Title: Last Call BBS
Platforms: PC (reviewed on)
Release Date: July 4, 2022
Last Call BBS is the latest, and sadly, final, game from developer Zachtronics, a great company if you’re looking for games that are built with full creative freedom. But Last Call BBS does something beyond simply existing as a game — it’s a full-on time machine.
Last Call BBS provides a “retro experience” and while that’s been absolutely done to death, nothing has quite done so with the level of authenticity this game provides.
You find yourself in possession of an old PC from around before the turn of the century. If you’re an old dog in your 40s or later like I am, you’ll absolutely feel it the second you start this up. A small memo program opens up and the previous owner, the mysterious “Barkeep” lets you know that he’s still keeping his BBS servers open after all these years if you want to try getting on.
After that, you have access to your hard drive, the computer settings, the memo app, and a solitaire game. Opening up your hard drive, you find an internet connection icon that allows you access to three different old sites: a world clock, a stock ticker, and the Barkeep’s old BBS channel known as the Last Call, a place where you could download cracked games.
Each time you connect to one of them your computer takes a moment while you hear it dial out. The familiar sound of dial-up internet rings in your ears as you attempt to make a connection. If you play this game on mute, you’ll miss out on so much here.
From there you’ll have the ability to access seven different games for download. These range from a different type of solitaire to a futuristic food-making sim, to a dark and depressing puzzle game, to an amazing game that lets you build and paint Gundam — oops, I mean “Steed Force” models.
But you can only download one at a time, and when you do, you have to let the game download. No download is over four minutes but there’s something that put me back to my teenage years as I was suddenly getting up and waiting for a large progress bar to fill up.
Once you’re done, you get a notification that to avoid too much server traffic you have to wait 15 minutes before you can download anything again so it’s time to play around with what you’ve got.
Luckily, even if you download at random, you’re going to be interested in each game as they’re all remarkably unique. For example, there’s a Sudoku-esque game that tasks you with discovering Dungeons and Dragons grip maps. But the trick is that the monsters can only go to dead ends, and a treasure chest means it’s in a 3×3 room with only one door in.
There’s even a light bit of story. As you progress in various games, you unlock more notes from the mysterious Barkeep. You can listen to him talk about his time as a hacker, his time going to conventions to find interesting new freeware (ask your parents), or even his lamentations on the “one that got away”. Taking the time to learn each game allows you to learn more and more about the computer’s previous owner.
This can be a little tricky as some of these games obviously don’t come with their manuals and they can be tricky to figure out, much like how it was downloading stuff back in the day. You think a game where you have to make nachos and pretzels move down a conveyor belt is simple until you realize that you have to properly wire the machinery in order to make all the parts move correctly. Some of these games genuinely require a mind frame for engineering and programming to get far in.
One of my personal favorites though was definitely not the trickiest of the batch, “Steed Force Hobby Studio”. According to the notes, the Barkeep was really interested in building models based on a popular anime called “Steed Force” (it’s Gundam) but back in the day the models were ridiculously expensive to import. As someone who’s been building Gundam for more than two decades, I’ll vouch. So he made a sim that allowed you to build and paint them on the computer.
You actually get to take out nippers and pop the pieces out of the frames. You get to paint them, and the painting is fantastic. You can use modeling tape to cover up parts you don’t want to be painted and just go to town with each model’s recommended paint sets. There are six colors per model which does not allow a ton of variety but you can still do some killer things with it. There are also decals too.
When you’re finished the game even allows you to download an animated gif of your finished project. Here’s one of mine.
Sadly, once you paint those three that’s it. There are no options to reset them or anything, they just sit in their box and look pretty. You could theoretically repaint them, but what monster paints a model that’s already been built?
Last Call BBS not only offers seven very unique mini-games but a remarkably authentic experience that brought me back to my senior year of high school tying up the family landline as I downloaded shady programs from hard-to-find websites. My only complaint is that while it is part of the authentic experience to not know how to play the games you’re downloading (tutorials in games are pretty modern) these games are complicated. I gave two of them a solid hour each and afterward, I couldn’t tell you how I got past the first stage. Also, as brilliant as the second form of Solitare is, the cards are so incredibly ugly they felt like they were being thrown by Gambit directly into my eyes. Certain visual problems and difficult-to-understand games aside, this was an awesome trip to the past and I recommend it for all older gamers.
Last Call BBS (PC) Score: 8/10
All in all, Last Call BBS isn’t going to keep you locked in for weeks, but if you’re old enough to remember computing in the 90s, this is an absolute trip down memory lane. So make sure the line’s free, and download this off the World Wide Web today!