For footage of the game I’m about to discuss see: Team Buddies Playlist on my channel (or don’t, it’s up to you, I’m not your boss)
First off I just want to point out that this is me sort of thinking aloud about a somewhat strange, rarely mentioned game that has long been stuck in my head ever since I first played it as a little kid, and isn’t intended as some sort of full on review. Team Buddies is a highly unique and fascinating game and it has always baffled me somewhat as to why it not only disappeared into relative obscurity but didn’t get a sequel, as I think there is a goldmine of potential here that would massively benefit from an expanded sequel, and I think today in this climate of heavy focus on competitive and co-op multiplayer gameplay with a dash of strategy, a sprig of quirkiness and a healthy seasoning of bonus content or loot etc, it’s even more strange that this property hasn’t been revived, particularly because I feel that one of the biggest reasons the game never enjoyed it’s full potential was because in a way it was ahead of it’s time.
As I said, this isn’t intended to be some sort of in-depth essay or analysis of Team Buddies nor is it meant to be a simple review of the game, to be honest I’m not sure what this is, so we’ll find out together, assuming you read this, and by you I mean, you, specifically.
Overview (also I’ve never written a thing like this before so bear with me)
I will warn you that there are spoilers imminent because even though this game is 16 years old now I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ve never played it, given how rare it is, so this is the end of the spoiler warning and I’m about to ruin everything.
Team Buddies was a team-based tactical-shooter/strategy game released for the original Playstation in 2001 developed by what was then called Psygnosis Camden Studio. The game’s story centres around a cutesy, colourful world inhabited by the titular buddies where seemingly nothing bad or negative ever happens. One day a strange object appears in the sky and begins dropping crates that contain all manner of powerful weaponry. The buddies begin to toy with these never before seen objects, and eventually their society explodes into an all out war between factions based on the different colours of buddies. Eventually it turns out that the crates were introduced to their world by an alien race called the ‘Baddies’, who look similar to buddies but with rectangular bodies. They introduced the crates in order to film the ensuing chaos for a tv show on their own moon, with the season finale being the destruction of the buddies entire planet.
The game occurs in matches that pit between 2 and 4 teams of Buddies against one another in different game modes, most often deathmatches, all centred around the game’s primary mechanic, utilising the crates seen in the intro. Buddies craft all weapons, vehicles and other team members using these blocks and a stacking pad. Each team has a 2X2 stacking pad that allows them to construct an array of different tools to help them win, and each stacking pad is connected to a small building simply known as a ‘base’, if a team base is destroyed, the stacking pad is too, and the team can no longer build any weapons or replace destroyed team mates, leaving them at a severe disadvantage. The entire game revolves around this engaging crate/stacking pad/base system and is where it’s real strength lies.
Different arrangements of blocks produce different things, for example, one single block on the pad will produce the weakest weapon of the set in use, while 4 weapons in a flat 2X2 arrangement will produce that set’s heavy weapon. Alternatively, two blocks one on top of the other, will produce the weaker type of buddies available in the current weapon set, and four blocks, two on top of two, will produce the stronger variety. Filling the entire pad with 8 crates will create a vehicle. There are also rare super crates, blue crate variants that if added to a construction will enhance it, giving the buddies under construction more health for example, or turning a regular tank into a gatling tank. There are a very wide range of different buddy and weapon types and this interesting construction system is one of the game’s most unique attributes and is where much of the strategy comes from. The weapons and reinforcements available in a match depend on either the world you are playing through in single player mode, or in multiplayer mode, which weapon set you have chosen to play with from those you have currently unlocked.
Crates placed on an enemy stacking pad cannot be opened by a member of another team. Breaking crates lying around on the ground will provide ammo and health and in every map crates will be found at designated drop locations that will continuously replenish their supply (barring rare exceptions in single player mode). Certain maps contain larger and more central ‘communal’ crate drops resulting in them becoming a resource teams will need to fight over and even try to monopolise.
