Review: “Bluebones’ Curse” – Xbox 360/Xbox Live Indie Games (Festival of Dread special)

Microsoft probably doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves for helping foster an indie-friendly gaming environment on consoles. In 2006, the Xbox 360 launched the Xbox Live Indie Game store (XBLIG), which brought with it an easy way for small developers to put XNA-powered games on the platform for a meager asking price.

One of those games was (is?) Bluebones’ Curse, a fairly simple platformer developed by Jesse Chounard (now founder of Third Party Ninjas), which puts the player in control of an aggrieved pirate-turned-skeleton in search of a mystical treasure which is rumored to lift the curse. Here’s the plot according to the game’s original press release from 2010:

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Pirate’s Cove, Tortuga Island – October 31, 1652 – In an ironic twist of fate, Bluebones, the most dastardly pirate to ever sail the Seven Seas, has been cursed to roam the Earth as a skeleton. During a failed attempt to steal a priceless ancient ring, Bluebones was confronted by a powerful hag, who gave no mercy to the scallywag.

“Tis a wicked unsettlin’ ting to be sure! I did nae know such a ting be possible,” said the scurvy dog. “This be worse than when ol’ Greenbeard lost his hand to a mutinous crew and hadta use a hook instead. I cannae even drink me grog! It goes right through me to the floor. It ain’t right, I tell ya! How will I e’er get to Fiddler’s Green now?”

In hushed whispers, local residents suggest Bluebones might seek out the lost gold of Davy Jones, which is said will grant the finder his heart’s desire. It’s a dangerous journey, and time is running short, as the gold only appears once every thousand years, on Halloween night.

When asked for comment on his immediate plans, the privateer just muttered to himself, “Stupid bag o’ bones. Damned, bloody witches.”

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Yar! Mutant spiders!

If you are a seasoned veteran of platforming games, Bluebones’ Curse should only take about 20-30 minutes to complete. But given the low one dollar (aka 80 MS points) price, that’s not a bad cost of entry. The stages all have the same aesthetic, with a full moon backdrop and a single spooky pirate theme song as accompany them. It all combines for a nice Halloween mood, and despite the lack of variety, none of it gets too tired thanks to the game’s short length. The only thing you may get tired of is the cheesy death exclamations from Bluebones himself, who cries out stuff like “Shiver me timbers!” or “Damned bloody witches!” every time he dies. It never really bothered me, but I could see it becoming grating for those who die a lot.

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Yar! Fire bad!

Bluebones must confront enemies including flying bat-dragons as well as giant human-faced spiders, all the while navigating a series of moving platforms, spikes and fire traps. Several of these traps must be overcome using a series of switches, giving some stages in Bluebones’ Curse a bit of variety beyond simple “push right and jump” mechanics.

Controlling Bluebones is very precise. There’s no slippery landings or wonky collision detection when jumping from platform to platform. It’s honestly one of the better “feeling” platforming games this side of Mega Man, and every time you die you can rest assured it was your own fault, not a glitchy platform surface or poor game design.

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Yar! Spikes!

Even with a short length, Bluebones’ Curse isn’t completely devoid of replay value. Chounard smartly added five “Halloween treasures” hidden throughout the stages, so once you’ve finished Bluebones’ Curse, you can always go back and try to find all five hidden pieces of treasure to completely master the game.

Bluebones’ Curse is not a deep, complicated game, but it does create an enjoyable experience for those looking for a lighthearted platforming romp with a festive theme. It’s been on my own personal list of “Halloween games” to regularly revisit when the Fall season calls for it, and I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve done so. I think of it like candy corn: it’s a festive tradition that may not be for everyone, but in small portions, it’s a great Halloween treat. Unfortunately, Bluebones’ Curse is no longer available for Xbox 360 as the XBLIG store has been completely shuttered, so there’s currently not any way to pick it up. Perhaps the Third Party Ninjas team could find some way to bring Bluebones’ Curse to a modern platform, though I wouldn’t suggest upping the price very much in the game’s current form.


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