The vexing thing about Boomer’s Adventure in Asmik World is that, while it’s a perfectly entertaining action puzzler in its own right, it’s best described in terms of a game that wouldn’t hit the Game Boy until several months later. Kind of like the way some people think Shin Megami Tensei is a big ripoff of Pokémon because the latter became popular in the U.S. well before former despite the former having been around for nearly a decade longer. Boomer’s Adventure might seem the victim of a massive ripoff when Meldac released the startlingly similar Heiankyo Alien several months after Boomer’s debut… but that’s not really true at all.
Heiankyo Alien didn’t make its way to Game Boy until 1990, but the original PC version dates all the way back to 1979, making it downright venerable by the time Asmik cheerfully borrowed much of its fundamental design for this adventure, centered around an odd little eponymous mascot (Boomer went by the name “Asmik-kun” in Japan, which is about as classy as if Sonic had been called “Sega the Hedgehog” or Mario had been called “Nintendood”). Boomer owes his existence to Heiankyo Alien, not the other way around.
This is all very inconvenient, because Boomer’s Adventure would be much simpler to explain if we’d already covered its inspiration. The two games have much in common, though Asmik’s creation — benefitting from a decade of game design advancement as it did — is by far the more complex of the pair. While both titles revolve around the concept of trapping enemies by digging pits (yes, like a top-down perspective on Hyper Lode Runner), that’s about as far as Heiankyo takes it. Boomer’s Adventure, on the other hand, plays more like a game released post-Pac-Man, featuring power-ups, collectibles, and enemy A.I. that doesn’t simply putter around aimlessly.
Here you control a small dinosaur named Boomer who must descend to the bottom of a dungeon, then return, Nethack-like, to the surface through much more difficult renditions of those previously conquered arenas. The difficulty here boils down to the fact that some scoundrel has cruelly locked off all the doors between levels, meaning progression requires locating the hidden key to each door.
Boomer’s main form of action consists of digging out pits into the ground. As in Heiankyo Alien, digging holds the key to defeating foes; every hole you create in the ground remains there until the end of the stage (or until you die), and monsters can easily wander into one. Boomer can also fall into his own pits, and just like his opponents doing so will cause him to become stuck momentarily, vulnerable to enemy attack. On the other hand, trapping a foe gives you an advantage, allowing you to fill in the hole over its head, destroying it momentarily. It’s an essential task.
However, digging proves all the more important thanks to the fact that it does more than simply create traps in which to snare the enemy. Digging also unearths essential treasures — treasures such as the keys to the next stage. The key you need in order to escape each stage sits beneath the sand in a non-random location, and you need to figure out exactly where it’s hidden in order to claim it and move along. This isn’t entirely a blind challenge; you can find tools (often sitting in plain sight rather than buried) that will help you pinpoint the current level’s key. A compass will allow you to triangulate its location, while the metal detector will chirp madly when you walk atop the key’s location. Other items include special shoes to allow you to speed up for the remainder of the current stage, projectiles to toss at enemies for an instant kill, and more.
Further adding to the complexity of the affair is the fact that enemies are a lot smarter than you might expect. You’ll sense a hint of this right away, as the little crustacean who walk around on the first stage may blunder foolishly into your pitfalls, but they’ll duck to safety if you try and take them out with a projectile. Foes are capable of more advanced behaviors, too, the trickiest of which is definitely the ability to dig just like Boomer.
Not only can they create holes, they can also cover over the holes you make. If you don’t dig a hole completely, for example, a wandering foe will pause momentarily and cover it over before moving along. And if a creature happens to dig up an item, including the level key, it’ll secrete that object on its person and keep it hidden away until you destroy the creature in question. Later stages tend to be a mad rush to the key before enemies can get there… though you can also use this to your advantage when you first arrive in a new level and don’t know the location of the hidden objects, allowing greedy monsters to unearth them for you.
All in all, it works pretty well: The mazes tend to be fairly compact, randomness is limited to enemy behaviors rather than object placement, and a fairly generous password system allows you to earn steady progress through the dungeons. Boomer’s Adventure’s only major sticking point comes in its boss battles, which feel almost like they’re from a different game entirely. Bosses tend to be huge, fast, and dangerous; this sits at odds with the rest of Boomer’s Adventure, which plays out slowly and methodically. These encounters can be immediately overwhelming and demand both patience and sharp reflexes. The battles toward the end of the game are particularly frustrating, since passwords are harder to come by and therefore their unbalanced difficulty (particularly that of the last boss) can result in quick losses followed by tiresome replays of several stages to earn another shot at the boss in question.
Despite this one huge sticking point, Boomer’s Adventure can be pretty fun. If nothing else, it’s an admirable evolution of a classic PC game. Nowhere near as influential as the game that inspired it, of course; how often do you hear people gush about Boomer’s Adventure in Asmik World? But it’s nevertheless a fun, if forgotten, spin on an old-school concept well-suited to the Game Boy platform.
Boomer’s Adventure in Asmik World
Japanese title: Teke! Teke! Asmik-kun World • てけ! てけ! アスミッくん ワールド
Release date: 12.27.1989 [JP] | 4.1990 [US]
Genre: Puzzle (action/maze/trap-em-up)
Super Game Boy: None
Previous in series: None
Next in series: Asmik-kun World II [5.24.1991]
Similar titles: Heiankyo Alien [Meldac, 1.14.1990]
I think Sonic was once known as “SegaSonic the Hedgehog,” right?
Also, Asmik World sounds like the world’s least exciting theme park.
I wonder how similar this game is to Cratermaze, an early TurboGrafx-16 release.