In my almost thirty years of playing videogames, they’ve taken me on some pretty wild adventures. I’ve rescued kidnapped princesses, I’ve battled evil space armadas, I’ve battled evil space armadas in order to rescue kidnapped princesses, but there’s one adventure I’ve never experienced before: the adventure of making your way home from the pub after a few too many bevvies. Well, that’s all changed now, because I’ve played Taskset’s 1984 Commodore 64 cirrhosis-em-up Bozo’s Night Out!
Just in case you were wondering about the theme of this game, the logo is made from beer. I suspect Bozo’s night out will not involve a mentally enriching trip to an art gallery.
Here’s Bozo now, finishing up after a session at his local boozer. The vast quantities of alcohol he regularly consumes have done terrible, terrible things to Bozo’s body. When your torso has ballooned into a shape I can only describe as “pointy sphere” then it’s probably time to cut back on the ol’ vino. I’m not sure why this bar has three books standing on the bar, but it feels like the set-up to a joke that I don’t know the punchline for. Alternatively, they’re a crude rendering of beer pumps. That would make more sense.
As Bozo steps out of Gibbo’s Joint and into the crisp night air, the goal of Bozo’s Night Out is revealed: get Bozo home. That’s it. The only controls are the joystick, which moves Bozo around. You walk him through the streets until you reach his house. It is not, at first glance, a game with much depth.
Of course, you do have to avoid the many people wandering the streets – and it’s busy out there, considering it’s past kicking out time. Old ladies ripped straight from the Monty Python “Hell’s Grannies” sketch, the long arm of the law, blokes who look like the Honey Monster if he joined the EDL, all of them will give Bozo a hard time if he bumps into them. They’re easy enough to walk around, though. Bozo’s in full control of his legs, for now.
The other thing you need to avoid are the grates on the floor, because Bozo lives in a town where gaping holes open up in the pavement at random intervals. The reason for this is never explained. You never see any toilets in the game, so maybe they’re trying to cut out the middle-man between people and the sewers. I wish I hadn’t thought of that.
There’s Bozo’s house now. It’s not far from the pub, just ten or so screens away. I assume this is why Bozo bought it in the first place. Now I’ve just got to wait for that skinhead to move away before I can barge in through the front door, put some toast on and let it burn while I’m taking a very long piss, flip the television to an “erotic thriller” and fall asleep on the sofa.
“Safely home,” it says, as Bozo crawls into bed. Bozo has a huge portrait of himself staring down at him while he sleeps, the weirdo. As a reward for making it home, you’re given five pints, adding to the five you start the game with and filling up the pint-o-meter at the top of the screen. Okay, that’s it, game over.
Except of course it isn’t, and Bozo is such a raging alcoholic that he’s straight down the pub the following night, and indeed every night. The structure of Bozo’s Night Out is thus revealed: leave the pub, guide Bozo home through the dangerous city streets, go to bed, return to the pub and repeat until Bozo has completely filled the booze-o-meter or has been grabbed one too many times by the citizenry. Now that I think about it, shouldn’t Bozo be getting the five pints at the pub rather than when he gets home? I can understand him maybe having a nightcap, but another five pints before bed seems a bit much. Maybe he just does so much preloading before he goes out that he doesn’t need to drink at the pub and only goes down there to play the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire quiz machine.
What with all these hostile people clogging the streets and yawning pits waiting to be stepped in, I thought it might be prudent to wait for one of these green doors to open so Bozo could take a shortcut through the park.
This turned out to be a mistake, because apparently this town’s park is where Hieronymous Bosch stores all his rejected monster designs. You might think the monsters are all just alcohol-induced hallucinations, but not – they’re the real deal, and will beat the crap out of Bozo if he touches them. Also, the inside of the park isn’t to the same scale as the streets, so you think you’ve walked roughly the right distance to reach Bozo’s house but once you leave the park you’ll find you’ve overshot your target and ended up back at the pub. Overall, I’d say it’s not worth entering the park unless you’re absolutely pinned down by pedestrians and the open door offers your only escape route.
These are some really great monsters, mind you. Bizarre, shambling freaks with a heartwarming mix of design influences from British kids cartoons and those rubber finger-puppet monsters you used to get out of vending machines. My favourite is the one at the top-left of the screenshot above: I think it’s supposed to be a skeleton wearing a red cape with a piece of popcorn for a head, but I can’t see its body as anything other than a skeleton encased in a cone of translucent red goo. If someone with more artistic talent than me (e.g. anyone, ever) wants to draw this thing, that would be great. I have no reward to offer other than the knowledge that you made me smile.
You can also touch the mushrooms in the park, which makes the colours freak out but doesn’t cause Bozo to lose pints like touching any other hazard does. This makes sense, because Bozo is roughly 85 percent pure ethanol at this point and thus hallucinogens are unlikely to cause him much harm.
