ICOM Simulations / NEC
Genre: Action Run and Gun
What I can remember as a kid is primarily based in the 1990s. It seemed like everything was X-Treme, dayglo, or in Pog form. It was also the prime time for the major players in gaming like Sega and Nintendo. When my father was helping out at his friend’s video rental place, though, I found a cozy spot behind the counter playing the TurboGraphx-16 they had set aside for display so games like Bonk’s Adventure and Air Zonk were favorites growing up.
One game I vaguely remembered was Yo’ Bro, but the years had washed away a lot of the experience. I remembered a tie to the Beach Boys and something about a bear on a skateboard. I also remembered really enjoying it as a kid, but at the time, I was about seven years old or so. My taste in games hadn’t developed quite as well as it has now, and even now, I’m pretty easy to please.
Since I’ve been diving into the system’s library again, I needed to see how my vague memories stacked up against the reality of what Yo’ Bro had to offer. With a title that screams “straight out of the 90s”, it was entirely possible that it might be a relic of the past better left coated in dust. On the other hand, it was possible I could uncover a hidden gem that had fallen to the wayside against other games vying for the attention of impressionable youngsters.
In the end, there was really only one way to find out.
It’s the 1990s in California. Teenagers are hanging out on every street corner, skateboards and neon are both in high supply, and the sun always seems to be shining. For Little Bro, a radder than rad bear who can shred asphalt with the best of them, every day is more bodacious than the last.
That’s the case until the evil Doctor Liverhosen sets down in the middle of his city. Not only is Dr. Liverhosen trying to destroy the environment and happiness that the folks in his city- and a bunch of other places around California- enjoy, but he’s also putting the kids in town in danger. With the help of his rat and canine assistants, he’s been setting up some gnarly situations that could be deadly to everyone unless they’re stopped!
Who’s going to be the one to step up and try to keep the peace by knocking out the professor’s pitfalls? Who can race up and down the coast to put an end to the mad doc’s plans before everything is destroyed? It seems like the need for a hero has come, and Little Bro may be the only one with the skills and moves to save California- and probably the world- from the clutches of Professor Livehosen.
Yo’ Bro puts the player on the skateboard of Little Bro, cruising around the streets of each level with two goals: save the other kids walking around aimlessly and destroy all of the enemies threatening them. Only one of these goals is necessary, and by defeating all of the hazards in the level, any kids who weren’t saved but are still alive will count toward the total kids saved overall. The more kids rescued means the more points awarded at the end of the level.
Using a compass arrow at the bottom of the screen, Little Bro can hone in on where his targets are. Most of the targets will spawn some kind of “minion”- wind machines will send out tornados while giant coffins spit out zombies- which will also have to be dispatched for the level to end. The compass will flash when a major enemy is setting the compass off, giving an idea about how many are left as the player moves around the city.
While Little Bro only has a slingshot to take care of his problems, by skating around he can find other types of ammunition and weapons like firebombs and freeze rays. By pausing the game and pushing left or right on the D-pad, the player can pick the weapon they want to use, making their job a little easier. While special ammo is limited, bonus levels can be found by destroying doors on certain buildings or finding manholes to blow open that will help keep Little Bro’s pockets full. There are also special stages in between each city (levels come in groups per city) that can help with restocking.
The Good, The Bad, And…
There’s no avoiding the fact that Yo’ Bro is a mess. The level designs are boring at best and confounding at worst- and the worst comes on more and more as the game drones toward its conclusion. Where the game requires quick maneuvering and reactions to survive and complete each level, the controls are stiff and unresponsive, meaning that most of Little Bro’s assaults and defense against incoming enemies consist of stationing him from a distance and rapidly tapping the attack button. Given how hard the last few levels get, the frustration and repetition will sour the experience pretty quickly.
One thing that would seem to be a blessing is the fact that there isn’t a time limit to the levels, especially considering how many enemies can spawn and need to be taken care of. Instead of an onscreen timer, though, Yo’ Bro surprises the player by dropping intermittent bombs from the sky if they spend too long in a level. At first, they’re spaced out and avoidable so the player can navigate around them well enough. Last long enough through those and the flow of explosives becomes a constant stream, lowering the chance of survival to zero. When Little Bro loses a life, he has to restart the level over with any ammunition he spent still gone. By the final third of the game, the war of attrition is near impossible and the game becomes punishing on way too many levels.
So what’s good about the game then? Not a ton, though it does play a lot like Zombies Ate My Neighbors which came out two years after this. The soundtrack is fun, even if its a bit limited, and it’s not an incredibly long game. It might feel like it, though. If not for the presentation and possibility that it had the same gameplay structure as a stronger game that came out after it, Yo’ Bro would be pretty short on positive marks.
Yo’ Bro’s soundtrack is one of its highlights, even if it’s severely limited. While the sound effects of the game aren’t of any note, the music is made up of 16-bit renditions of four famous Beach Boys tracks including “Help Me, Rhonda”, “California Girls” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” with a couple of unique songs sprinkled throughout. The songs start out as fun and bouncy, but after a while, hearing the same three songs over and over (“Little Deuce Coupe” only plays in bonus levels). The game is fun to listen to until you listen to the same track over and over because of a stage you’re stuck on.
The game doesn’t slouch in the graphics department, either. While it isn’t as detailed as the system could afford, the colorful sprites and comic aesthetics are the best parts of the game. In a weird way, basic is better for this game and it doesn’t feel like a lack of effort rather than a visual choice. The environments are the same despite the convoluted level design. Even the most “drab” parts of the game look sharp and eye-catching.
I really wanted to enjoy Yo’ Bro because I remembered playing it as a kid and having a fondness for the system it had released on. I can say with certainty that I enjoyed the first few levels. After that, it got monotonous. Further on, downright painful. Even if it is the equivalent of a Zombies Ate My Neighbors prototype, it veers off the rails and careens into a river of unintuitive controls and poorly planned difficulty spikes.
Unless you’re aiming for a complete system collection, Yo’ Bro is absolutely worth skipping. Everything it has to offer is in the first fifteen to twenty minutes of gameplay and from there, it’s not anything that needs to be experienced firsthand. Check out a playthrough on YouTube or do a little research, but do yourself a favor and sidestep this one. In the grand scheme of things, some pieces of the 90s shine brighter with a nostalgic filter.