The Legend of Bum-Bo

I’ve invested hundreds of hours into The Binding of Isaac at this point. I absolutely love that game. But even then, it came as a surprise to learn that The Legend of Bum-Bo came out on Steam way back in 2019. This is another roguelike from Edmund McMillen, and it’s set in the same universe as The Binding of Isaac.

As it turns out, The Legend of Bum-Bo seems to have flown under the radar for a whole lot of folks, though that seems like that’s changing now that it’s finally out on consoles. So of course I picked up a copy to see what it was all about.

As it turns out, Bum-Bo is a turn-based affair, where combat happens in a match-four game that you play on a grid. You have a set amount of moves per turn, and your goal is to line up at least four matching icons. Bones and teeth let you attack, while boogers and poop give you defensive skills. You can also match pee drops to earn yourself additional moves.

The Legend of Bum-Bo

The basic premise is almost too simple. A lot of folks seem to be put off by this; they play for a few minutes, then realize the combat feels so simple that it must lack any sort of depth. Then they put it down and go do something else.

I admit that I had this reaction at first. In the very beginning, I almost walked away from it entirely, deciding it was maybe good for 20 minutes of distraction but not something with any staying power. But then I realized that the initial simplicity of the combat doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no depth to it. After about an hour of gameplay (which is longer than I initially told myself I would play this thing), it was becoming clear that there’s actually a really deep and complex game here, but the mechanics are so simple and intuitive that it doesn’t necessarily feel like it at first.

Beyond the basic matching mechanic, every match you make earns you mana that corelates to the match you made. For instance, matching boogers will earn you green mana, while matching pee drops will earn you yellow mana. All of this mana goes into a pool, and it can be spent on powerful spells. Some spells are offensive, while others let you rearrange the tiles on the grid without spending a move. And, as you get deeper into the game, you earn more spells. Since the spells you earn are randomized, no two runs play out quite the same.

The Legend of Bum-Bo

On top of this, you can visit a sort of casino area after every boss fight, where you can gamble on additional perks or upgrades, or simply buy what’s on offer. It’s your money; you can spend it however you’d like.

And then there’s the fact that after you beat the first chapter, you unlock the second one, so the game suddenly gets twice as long. And then when you beat the second chapter, you unlock a third one, and so on. So as you get better at the game, it continues to get bigger (The Binding of Isaac works in a similar way, actually).

The Legend of Bum-Bo

On the surface, The Legend of Bum-Bo seems a little shallow. But once you scratch at it just a little bit, you reveal this massively complex and deeply satisfying strategy-based roguelike that’s absolutely thrilling to play. Once it all clicked for me, I struggled to put it down. And even when I finally muster the will power to put the thing down and do something else, I find myself thinking about the game and itching to get back to playing it.

Seriously, The Legend of Bum-Bo is completely taking over my life right now.

If you love The Binding of Isaac and you haven’t checked out The Legend of Bum-Bo, I beg you to at least give it a shot. And if you found Bum-Bo to be a little too shallow, I hope I can nudge you into giving it a second chance. I assure you, the initial simplicity is a ruse. This game is as rich and complex as anything you’d expect from the creator of The Binding of Isaac, and it’s much, much deeper than a first impression might lead you to believe.

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