Originally this was going to be part of a recommendation dump post, but as I wrote about this game, I realized I just have a lot to say about it. Enough to be a post in itself. So, here we go:
Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre is a launcher game from Juicy Beast. You play as a luchador who’s fighting various candy-people (primarily gummy bears) and trying to get a recipe book? I think? It’s been awhile since I’ve watched that opening cutscene, but it hasn’t been any time at all since I last played this game. I’ve been playing it, off and on, for about three months. It’s been my go-to game when I want to listen to music or a podcast or just totally zone-out.
The perfect, addictive core of this game is one that Juicy Beast had been doing a great job with since the first Burrito Bison game (Launcha Libre is the third in a series, and the first two are considerably smaller in scale, but still a lot of fun)—the balance between player input and the flow of the game. If the game relied too much on player input, or relied on more complex player input, it wouldn’t really be a launcher game, and it would be impossible to zone out to it. If the game eschewed player input too much, it would be a lot like most bad launcher games, with too much relying on variance and some lucky bounces to get you far. Some launcher games you can look away from and really not change the experience. Some launcher games it feels like you’re better off not using any of your power-ups or controls, and just hoping to land on a bomb or a bouncy mushroom or whatever it is that will keep you in the air. Burrito Bison is right at the crest of this wave, riding it perfectly, just between falling forward into boredom or falling backward into over-taxation of the brain.
This is mainly achieved through the special gummies—like Prickly Pair, or Hunny Potter, or Dr. Wormageddon. When you hit one of these gummies during a launch, it’s almost like a minigame—although you keep your momentum, and the minigame is integrated seamlessly into the rest of the launch. For Puncheus Pilot, you have to hijack a pogo-stick-like contraption with a giant boxing glove providing the spring, and punch off of the ground three times. For Lt. Jel E. Boom you have to launch yourself between flying barrels as they spin through the air. For Gumdalf you have to ride a giant key into the wizard Gumdalf’s magic floating chests. When you execute these tasks correctly, you get a big speed boost, often accompanied by an explosion and a cash bonus. The most brainwork done in this game is going to be the first few times learning how to get the timing right for the special gummies, but once you’ve internalized it, it’s just another little twist in the rapid flow of the launch.
Part of that flow is the fact that all of your control in the game is through just one input—the mouse button. That said, there are a lot of different ways it gets used. Once you unlock the other two characters, each launch rotates between Burrito Bison, Pineapple Spanks, and El Pollo. For Burrito Bison and Pineapple Spanks, the rocket slam—a special power that sends your character smashing down onto whatever gummy is below them—is just a mouse click. For El Pollo, it’s the same, but holding down the mouse button allows you to glide for a few seconds. When you’re riding the key to Gumdalf’s chests, you’ve got to hold down the button in short bursts to keep yourself on a level trajectory. For the Prickly Pair, you have to click rapidly to get the gummy you’re riding to go faster. Again, this level of control perfectly illustrates the balance this game strikes between a simple experience that can be quickly internalized and made instinctual by the player, and something that feels like it’s just playing itself. The controls are limited to one button, but there’s finesse to the way you handle it, and variation keeps things interesting.
But the flow of the game isn’t just in the gameplay mechanics. It’s in the movement of the camera, the way the game will slow down when your Puncheus Pilot explodes, the animation of Pineapple Spanks striking poses as she flips through the air, the widening of the frame as you zoom up into the air, the rattling mariachi music flaring in the background—it all threads together into a rushing, twisting, cavorting experience.
And the underpinnings of this experience, that make it feel tangible and responsive, are the art and sound design. The art is the typical aesthetic of Juicy Beast, which is perhaps exemplified by the title of the company—Juicy Beast. Everything appears cartoony, almost squishable, but at the same time is all has a distinct, often vicious attitude. Everything is brightly colored and heavily saturated, but there’s a visceral texturing to it which makes it satisfying to smash yourself against it all. The sound design is the same way—gritty, tactile, squishy, bombastic—Juicy Beast.
The solitary issue I have with this game is in the upgrades. Before I explain what I don’t like about them, I’ll explain what I do like about them. With everything unlocked, there are fifteen character upgrades, ten special gummies, six opponents (this is how you launch yourself—you drag your character against the ropes of a fighting ring, then launch them at a candy-person opponent to get a big speed and altitude boost), and four upgradable power-ups—for a total of thirty-five abilities and gummies and all that that can be upgraded. It allows for a lot of choice, obviously, and it means there’s almost always something you can afford to upgrade. Now, my complaint—which is maybe just the cost of having so much choice. There’s never a feeling of being momentarily overpowered right after upgrading. Sometimes, the improvement feels indiscernible. The game is incredibly well-paced in terms of upgrades, so maybe tweaking the shop at all would just make the game way too easy way too quickly, but I figured this was worth mentioning.
By the way—this isn’t to say you never feel over-powered in the game. If you can get on a really good roll, or get a critical-hit-launch, the feeling of zooming past gummies and blowing them apart faster than you can even see is euphoric. And you also get this feeling when you go back and replay the game.
I won’t explain the way this game handles its New Game Plus/infinite survival mechanic, because while I totally understand it and understand how to use it, it’s pretty convoluted. In teaching, some teachers use a scale to check in with their students on how well they understand something—on this scale, I’m a 3 (“I get it! I can do it! I know what my teacher taught me.”) but I’m not a 4 (“I can teach this to others. I know more than what my teacher taught.”) Suffice it to say, it allows you to replay the game with additional upgrades and more starting money, or a bigger money multiplier, depending on how you spec it, and you can feel very overpowered and have a lot of fun doing it. I’m on my second new game now, and they just added a new game mode, stopwatch mode, which I’m sure to spend a lot of time with as well.
And, finally, I need to mention that the game does a great job in terms of being a freemium game. You can get piñatas during the launch, and if you want to open them up, you just have to watch a short ad. If you do, the piñatas have power-ups and money and candy shards, and it’s well worth it to just watch the ad and get your goodies. You also can get a free piñata once every three hours, no ad-watching needed—but if you want, you can watch an ad and get three piñatas every three hours.
I had no idea that I had this much to say about this game—probably because it’s a game where, if it’s doing it’s job right, you’re not really thinking about it, you’re just dialed in to the action and candy carnage. There’s no big revolutionary gameplay mechanic or tear-jerking story, but this game is still phenomenal because it is so perfectly aware of what makes it fun, and it has honed that brand of fun to razor sharpness. There are very few games that I can go back to over and over and over again, for years after first playing it, but Launcha Libre seems like it will be one.