Welcome back to Puzzle Columns, where today we’ll be discussing Baku Baku (also known as Baku Baku Animal in certain territories).
Released in 1995 for arcade, and 1996 for Game Gear and Saturn (and 1998 for the Master System, wow!), Baku Baku is a puzzle game in which pairs of symbols fall from the top of the screen. These symbols include various types of animals and foods. Players must match a food to the animal that eats it to clear all connected food blocks.
There’s bamboo for pandas, bones for dogs, bananas for monkeys, carrots for rabbits and optionally cheese for mice. The larger the group that is cleared, the more points you get. Where the highest scores come from, however, are chains of cleared blocks, created by carefully setting up blocks to drop together. The real use of combos, and meat of the game, is in the versus mode.
The single-player experience is a basic ladder of versus matches against the CPU, like many fighting games, and some puzzle games. The story is simple enough, as the King’s daughter has too many pets to care for and needs a zookeeper to wrangle and care for them all. So, naturally, they have a tournament to find the best zookeeper in all the land.
The story is told by an equally charming and terrifyingly primitive computer generated FMV cutscene at the beginning of the game. The aesthetics don’t personally appeal to me, but the gameplay is good enough that I can look past all that.
Where Baku Baku truly shines is in its multiplayer mode, where you battle your friends to prove your zookeeping supremacy. Clear large groups of blocks, or chain several combos of blocks, to send them to your opponent’s playfield, where they’ll soon be buried in animal foodstuffs. But as easily as you sent them over, they can be sent back with a combination of skill and luck, making for some very tense matches, requiring quick wits and a balance of offense and defense, as one wrong block can completely screw up a massive combo.
There are a multitude of options for both single- and multi-player, including how many types of animal and food blocks are offered (bafflingly including just one), food-to-animal ratio, speed, number of matches and more. These give your matches more variety, can make the game more difficult, or easier so younger gamers can still have a bit of fun with it. I was very impressed by this feature, as puzzlers tend to be of the bare-bones variety when it comes to options.
This game later served as the inspiration for Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, a fantastic puzzler that made an appearance on Saturn, and, incidentally, is one of my inspirations for starting this column. While I prefer the aesthetic of SPFIIT, Baku Baku stands out with some key differences and more options. (I will be covering SPFIIT in a later installment, don’t you worry).
Does Baku Baku still hold up today? Yes, I believe so. I had never played it until a couple of weeks ago, and my nephew and I have had a grand time with the versus mode, and I’ve been glued to my Game Gear since I got it. Should you pick up a copy? Absolutely, should you have a system that will play it!
Please post your high scores in the comments below, and feel free to suggest other puzzlers for future installments.