Nintendo Discoveries: The Adventures of Bayou Billy
With so many Nintendo games released between 1985 and 1993, there was no way a kid could play them all. But that didn’t stop the game companies from marketing to us in our TV programming, snack foods, and in my case, comic books. In fact, I would wager that 75% of the ads in comics were video game related, with the remaining 25% focusing on candy and Clearasil. One piece of propaganda that seemed to stalk me with each turn of the page was the ad for The Adventures of Bayou Billy by Konami. Everywhere I looked this Ragin’ Cajun was there challenging me at knife-point to join him on a wild romp through the swamp. The sad part is, I never took him up on the offer.
Arriving on store shelves in 1989, I can only imagine I had already spent my allowance on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman and Ghostbusters 2 merchandise. Plus buying NES games was a major event back in the day with a very careful selection process that had already burned me once with the purchase of Dragon Warrior (my first and LAST attempt at an RPG). Being that Bayou Billy was an unknown commodity, it just didn’t win my dollars. I always figured I would get a “preview” at a friend’s house, but apparently none of my schoolyard chums were swayed by Konami’s barrage of advertising either. Thus it remained an 8-bit mystery for these 25 years…until last week.
That’s right, thanks to the Retro Daze Points Store, I now own a copy of The Adventures of Bayou Billy! This sparked a study into the many representations of the character, in video games, animation, live action and even the comic books where I first laid eyes on this forgotten hero. Much more than a review of the game, I hope you walk away from this article understanding the many influences that inspired the character, the numerous interpretations he received and the reasons why he just didn’t break through. Are you ready, Mon Ami? Let the adventure begin!
Starting with the video game seems like a logical choice. Originally titled Mad City and released for the Famicon in 1988 (with this awesome commercial), you play as the titular hero, who was “raised by a family of gators…a swamp super hero…” and now out to rescue your lady Annabelle who has been kidnapped by the evil Mob Boss, Gordon, to be held on his plantation. Gordon doesn’t explain why your “hankerin’ for bravery” has caused him to steal the belle of your heart, but there can be no doubt that violence is the answer to the problem. The gameplay is a mix of Double Dragon, Rad Racer and Hogan’s Alley, it’s like 3 games in 1!
4 levels involve punching and kicking bad guys with the use of weapons like the hilariously named Whipper Snapper and Ugly Stick. The attacks are kind of stiff, but they make up for it with the variety of characters. How can names like Jaques Killstow and Schwartz N. Eiger NOT get a chuckle out of you? But by far the craziest enemies are the Alligators. That’s right, you actually fist-fight gators! Originally I thought they were just an obstacle to avoid, but after a missed jump and some panicked button mashing I found that I could actually injure the toothy terrors, and what’s more, they coughed up “Raw Meat” to renew my life meter, score!
Then there are 3 driving levels, where you take to the road in “Billy’s Blazer” to blast oncoming enemy vehicles to bits by hailing them with a barrage of bullets and launching grenades at the suckers. It’s like OutRun with weapons or another arcade favorite of mine, Lucky N’ Wild. The graphics are kind of bland for these levels, but the challenge of driving and shooting at the same time makes for an enjoyable ride. Speaking of shooting, this is the only game I’m aware that has both controller and Zapper capabilities. Check it out!
Once you see this screen, you know it’s time to play sharpshooter. This final gameplay variation is reminiscent of Operation Wolf’s first person shooter style, where bad guys run across screen trying to take you out with bazookas and dynamite. What’s cool is you actually have the option to play with the controller or the Zapper gun, but since today’s plasma screens don’t react the same way as the tube-filled devices of old, Game B with controller targeting was my only choice. The targeting system is actually very responsive, making it easy to blow your enemies away.
Though The Adventures of Bayou Billy seems to get a bad rap from most game reviewers online, I find the variety of playing styles very appealing. A classic like Contra may have given you 2 variations with the side-scrolling and first-person-ish “Base Levels”, but 3 completely different games is a real value. I also love that it has a practice mode, so if you can’t make it to the shooting or driving levels, you can still get in on the action. Heck, they even put out a handheld version so you could take the adventure on the road. What more do you need? Now that we’ve talked about the video game influences, I think there’s one cinematic icon that can’t go unnamed.
The Crocodile Dundee films from 1986 and 1988 were huge box-office hits, so there is no doubt that this is where Konami’s developers pulled their inspiration. From the hat and vest combo to the “foot long blade” (That ‘aint a knife) and the penchant for wrestling scaley creatures, I’m surprised they didn’t call the guy “Alligator Andee”. Of course the whip attacks are just as much a tribute to Konami’s other electronic warrior, Simon Belmont from Castlevania as Indiana Jones.