A third, much rarer variety of crate are the huge, black and yellow mega crates, which can be triggered to appear by various means such as pressing a series of buttons found throughout a level, or by destroying two bases in certain matches (this latter method can therefore provide two megacrates provided you are willing to destroy your own base along with the other three). Megacrates generally contain a vehicle that may or may not be available to build in the current world, or even a weapon from a later part of the game that you couldn’t otherwise obtain in the current match.
This central game mechanic remains one of the game’s most unique features and is something I feel could potentially be enormously popular in today’s heavily online/co-op/competetive environment, brought up to date the game could easily allow for more than four teams per match and the building system could be even more thoroughly fleshed out and expanded in a way that could give it almost limitless potential.
Perhaps the trickiest dynamic to alter for full-on multiplayer is the fact that any buddies created by a human controlled team are bots, that is, if you and a friend are playing together each of you will control a team and can switch between controlling any existing members, but the other buddies on your team will simply follow any of a set of commands you can give to them, from attacking or defending designated targets to fetching blocks to building specific tools and they’re usually quite competent and smart…usually. I’m no expert on this sort of thing, but one idea I had was that perhaps in a modern day online setting, player team created bots could act as ‘vessels’ of a sort that function as team slots as well as bots, so by creating them you’re also creating new openings for other human players to jump in and take control of them, but with the ‘team leader’ still retaining control over the instructions given to ai team members and other important functions. I’m sure there are plenty of technical reasons that make this idea impossible and it’s just a thought off the top of my head, but as I say i’m far from an expert on online multiplayer gaming, but I think if a system like that could be implemented it could be really interesting.
One of the two main pillars of the game is the surprisingly lengthy and fleshed out single player mode, in which you progress through 8 different worlds each with a different weapon set and theme. For example, the first world is based on city park settings and contains the most ‘normal’ weapon set in the game with weapons such as grenades, rocket launchers and uzi’s. Alternatively, world 3 (my personal favourite) is themed around a desert setting and contains a weapon set with a focus on fire, rockets and also ninjas for some reason. This idea of each world having a different weapon set adds tons more strategy to the game, because it means players can’t just master a single weapon set and get comfortable, not only that but weapons behave very differently depending on what they are and often times skills with them aren’t transferable, requiring players to learn from scratch. To see what I mean, let’s compare the bazooka from world one to world 5’s multi-orb-gun, the enhanced version of the orb gun, both are the heavy weapons of their respective sets but they behave completely differently, the multi orb gun can even be as dangerous to the user as the target, because the splash damage can seriously hurt or even seriously kill you if you aren’t careful about where you’re aiming and I’ve accidentally killed myself with it on more than one occasion in the heat of battle.
As well as different weapons, different sets feature different buddie types and almost all of them play in radically different ways, from the standard infantry available from world 1 to the cyborgs introduced in world 4 who’s melee attacks can damage vehicles and who can’t be squashed by them, to the super buddies of world 7 who have super strength, can fly and shoot lasers from their eyes, but who can’t operate any weapons or vehicles. (There are also medics in world 2 who’s ability to inflate buddies and creatures can be abused by touching an inflated enemy off a base which causes them to instantly burst without needing to be shot at for some reason).
In my experience, games today that manage to be heavily focused on multiplayer but still succeed in having large, engaging single player modes tend to be somewhat few and far between, and this is another point that I think most people would judge to be significantly in the game’s favour.
