I already spent most of my writeup on DuckTales talking about nostalgia's power to make a mountain out of a molehill, so when reviewing the skeletons in my gaming closet for another title to strike from my list another familiar name in '90s cartoons caught my eye: Tiny Toon Adventures, specifically Konami's Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose for the Super Nintendo, yet another licensed game with a reputation for quality far above what's expected of such.
Once again this is a reputation well-deserved, and once again the challenge it presents has been exaggerated with time, though not to the same extent as DuckTales. What took me by surprise in this respect is the game's passive nudging of players away from the easy difficulty: First off, it's labeled "Children," a bit presumptuous considering the likely target demographic; Second, Children difficulty not only offers unlimited continues but outright skips the latter portions (including bosses) of every stage, even omitting one stage entirely; Third, though the game supports password saves it's only available through the Children difficulty and forces you into that mode if you use them. To quote a certain collective, "git gud."
It's a shame the easiest mode skips the bosses, too, because I thought they were some of the more creative and forward-thinking parts of the game during my time with it. Very rarely involving direct battles, most bosses are something more along the line of action-puzzles, turning the stage environment against your attackers. One stage - the Wild West show, whose climax plays out on a runaway train - even eschews an actual boss entity entirely in favor of sharply ramping up the difficulty in the final stretch and throwing new elements at you, all as the stage's forced scrolling speeds up and you suddenly find your back against a wall and your face in one of a series of flaming smokestacks. I'm a bit ashamed to admit it took me a few goes to successfully clear it.
...it was the second stage.
This isn't to say that the levels leading up to the bosses were at all lacking, however. Buster Busts Loose came in 1993, a few years into the 16-bit console generation, and as a result had a good list of examples from the prevalent mascot platformers that would mark the era of what to do and what to avoid. Buster's dash maneuver is the thing that most sets him apart from his platforming peers mechanically, and as the game progresses level design properly centers more and more around it. It's a wonderfully empowering feeling to be able to effectively progress from simple straightaways and timed jumps to omnidirectional dashes along walls and ceilings while avoiding obstacles within the space of an hour or two.
My only real complaint with the game lies with the inter-stage bonus minigames, your best bet at earning extra lives unless you've got the hours to spare farming stars from off-screen respawns it takes to make any real progress otherwise. The randomly-chosen games available are decently varied, but entirely too reliant on luck. The bingo and seesaw games - your control over which is limited to blind picks - are guiltiest of this, but even the more skill-oriented challenges have too much of a random element to be truly fair. It doesn't matter how many hours of Pacman you've logged if the maze game sets you down in an inescapable straightaway between enemies.
Its single significant mar aside, Buster Busts Loose proved to be a modest if not unfortunately brief challenge and a colorfully expressive example of quality amidst the veritable tsunami of 2D platformers released in its vicinity. Barring an initial feeling-out period a handful of sessions spaced out over the course of two weeks were all it took to clear the game's on Normal. Considering that Challenge difficulty asks you to do the same with half the continues and a third of the health I figured enough was enough. Another time.