Boomerang Kid: a good introduction to the idiosyncrasies of old-school platformers

When you say “platform game” to someone these days, doubtless they have something quite specific — and probably quite Nintendo-inspired — in mind. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But if you look back into gaming history, the platform game genre is one that has had a number of interesting variations over the years, with a particularly notable branch being the sort of single-screen game that was typically found on 8-bit home computers of the era.

Boomerang Kid from Codemasters, despite originally being an NES game, is a good introduction to this type of game. It has the accessibility and colourful presentation of a console title by virtue of its host platform, but a significant portion of its design language and mechanics are right out of classic home computer platformers such as Manic Miner, Miner 2049’er and Henry’s House.

Boomerang Kid title screen

This is not altogether surprising, since although Boomerang Kid actually doesn’t have its origins on home computers, Codemasters themselves were most known for home computer rather than console games in their ’80s heyday. With this in mind, if you’ve always found it a bit difficult to go back to ’80s home computer platformers — particularly if you grew up with Super Mario as your introduction to platform games — Boomerang Kid is a game worth giving a try.

In Boomerang Kid, you take on the role of the eponymous her, who is a boy who found himself lost in the Australian outback as a youngster. Now he’s older, he wants to repay the kindness of the Aboriginal tribe that rescued him by helping them recover all the boomerangs that were stolen from their store. Thus begins a journey through three distinct “worlds” — the Outback, the Castle and the Caves — during which Boomerang Kid must collect all the boomerangs, fend off the unwanted attentions of things that would do him harm and try his best not to break his ankles.

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Gameplay is pretty straightforward in Boomerang Kid. You’re presented with a single, non-scrolling screen at a time, and one or more boomerangs are scattered around it. Using Boomerang Kid’s movement abilities — which consist of walking left and right and making either a short hop or a longer, taller jump — you need to collect all of those boomerangs while avoiding the various hazards in each level.

Boomerang Kid first level

Hazards typically involve various enemies — each type of which has its own distinct movement pattern that you’ll have to familiarise yourself with — as well as the level design itself. Probably the biggest adjustment most players accustomed to the “Super Mario Bros.” mould of platform gaming will have to make is the fact that Boomerang Kid can only fall a certain distance — roughly the height of his sprite — before landing will cause him to die. This can initially be frustrating, but once you’re firmly familiar with the limitations imposed on you, you can start thinking of it as part of each level’s overall “puzzle”.

Interestingly, the “fall to your death” feature was originally found in early Japanese platform games, too; look back at the Donkey Kong games, for example, and you’ll find that Mario is barely able to fall any distance at all without bonking his head on the ground. Likewise, despite originating in the west, classic platformer Spelunker enjoyed a certain degree of popularity in Japan thanks to MSX and Famicom ports, even with its protagonist’s apparent inability to fall more than a few inches without expiring. This was delightfully parodied in an optional Spelunker-themed dungeon for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch RPG Megadimension Neptunia VII, demonstrating the series’ ongoing popularity and perhaps notoriety!

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But I digress. Fact is, in Boomerang Kid, you have a very limited number of mechanics to familiarise yourself with, so the main challenge is applying them effectively — as well as familiarising yourself with the levels in such a way that you can traverse them efficiently and safely in order to score the maximum time bonus when you exit.

Boomerang Kid world 2

Oh yes, you’re being timed, too, and the time limit is actually quite tight on each stage — there’s really not a lot of breathing room for you to survey the situation and plan out a route when a new level starts, so the best thing to do is just jump in and give it a go; see what happens when you just follow your instincts. Sometimes you’ll accomplish it right away; at others, you might find things a little trickier, particularly in stages where getting up a structure is designed to be deceptively easy, but getting down safely is distinctly more difficult!

Boomerang Kid features plenty of variation, even within one of its three worlds. Sometimes the emphasis will be on avoiding enemies; at other times, the stage will be almost entirely based around successfully understanding the traversal mechanics. And once you reach a whole new world — which will likely take you a little while when you’re first starting out — you’ll have a whole new set of enemies and hazards to contend with!

Thankfully, Boomerang Kid, while challenging to begin with, features very well implemented, responsive controls that make it a pleasure to play. Any time you mess things up, you can be assured that it’s your own skills that are at fault, not dodgy collision detection or controls not doing what they were told. So, as the children say, get good.

Boomerang Kid end of world 1

When played on modern platforms or emulators — it’s available as part of the Codemasters Collection 1 cartridge for Evercade, for example — you’ll probably find it relatively easy to romp through Boomerang Kid with judicious use of save states. But for the best experience — or the most authentic experience, at least — the game is best handled like an arcade game. Start from the beginning, see how far you can get, progress a little further each time, develop those skills, fill up that high score table.

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Approach the game like that and you’ll be conquering old-school home computer classics like Jumpman and Manic Miner in no time!

Screenshots from the Evercade version.

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