Not only is the story mode quite long, but it provides a mountain of extra content to unlock in the form of different skins, weapon sets and game modes all for use in the multiplayer mode of the game. These rewards can be obtained by simply completing missions enough to move on to the next one or by also meeting extra, optional objectives within those missions. In today’s climate of constant DLC/pre-order ripoff nonsense culture, this is a very pleasant change that I’m sure would be welcomed back. (just look at how utterly stripped down the recent Star Wars Battlefront was compared to the original, fantastic 2004 game). This may not sound like it would add too much lifetime to the game but believe me when I tell you that it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds. This game is very difficult, and that’s probably an understatement. Team buddies is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, with ruthless ai that does not mess around. This can be good in most cases, as the multiplayer mode can be played either with real, human friends which I’m told some people have, or against the computer so ensuring that the ai will put up a good challenge is vital to the game remaining fun. However, this all takes something of a sour turn in story mode, where not only does the ai seem even more aggressive than in multiplayer mode (in the latter it can be adjusted to a very minor degree), but whose aggression becomes even more of a hindrance when playing more intricate missions that require finesse, such as escorting incredibly fragile NPC’s or doing things quickly. One thing I really think this game could have benefitted from would have been a proper, adjustable, universal difficulty setting, as the default, mostly unchangeable difficulty is just way too high in my opinion, and to this day my personal best is world 5, specifically the mission where you need to escort a group of penguins across the map without any of them dying to either the enemy teams or other hostile wildlife which by the way is a thing this game has. The combinations of ruthless ai, dangerous animals, the penguin’s inability to navigate swiftly or efficiently across the map, plus ice physics, has just constantly got the better of me…but luckily there are loads of cheats for this game so I can unlock everything anyway, but that’s just between you and me so don’t tell anyone.
This is all yet another reason why I’m absolutely baffled that this game never had a sequel or got picked up by someone else and expanded upon, so far we’ve seen that it has a unique and addictive strategy element, tons of extra content to unlock and a long, engaging and extremely challenging story mode that doesn’t feel like a vestigial organ growing out of the multiplayer mode. The fact that this game was initially unpopular really surprises me, while I understand that it’s quite quirky and different I really don’t see what’s not to like and I will gladly admit that in my book it completely blows the Worms games out of the water.
Of all the unlockable content, the bits most deserving of being mentioned separately are the extra game modes; domination, capture and bomb-ball.
These modes are drastically different from the regular death match and add a whole new dimension to the gameplay, as well as being yet another reason I think this game probably suffered in popularity, due to just being somewhat ahead of it’s time. The game is just so massively designed around being really multiplayer, that being released at a time when most people would only be likely to regularly have one other person to play it with can’t have done it any favours. I mean yes I know there was the Playstation multitap, but those weren’t exactly common (to this day I’ve never seen one in real life) and someone just having a playstation and two controllers was much more likely than someone also having a multitap, 4 controllers and 3 other people to play with on a regular basis (not to mention who the hell enjoys looking at 4 player split screen, especially on an older, probably smaller CRT TV).
To start with we have domination, which is the first new mode you encounter during single player and therefore the first you unlock. Depending on what map you happen to choose (and the selection available is different from the deathmatch map options), there are objects placed around the environment that change colour depending on the last buddies who touched them, the objects in question vary from ankhs? is that how you say it? In the desert or VR map, to bins? is that how you pronounce it? in the park. Having objects your colour earns you points per several seconds and it will be a constant struggle to keep as many of said objects your colour for as long as possible as you fight for control.
Capture on the other hand is this game’s hilarious twist on capture the flag. Each team begins the game with a nearby animal pen containing their animal, which can either be a dog, pig, sheep or penguin, depending on the map (as with other game modes, different maps are unlocked separately). These must be protected while trying to steal the animals from other teams to bring back to your own pen, you earn more points if you deposit an enemy’s animal into your pen while your own is still in there and once dropped in an animal will soon respawn to be stolen again. This game mode in particular can devolve into characteristic team buddies style hilarious chaos as animals are blown out of pens or dropped as the buddie carrying them is attacked leaving them running freely around the map pursued by their owners and enemies alike. In addition, it is impossible to wipe a team out in any game mode but deathmatch, so the fighting will quite literally never end until the timer runs out.
