What can you possibly say about Bazooka Bill?
It wasn’t a particularly brilliant game. It didn’t contain any major firsts in video game history. It was a fairly standard side scroller action game. So, why bother writing about it? Well, Bazooka Bill was one of the first video games I ever owned for the Commodore 64. I played it for hours and hours and I don’t think I ever came close to beating it.
Developed by Beam Software (later Melbourne House),the game could only have been created in the 1980s, the decade that gave us movies like Commando and First Blood. Bazooka Bill was cut from the same mold as those sweaty, muscle bound action flicks. The game’s protagonist was Bazooka Bill, a green beret who wore a military uniform with the sleeves ripped off to highlight his bulging biceps. He also wore a pair of massive sunglasses (on the cover at least) that looked a bit like ski goggles or those shades an optometrist gives you after dilating your pupils. His mission was to rescue General Douglas MacArthur (yes, the “Old Soldiers Never Die” General MacArthur),who somehow got himself kidnapped by a hostile military force.
To rescue the grizzled, old general, Bill must make his way past an endless stream of enemies. They attack on foot, by air, and even in tank. Bill used his bare hands as his primary offensive weapon. Like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, his fists were all he really needed. In fact, his fists are the main thing I remember about the game. They were enormous. When he punched, his arm stretched a bizarre amount, and his fists seemed to grow to roughly ⅓ his total body mass. Of course, his fists weren’t his only weapon. As he ran through levels he could pick up items like knives, a flamethrower, or a bazooka. Other levels took Bill to the skies, engaging in dog fights with enemy aircraft.
A few other oddities stand out. Despite his tough guy image, Bill would jump up and down, waving his arms and beret in the air each time he completed a level. In fact, he did it at the end of the game when he finally rescued General MacArthur (who greeted him with a simple ‘Thanks son!’). Some of the enemies were, presumably, natives of the country where Bill was conducting his mission. I say presumably because I can’t think of any other reason they were dressed only in their underwear. The enemies driving tanks were laughing as they attacked you, their mouths open in a cartoonishly large cackle. Bill also had a tendency to break the fourth wall. As in later platformers like Sonic the Hedgehog, if you left him idle for too long he would begin tapping his foot and staring straight at the screen.
I honestly don’t know how many people remember the game, but it was a landmark in my personal gaming history. Its memory is inextricably bound to memories of Saturday mornings, cartoons, and super sugary cereal. It helped introduce me to the beautifully agonizing joy of gaming. If for nothing else, that makes it a classic in my mind.