Way back in late 2000 when I was feverishly beside myself with the imminent prospect of Tekken Tag Tournament, I remember stumbling into my local games shop looking for something to take my mind off the PlayStation 2. Browsing across the shelves my thought pattern went along the lines of "tactical espionage action, done that... another game with that stupid bandicoot... when are they going to release the ninth one... a strawberry-flavoured condom wielding a pair of Uzis..." Followed by a brief pause then WTF?!?
Overcome with curiosity, I picked up the bizarrely titled Team Buddies and read the back of the box, which revealed bullet-points like "some of the foulest language ever heard" and "loads of big weapons - enough to compensate for even the smallest [appendage]". Even at a young and less discerning age, this type of vulgarity immediately set alarm bells ringing - suggesting the game would be both poorly made and aimed at kids who watch South Park for the bad language. Except Psygnosis was written in the small print, so I went against my better judgement and took this baffling game to the counter for a rental.
The weekend of multi-tap gaming that followed remains one of the most stupid yet hilarious I can remember, because despite going in with low expectations Team Buddies turned out to be a deranged and surprisingly tactical experience.
Everything kicks off with a bright FMV sequence showing the capsule-shaped "buddies" dancing at a friendly rave. Before you know it weapon crates start falling from the sky and - rather than trying their luck at the local knife surrender bins - the formerly peaceful buddies gleefully start blowing each other to bits.
It seems that's all the excuse Psygnosis needed to build a game where, instead of making the effort to come up with a suitable slur or mum-related joke, players could simply tap a button and the game would do it for you. These ranged from the Scottish buddies, who would either call you an effing bastard or threaten you with a Glasgow smile, to the Geordie buddies who were similarly brash but instead called everyone a muppet. There was also some Python plagiarism on the French team with the words hamster and elderberries being used in the same sentence.
But although Team Buddies offered cheap laughs over those first few games, it wasn't until my little gang of friends noticed its subtle complexities that we began to appreciate its brilliance. The gameplay is easy to learn and best described as a mix between third-person shooter and real-time strategy - with a focus on base-defence and crate-stacking. The maps are littered with these crates, and by stacking them in various ways players can gain anything from shotguns and extra buddies to giant mechs and stealth bombers.
Despite looking like a pseudo-LEGO game designed for ages five and up, Team Buddies required a degree of strategy to take out the enemy. It wasn't particularly deep but players could play the long game by stacking crates in combinations of four to get better buddies and heavy weapons - eventually storming the enemy base with an eight-crate tank - or instead rush the competition with a full squad of double-crate economy buddies, each armed with single-crate light weapons.
Of course the best laid plans often went to hell as friends ganged up to take down the best player - before breaking allegiances and destroying each other. I remember one game where it came down to me and a friend with just one buddy each. He had a commando buddy with a flamethrower, and I had an unarmed ninja buddy. It was impossible for me to win. So I spent the next five minutes running around the map with the faster ninja, pressing the swear button as I went, and the look on his face after securing a cheap draw was priceless.
When I eventually got around to sampling the single-player campaign, the smile was quickly wiped from my face, as although the game eased you in gently by rescuing farmers pigs, by the time you reached the eighth world the difficulty had been ratcheted up to nightmarish proportions. The penultimate level in particular, the dreaded Lava Palaver, tasked players with using a single medic buddy to save four aliens while simultaneously facing off against eight heavily-armed baddies.
Touch the lava and you're dead, get swarmed by the baddies and you're dead, and even running out of ammo will likely end in death. There was even an eight-minute time limit which, if you managed to reach it, often felt like a small victory in itself. By far the biggest annoyance was the camp Carry On-esque one-liners the medic kept spouting in the face of relentless baddie pursuit. Team Buddies took more than a single rental to finish, and I still consider meeting all the secondary objectives as one of my hardcore gaming achievements.
Today, playing Team Buddies with friends is still highly enjoyable and more maniacal than the majority of party games. The swearing is still as pointlessly stupid as it ever was, but the game has lost little of its colourfully abrasive charm and tactical edge. In particular the variety of maps, modes and weapons is still fairly impressive, with scenarios ranging from ice-grenade warfare in deathmatch to desperately trying to score points in the bedlam of bomb-ball.
It seems a shame then that an HD remake of Team Buddies will probably never come to pass, as Psygnosis has long since disappeared into the Sony collective. But should the platform holder ever decide to make it happen, with the added bonus of online multiplayer, then many more players could experience this zany gem from the twilight years of the PlayStation 1. Failing that, can we just have it on PSN?