toddler, full of delightful touches (spells to whack enemies are glued to little sticks), although sometimes I wished the toddler liked any other colour as much as they liked brown.

As the titular Bum-Bo, an adorable fleshy lump, you’ll defeat hordes of flies, turds, ghosts and bone monsters in search of your favourite coin. Combat involves matching tiles on a drop-down grid, generating attacks, defences, and mana based on their colour. This mana is spent on offensive spells, as well as board manipulation. Bigger matches net bigger rewards, and pulling off a rare seven-in-a-row unleashes deeply gratifying finishers like gigantic, board-coating waves of boogers.

While the basics are straightforward, reading and anticipating enemy behaviour takes time and careful attention. Understanding obscure rules through failure and repetition is often an element of the roguelike genre, but occasionally a surprise hit felt less like a learning opportunity and more a result of unclear signposting. This could be by design, but coupled with some rough edges and missing features (Ed, please, let me quit and resume a run), it sometimes feels like Bum-Bo could have used a bit more time in the oven.

Despite the genre hop, Isaac and Bum-Bo have more in common than just an affinity for things that go squish in the night. Progression in both games is measured by unlocks tied to successful runs or reaching certain milestones, and victory is rewarded with a new floor, character, or addition to the item pool – giving you compelling reason to immediately jump back in.

Chasing 100% completion, then 1000% and beyond, became my obsession in Isaac. Not just for that sweet, sweet achievement, but also to see what wild thing I might stumble across next. Bat wings? Bloody laser vomit? A fun party hat? So many of those items could dramatically change a character build, and the chaos made it exciting to play through the same floors again and again. There are a plenty of fun power-ups in Bum-Bo, and some smartly translated returning classics, but none radically shake up the fundamentals. Successful runs are always gratifying, but I never felt that how I defeated the final boss was significantly different to how I defeated the first room.

Perhaps Isaac has spoiled me. Bum-Bo deserves to be considered on its own merits, not compared with Isaac which is now supported by years of updates, mods, and DLC. Despite the links, it’s very much its own beast, one that could potentially appeal to new players who weren’t fans of Isaac’s manic shooting. The ability to play it at your own pace makes it a perfect for clearing a daunting podcast backlog (everyone has those, right?), although the music is good enough to make switching it off a tough choice. With a few updates – maybe the addition of something similar to Isaac’s daily runs and leaderboards – and the planned Switch port, Bum-Bo could easily become a daily time-killer.

A clever puzzler with a unique sense of style and humour, The Legend of Bumbo offers enough smart twists and charm to overcome a lack of polish and variety.
Great for background gaming
Equally adorable and disgusting
The right balance of luck and skill
Some run-ending bugs
Slightly underbaked feel
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