I downloaded a video game called Buddy Simulator 1984 for the Nintendo Switch on a whim. It was on sale, and I was holding out on starting Pokémon Scarlet until Nintendo worked out some of the technical issues (still a work-in-progress).
I’m a fan of psychological and surreal horror games, as well as games where the narrator breaks the fourth wall and becomes a participant in the game itself. These reasons are why I am a big fan of games such as The Stanley Parable and Little Misfortune. I have tried to incorporate some of these ideas into game experiments that I am working on with my co-writer, Nicholas A. Ferrell, experiments that have been stymied by technical issues related to running RPG Maker on a Mac.
Buddy Simulator 1984 also appealed to me because of its retro aesthetic. Before purchasing it, I read the brief description and watched the promotional video. These pushed me to make the purchase. In the spirit of the visual novel reviews published by my co-writer, I will keep this review free of spoilers that would ruin the experience of discovery for prospective players.
Note that my entire review is of the Nintendo Switch version of Buddy Simulator 1984, and I will discuss some technical issues related to the Switch which likely do not apply to the Windows version.
|Game||Buddy Simulator 1984|
|Developer||Not a Sailor Studios|
|Initial Release||February 18, 2021|
(Note: All links are non-affiliate.)
The game ordinarily retails for $9.99, but it is often on sale for less.
Editor’s Note: The developers stated in a Steam forum on July 6, 2022, that they hope to eventually port Buddy Simulator 1984 to MacOS and Linux. Several users on ProtonDB have, as of December 26, 2022, reported that the current Windows version of the game runs without issue on Linux with Proton. The Itch version is DRM-free, but we are not sure if the Steam version is also DRM-free.
The player in Buddy Simulator 1984 is given an old program to run. This program allows the player to create a primitive AI companion to play with. All of this is done through an old-school command line-style user interface on a CRT display. The game provides the player with no menu or explanation of how to play. It gives the feeling of booting up a very old computer with no guidance. The creators did well to simulate an environment for an early text-based game.
One trade-off of the neat style was that I was confused about how to advance at some point, but on the whole my impression of the design philosophy and aesthetic is overwhelmingly positive.
The player’s AI companion in Biddy Simulator 1984 begins by asking the player questions. Its goal is to impress and entertain you in order to keep you playing. Throughout the game, the AI companion occasionally expresses concern that you are no longer having fun, and it works to build increasingly complicated games to keep you hooked. In so doing, it pushes the its limits, stretching what one would have thought would be possible with its very simple interface. “Glitches” begin to appear, which play a role in creating an interesting-yet-creepy atmosphere as your AI buddy struggles to multitask and keep up with itself.
Although Biddy Simulator 1984 was first made available for computers, I bought and played the Nintendo Switch version. While I wholeheartedly recommend playing Buddy Simulator 1984, I do not recommend buying it for the Switch if you can run the Windows version. A significant part of the game is its giving you the feeling that you are playing on a very old computer. The creators did their utmost to convert the experience to the Switch, but I ran into a number of technical and quality of life issues while playing.
One of my minor complaints concerns Buddy Simulator 1984’s small font size. I played it in handheld mode (which is how I almost always use my Switch) and the font size was manageable. However, I do not think that it would work well if I tried to play the game in docked mode on a larger TV display.
My biggest complaint with playing Buddy Simulator 1984 on the Switch was not having access to a keyboard. Playing without a keyboard is cumbersome and makes navigating the game’s terminal-style UI slow and unintuitive. Entering text requires an on-screen keyboard and typing letters or numbers one at a time. There is a helpful auto-fill feature, but it is not always accurate. Misspelling a command means that the game does not accept it, requiring you to start over.
I also experienced technical issues related to the Switch user interface for Buddy Simulator. In one instance, I needed to be able to type “no” and then “quit” to exit a prompt, but because the keys on the in-game keyboard had “glitched” (I am not sure if this was by design), I had to forcibly restart the game. If I had a physical keyboard, I would have presumably been able to continue without restarting.
The need for the game’s in-game keyboard interface lessened deeper into the adventure, which made things a bit less tedious in the later stages. However, the keyboard is, on the whole, a huge part of the game.
The creators made an admirable effort to make Buddy Simulator work with the Switch’s limitations, but playing on Switch was frustrating at times – and I wish that I had played the computer version first. Had I done so, I would have jumped straight into a second play-through.
Buddy Simulator 1984 takes the player through forms of early text-based games in an interesting way, demonstrating the evolution of the medium while poking fun at tropes and being innovating and fresh. I found the story to be intriguing and interesting, and I enjoyed the fresh and fun dialogue. With four unique endings and many choices, the game presents re-play value.
I highly recommend Buddy Simulator 1984 if you are able to run it on your computer, but if Switch is your only option – as it was for me – I recommend purchasing it for that console, even with the limitations stemming from the lack of a keyboard.