You leap about the screen avoiding enemies and collecting “fragments of time”. Grab them all and your phone booth appears to whisk you away to the next level. With characters and locations from the two films, Bill & Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure sees you travel across several time-zones in this simple but addictive platformer.
The intro to the game features a cheerful looking Bill & Ted drawn in the style of the cartoon show, introducing themselves (complete with air-guitar bit) and explaining what to do. You don't really need them to though, as this game is one you quickly know how to play. Controls are straightforward and responsive: D-Pad to move and A button to jump.
The action takes place on a single screen, several flashing items can be seen scattered about. Enemies move back-and-forth and there are other things to deal with too, such as perilous drops, conveyor belts and crumbling platforms. The flashing items vary depending on the era you're in. They can be stars, shields or just orbs, but the aim of the game remains the same: collect them all then hop in the phone booth to exit the level. Depending on how far back in time you like to go for your retro gaming thrills, this might remind you of classic Spectrum platformer Manic Miner and indeed the Wyld Stallyns move quite similar to Miner Willy. However there are more levels here and the the platform challenges vary quite a bit.
The difficulty curve is well judged and aside from the occasional spike, things get steadily tougher as you progress. The first zone serves as an excellent introduction for beginners, fairly straightforward but with varied platform layouts and several different enemy types.
Due to the different time periods visited, each zone has something different in the background such as department signs in the Shopping Mall and pillars in ancient Greece. These backgrounds are drawn faintly which helps keep the foreground action clearly visible. Between zones cartoon Bill & Ted reappear, but whilst here happy Keanu and the other one are recognisable, in-game things are a bit more basic. The enemies are varied in design and display quite a bit of character but with everything happening on one screen, sprites are understandably small and this (especially on the original blurry screen) means things can end up looking quite similar.
Helping to keep things visually varied are the different ways the enemies attack you. Billy the Kid will stop and shoot, Napoleon will throw his hat Odd-Job style at you, whilst Joan of Arc will come rushing at you swinging her sword should you step on to the same platform as her – or maybe it's an angry pensioner with a walking stick, it's difficult to tell. Other characters will push you off platforms and there are many other ways for you to lose your lives throughout the game including what the instruction booklet calls “That no-named arm-thing”.
To make things a bit easier there are a few powerups throughout the game. Picked up and activated with the B button these include items to make you immune to enemy attacks, slow them down or to provide you with a balloon to float up to an otherwise impossible to reach platform.
The music is simple but exciting, the fast adventurous pace fitting well as you hurriedly jump around avoiding danger. If you decide you don't like the music it can be turned off from the main menu though this makes things very eerie. There are a few sound effects such as bloops as you collect the time fragments and simple noises for things like bullets being fired. There's nothing spectacular but they don't harm the game.
You begin the game with a rather generous 8 lives and 3 continues, but you will find yourself using them up rapidly as you get further into the game. Part of the challenge is knowing the correct order to collect the time fragments: while you can (and initially will) pick them up in any order, you may find upon collecting the last one that the recently materialised phone booth is in a difficult to reach place. Should this result in a loss of life, you will at least know where the exit point is and adjust your collecting strategy accordingly. Other levels require a bit more thought as collecting fragments will make platforms appear or disappear, so figuring out the correct order will likely take more than one go.
Another thing that threatens to reduce your stock of spare Bill & Teds is the time limit. For the first few zones it offers more than enough time to stroll through the levels but later on you will find moments of hesitation punished and the timer hitting zero with you a couple of pixels away from the exit. Once you know the best way to clear a level it can be done quickly but figuring out a quick route through the levels, whilst avoiding the various enemies and other hazards is not something that will be done straight away..
Though the game could be frustrating, it is through the moments you nearly clear a level that it manages to hold your interest, for you now know what to do. You may find you were wrong, but then you have another idea on how to tackle it and it becomes hard to put down. Once you do figure a level out, replaying it is not as much fun but with 50 levels spread across 10 zones, players should be kept occupied for some time.
As 50 levels is a lot to tackle in one go, the game makes use of passwords and each zone presents you with a new set of numbers to punch in. They take the form of phone numbers and all are preceded by a movie-style 555 prefix.
There's also a two-player mode. Players take alternate turns (as lives are lost) so you only need one Game Boy and one copy of the game. It can be a bit dull waiting for your turn but it still offers a good opportunity for some friendly competition.
It may be visually unspectacular, and once you know how to clock the levels the thrill is lessened somewhat, but there's not much else to fault with the game. The well judged difficulty curve going from the casual stroll of the opening levels to the fiendish difficulty of the later ones is excellent. A variety of enemies and obstacles helps keep the game varied and trying to crack all 50 levels provides plenty of entertainment. Bill & Ted's Game Boy adventure is not quite an excellent one, but it's still enjoyable.