The third and final extra game mode is the most radically different. Bomb-ball pits between 2 and 4 teams against one another in a game roughly reminiscent of american football and/or rugby…I assume, I don’t know, I’m not a sports knowledgeable person or even person with a single shred of interest in sports so this could be a parody of golf for all I know. Teams each have goalposts and throwing the ball into the goal will score points…let me know if I’m going too fast for you.
The bomb-ball itself will begin counting down as soon as it’s picked up and thrown and will explode soon after whether or not it’s in a goal, seriously damaging any players who don’t flee the blast radius in time. Like domination and capture though, death is temporary in bomb-ball and only the timer reaching zero will end the game (the difference here being that entire teams will respawn rather than only a single member since there is no way to replenish your numbers and as such the game would inevitably become entirely single person teams). Weapons are present but bases and stacking pads are not, this being the only time in the game where they aren’t. This mode is very different from the other three but just as much fun and can be played on several different maps just like the others. Also, on the moon bomb-ball map, you can just stand on top of a cliff holding the ball and everyone else will just keep running into the lava trying to reach you.
The Next Bit
I know I said this wasn’t a review, but I just wanted to take a brief moment before finishing up to talk about the game’s presentation in terms of graphics, style and music. As you’ve seen, the game is very bright, colourful and fun looking and has a very oddball style quirkiness that’s really all it’s own. Everything feels rubbery, from buddies being temporarily squashed by vehicles to the way trees and rocks stretch in reaction to impacts.
The game also has one of the best soundtracks for any game I’ve ever heard, courtesy of Alastair Lindsay, and the art style of Chris Petts really nails down the game’s personality. Each world in the single player mode even has it’s own intro fmv (are they fmv’s? I have no idea but they’re cutscenes anyway) and they provide fun little snippets of the world the game takes place in and are another opportunity for the game’s humour to express itself. As for the buddies themselves, in multiplayer mode, every different colour has a different accent and unique voice clips, though this is only the case in the European version of the game, at least according to some website called Wikipedia I think, I’m not sure, it was like an encyclopaedia but on the internet, if you can imagine such a thing. Yes the characters are absurd stereotypes and I won’t sit here and tell people not to be offended by the crude nature of the accents, but since they give a wide range of countries a fair jab I don’t think it’s too unfair and I’d be lying if I said i didn’t find the semi-banter that ensues between the caricatures to be amusing (also they tend to swear like sailors, who swear a lot).
In all, like I said at the beginning I’m not sure what to call this article exactly, in general I just wanted an excuse to talk about a rare, obscure old game that I still love to this day, one that doesn’t deserve to simply be dismissed as a weird, bad thing. It’s clear this game was put together by people with a sense of humour and a real love for the unique thing they were creating. There’s a ton of potential here for a modern sequel that takes the original and expands upon it, some ideas that come to mind for me would be matches allowing more than 4 teams, more weapon sets, maybe a tweaking of the crate and stacking pad system to perhaps make it a little more complex, more than 4 members per team, online multiplayer/co-op functionality like I mentioned at the start, even more unlockable extra content that doesn’t require shelling out for DLC or pre-order nonsense, altogether I think it would make a really fun and addictive successor, even the game’s simple but striking art style could look fantastic on a current gen console, just dump a load more polygons in there and retain the extremely simple shapes and textures. If you ever happen to come across this game I highly recommend picking it up, even if it isn’t your type of game it’s extremely rare and hard to find nowadays, I’m lucky my own copy has survived (sans case and manual unfortunately) since I bought it upon initial release after lying to my parents about what the game was and the fact that the characters use bad swearing words.
So that’s pretty much it for this…thing, I didn’t put any thought as to how to end this so if you want to see more of Team Buddies go and check on some of the gameplay videos I’ve uploaded of it before. This is the first time I’ve ever done this type of article, mainly because it isn’t the sort of thing I’m any good at, but I felt Team Buddies deserved it and I wanted to follow through on it anyway as an experiment and perhaps in future I might do one again about some other game and it might actually be good, you never know.