By the time Bozo has necked twenty pints are so, you’ll notice that (understandably) his mobility is beginning to suffer. This is the real challenge of Bozo’s Night Out, then: for every trip home you complete, Bozo gradually becomes more difficult to control. At this point, it’s nothing too much to worry about, and the major issue you’ll notice is that Bozo has trouble walking in a straight line. When you hold right on the joystick to walk home, Bozo will gradually drift up or down and you know what? It’s a remarkably accurate recreation of trying to walk about while bladdered, and I love it. The only thing that’s missing is a massively distorted voice sample of Bozo trying to sing “Show Me The Way To Go Home.”
The altered controls did mean I managed to bump into a copper, who immediately threw Bozo in jail. Who wants to bet it’s for trying to steal the policeman’s helmet and then throwing up in it? And so Bozo loses five pints from the pint-o-meter while contemplating his Drunk and Disorderly charge and shouting at the police that they should be out there catching proper criminals.
Whereas if you bump into the big chaps, they simple beat the crap out of Bozo in a cartoon-cloud-of-dust style. You only lose two pints for this, as you also do for colliding with most of the game’s other hazards. This makes sense to me, getting a kicking might be unpleasant but sitting in the drunk tank gives Bozo a lot longer to sober up. What doesn’t make sense is that when you run into the old ladies they appear to repeatedly pat Bozo on the head, as though he was a tousle-haired young rapscallion and not a fat bloke who patterned his life on Oliver Reed. However, they pat him so hard that he’s forced into the concrete, at the loss of two pints. I have no idea what action the animation is supposed to be implying – hitting Bozo with an invisible umbrella, maybe – but it’s definitely painful.
At the fifty pints mark, Bozo reaches the “take off all your clothes” stage of inebriation. Pictured above: a naked, pink Bozo, moments away from threatening to glass that arcade cabinet because it looked at him funny.
Thankfully, that isn’t actually the case. It’s just that Bozo is now so leathered that the game’s sprites have started changing colour – although stripping naked and running through the streets after fifty pints wouldn’t be all that unbelievable. By now, Bozo is so thoroughly kaylied, so monumentally trollied, so completely and irredeemably bongoed that it’s no longer accurate to say that you “control” him. The directions you move the joystick in only correspond loosely to Bozo’s movements, gentle suggestions rather than firm commands, and as I said earlier it’s a very convincing simulation of what it feels like trying to move when you’re drunk. There’s a delay before Bozo starts moving when you push the stick, and once you let go he’ll keep tottering forward for a while. His walk loops and circles around the screen like an overexcited bumblebee, the player frantically hauling the stick around as Bozo lurches towards a policeman or a hole. If he walks to close to a wall or other obstacle, he’ll bounce off it and stagger away in the opposite direction. It’s all absolutely ridiculous, and also rather good fun.
It might seem hypocritical to me to say I’m enjoying a game because it’s controls are uncooperative, because I so often complain about the handling in other games. The thing is, in Bozo’s Night Out the controls are supposed to be bad. That’s the entire point of the game, and it’s all presented in a comical fashion. The idea of a game getting more difficult as it goes on because the controls are getting worse and worse is an interesting one, and Bozo’s Night Out finds the perfect setting for it – a short, arcade-style game with one central gameplay mechanic.
Also, as you can see above, Bozo has started seeing pink elephants. He’s nearing the end of his quest, you see. If you manage to drink sixty-five pints – an extremely difficult task, given that by this point you have about as much control over Bozo as you do over the weather – the game is over. And what do you win for your efforts?
The Bozo Rotten Liver Award. Yes, this is a game where your reward for completing it is being added to the waiting list for a liver transplant. How incredibly grim, and yet also blackly hilarious.
If you manage to get a high score, you’re prompted to enter your name into the high score table. It’s full of beer-related pun names, and rather wonderfully it’s called The Famous League of Inebriates, which sounds like the name of a truly awful superhero team. Yes, the League of Inebriates, featuring such mighty heroes as The Pisshead, with the power to harass people at bus stops, Pukespreader, the man who can lay magical land-mines cunningly disguised as piles of vomit and dropped cartons of chips and White Lightning, who was kicked out of the group for luring teenagers into playgrounds at night.
You know, I had a lot of fun playing Bozo’s Night Out. It’s not the deepest game in the world – you’ll probably be bored of it after half an hour or so – but when you play it like you would an arcade game, aiming for a high score and having a chuckle as Bozo rolls along the walls like your nan after one too many Christmas sherries, it’s good fun. It also possesses that “why the hell not?” attitude so prevalent amongst home computer games of the time, when any topic or concept was fair game for a videogame adaptation, be it getting tanked up, lawnmower simulation or fighting the cigarette industry. Happily, with more indie games than ever being released these days it’s a trend that’s seeing a resurgence, and the concept of Bozo’s Night Out would fit in nicely on Steam. Imagine if someone made an updated VR version, people would be all over it. Try it out if you get a chance, then. I’m glad I did. I’m also glad I got though this article without once misspelling his name as “Boozo,” because that sounds like a clown that reeks of gin.
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