This review is based on the PC version of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back and was conducted on a PC with an AMD Radeon HD 7500, i7, 8GBs of RAM.
It’s no question that 2017 has been a fantastic year for games as a whole. There have been so many amazing, near-perfect games that end-of-the-year lists are going to be a real struggle for people. One genre that has had a hugely successful year in particular is the platformer. The once-great genre has seen some amazing titles in past years, but it mostly sticks to small indie games nowadays. This year, however, had some truly amazing platformers like Cuphead, Super Mario Odyssey, Sonic Mania, A Hat in Time, Metroid: Samus Returns, Mighty Gunvolt Burst, and arguably Yooka-Laylee depending on how much the player enjoys dull collect-a-thons. Just playing platformers this year would give you a great set of games to play.
Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is not one of those games. The plan of releasing a reboot to a franchise that exists only as an internet meme within the same month as Super Mario Odyssey was certainly a bold one. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?
Looks equivalent to a hairball
Bubsy is 2.5D this time, being a 2D platformer with 3D visuals. That’s fine; it has worked in the past for some games and not worked for others. Woolies Strike Back unfortunately doesn’t quite cut it. Booting up the game immediately gives some underwhelming computer-generated (CG) graphic art, and the 3D models themselves aren’t anything impressive. In motion, the game doesn’t look much better. It’s not completely horrific to look at, but man is it just very, very bland. Bubsy’s animation on the world map deserves special attention for how horrific it is, and the attempt at animation they do with the 2D CGs is just sad. On the bright side, at least it runs well.
The overall art design of the game is fairly reminiscent of the original Bubsy: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, except 3D and missing the soul that Bubsy had (if dated pop culture references count as soul). It’s almost disgusting to say, but the original had so much more visual flair to it compared to Woolies Strike Back. Every frame of movement for Bubsy had so much character and radical ’90s energy to it. The different death animations for all the dumb ways Bubsy died also added a lot to the game, even if some were a little too long. The reboot completely drops the ball here. It’d be like if in the Crash Bandicoot remake all of Crash’s deaths were just him flying off the screen. It’s unfortunate for Bubsy, but compared to any other modern 2D platformer, this game just doesn’t stack up visually.
Bubsy’s one-liners are meowsic to the ears, unlike the actual soundtrack
Bubsy’s existence is based around him being essentially Duke Nukem as a bobcat. He quips, makes dated pop culture references, cracks meta jokes, and occasionally mocks the player. In fact, it could be argued that the only reason people remember the definitively mediocre Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind is BECAUSE Bubsy makes a dumb quip at the start of every level. In Woolies Strike Back,at least at first, Bubsy doesn’t talk at all. This is obviously a disappointment, because that’s the best part of Bubsy’s lack of a character. It took until the second boss for the discovery that the game is bugged and Bubsy should’ve been talking the whole time. For some reason, Bubsy doesn’t speak by default. The game must be paused and unpaused for Bubsy to start talking. This may or may not be a bug across all platforms though, so just keep an ear out for it.
Strangely enough, the game genuinely becomes more enjoyable once Bubsy starts talking. There’s even a slider in the options menu to determine how often Bubsy will have a one-liner. Cranking it up all the way has him talking with nearly every move he makes. This is a great option for those who love self-inflicted pain or want the true Bubsy experience. A personal favorite line is Bubsy picking up a shirt power-up and saying “Ah yes, the fashionable equivalent to the chainmail bikini.” Does this improve the game’s score at all? No, no it doesn’t.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is a massive miss. There were maybe three tracks in the entirety of the 19 songs within the game that were enjoyable. There are some funky bass-lines, and one track even tries to sound like the first level music from Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, but it’s just not good. Depending on how infuriating the level is, hearing these obnoxious songs loop for five minutes could make someone want to throw their entire console into the dumpster. The legitimate jams do deserve props though, a favorite being the music that plays while fighting the first boss.
Functional gameplay terribly lacking in fun
Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back stays very faithful to the original games, only changing the really bad parts of the gameplay. While in most reboots this would be a good thing, for Bubsy it is the worst move the developer could’ve pawsibly made. The thing about the original Bubsy games – the big secret behind why they are such a joke – is that the games are not fun to play. The games work, mostly, but suffer from bad physics and Bubsy having no weight in any of his movement. Bubsy’s speed ramps up to ridiculous levels, and his traction is basically zero so the player just slides into enemies most of the time. It’s just terrible.
To the credit of the developers, they made a good effort to modernize Bubsy and iron out the most frustrating parts of playing the originals. Bubsy’s speed is now consistent, meaning he’s easier to control. There’s no more falling damage. Jump and glide are now two different abilities, meaning not every single button jumps. One-hit deaths are also less punishing with more frequent checkpoints and a lot of lives. Bubsy even has an attack button, which brings a whole new set of problems, but means jumping on the bad enemy hitboxes is less of an issue. With these things fixed, Woolies Strike Back should’ve been a much better game, but it’s just not.
The biggest problem with Woolies Strike Back, and a problem that a lot of mediocre platformers have, is that movement has no flow to it. Not including how awkward it is to do a simple double jump by pressing two different buttons in sequence, Bubsy’s abilities cannot be chained together freely. Bubsy has a new pounce ability, but it can only be used after a jump. It’s impossible to glide into a pounce or pounce into a glide, which just makes the movement feel awkward. Compare this to, say, Mega Man X2, where the player can jump into an air dash, into a chain grappling to a wall, into consecutive wall jumps, and then do it all again. A Hat in Time, though it is a 3D platformer, allows the player to have complete control over when they use moves and in what order. The movement in those games is crazy fun to experiment with, and Bubsy doesn’t have anything like that.
This is all on top of occasional wonky physics, bad hit detection, and some weird hit boxes. In addition, the pounce attack deserves special mention for being a move that deserves an F-. It’s a horizontal arc attack that flings Bubsy’s frail bobcat body over enemies and into obstacles. It’s almost better as a tool for getting through the dull, uninspired levels faster rather than being a useful attacking move. The second boss in particular is really frustrating because of this, as Bubsy can launch himself into the spikes that line the walls of the arena. The game is functional, yes, but is so devoid of anything interesting that I only started having fun when Bubsy started talking because it broke the droning, humming noise that serves as gameplay.
Featured image from Destructoid
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