You know one thing that’s unfortunate is Billy’s face. He’s not quite the hunky hero you’d expect in this kind of scenario. He actually bears resemblance to the Bum from UHF or even more closely, the creepy storekeeper from Troll 2! Don’t you think? It’s a wonder they didn’t hire the same actor to wrestle the stuffed alligator in the live-action commercial for the game. But maybe he couldn’t get the Cajun accent down. While the game may have borrowed its ideas from the “down under”, the 5 issue comic book series from Archie Comics took the character in a different direction.
You heard me right, Archie Comics published The Adventures of Bayou Billy comic book. I was used to seeing Betty and Veronica’s boy toy playing outdated video games with Aliens, not rubbing shoulders with rough n’ tumble action stars, but the Riverdale Redhead did team–up with The Punisher at one point, so I guess anything is possible. I actually picked up a copy of the 4th issue at a used book store a week prior to getting the game and boy is it something. Luckily these newsprint pages contained Bayou Billy’s origin story, which begs the question, what the heck was he doing in issues 1 through 3?
As it opens we learn that Billy was a soldier in Vietnam who came home to join the police force in Lousiana. Billy lives a happy life, married to a pretty blonde named Laurie. When he gets word that a Mob Boss he put away by the name of Gordon is out of jail and looking for revenge, Billy tries to convince his beloved wife they have to move immediately, but she shrugs off his concern while climbing into the couple’s Jeep. Next thing you know, the car explodes in a burst of flame with Billy to witness it all. If this isn’t a classic action movie set-up, I don’t know what is.
As the story returns to present day we learn it is the one year anniversary of Laurie’s murder and the newly christened Bayou Billy is out for revenge with his bag of tricks. I do question why he waited so long to begin his quest for vengeance. I mean wouldn’t you want to get right on that avenging your wife’s murder thing? Anyway, when Billy busts out his arsenal I was disappointed that we don’t get any reference to The Ugly Stick or The Whipper Snapper, just good old fashioned automatic weapons. The rest of the story finds Bayou Billy going through a series of “sorry, the princess is in another castle” scenarios.
He basically begins by shaking down local thugs on the track of Swampgas Charlie, the Darth Vader like villain that can tell him who rigged Laurie’s car to explode. The first group of thugs say they don’t know anything so they send Billy to brawl with Siamese twin enforcer(s) Two-Head, who are also clueless and point him in the direction of the wormy, Snitch who lives up to his name by getting our hero on the road with a lead just in time to be sideswiped by Swampgas Charlie. Looking quite different than his Aladdin inspired look from the game manual.
It’s here we learn that “Billy’s Blazer” is now being referred to as (ugh) “The Billy-Mobile”. In the end, Bayou Billy finally gets the upper hand on his gas-masked enemy, only to be told the assassin was none other than Hurricane Hank, who drowned in a previous encounter with our battlin’ boy from the Bayou. Which causes Billy to exclaim, "I've been cheated!" I guess he's mad because now he can’t murder Hank himself? Yeah man, Archie is gettin’ dark. Around this same time, Bayou Billy shared a lighter adventure with a kid named Kevin Keene, but you might know him better as Captain N.
In the 1st season episode, “How’s Bayou”, Mother Brain is spying on Kevin while he’s trying to beat what is definitely not The Adventures of Bayou Billy. The footage they showed was like an animated version of Pitfall for Atari, which is strange. Anyway, Kevin sucks at playing The Adventures of Bayou Billy, so “Her Braininess” makes a plan to lure him to that world and his ultimate demise. Along the way Kevin loses his dog and runs into Bayou Billy, who saves The Game Master from being eaten by his pet alligator.
This version of Billy is more southern than Cajun, with a jaw to make Popeye jealous. The man of the swamp takes Kevin under his wing to teach him the secrets of the Bayou while battling frog-monsters and robotic vultures. Eventually Eggplant Wizard and King Hippo feel the crack of Billy’s whip and we get to see the 3rd incarnation of his favorite means of transportation as he swoops in to save the day. You can watch the entire episode here.
So why didn’t The Adventures of Bayou Billy spawn dozens of sequels and a legion of Cos-Playing fans? You can’t say it’s for lack of trying, the guy definitely made the rounds in the world of kid’s entertainment. If I had to point to one thing, it would probably be that he was just nothing new. The game was innovative in combining 3 kinds of games and 2 controller options, but lacked originality. It was like combining Big Mac with Chicken McNuggets and a McWrap into a "Big McNugWrap". Sure it’s never been done before, but we know all those flavors separately and the novelty wears off quickly.
Still, I can’t help believing that if I had come across a copy of The Adventures of Bayou Billy in my youth, I would have been teaming up with my buddies to rescue Annabelle both in the living room and on the playground. I guess we can still hold out hope for The Further Adventures of Bayou Billy for the Wii or a direct to video movie starring Bruce Campbell, but until then, POWER OFF.