Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back Review

Posted November 7, 2017 by Cameron McFarland in Video Games

Developer: Black Forest Games

Publisher: Tommo, UFO Interactive Games

Release date: October Thirty Fur-st 2017

Available on: PS4, PC (Steam)

Over the years, Bubsy the Bobcat has become something of an inside joke among gamers. Some hold a nostalgic place in their heart for the childhood hours spent with Bubsy, but many have critiqued it as a lazy attempt to copy Sonic the Hedgehog’s success. If you don’t recall, the early 90’s was full of competing mascot platformers. Games like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog made it look easy, but over the years it became more and more competitive, and if memory serves, Bubsy didn’t end up as a balloon in the Macy’s parade.

However, the Internet’s tendency to make fun of the cat’s forced puns and so-so gameplay has maybe gotten out of hand. Is Bubsy truly a bad game, or did the joke get out of hand? I thought about this a lot while playing The Woolies Strike Back.

To set the stage, Bubsy is a very linear left-to-right platformer with levels designed to encourage speed runs and high score multipliers. Typically the levels aren’t very difficult, and there are a total of 14 if you include the boss stages. The real challenge comes from trying to get a high score and show your friends how good you are, or getting achievements like never dying or finding all the hidden one-up shirts. Overall, very straightforward and truthfully pretty fun. A platformer is often judged by how well the character controls, and Bubsy is tight. He has a jump, a second gliding jump, and a pouncing dive. All these moves can be used mid-air, and often players will be required to think on their feet and dodge incoming enemies last-minute by darting out of danger. He felt sloppy at first, but after a couple stages I started really enjoying those precision jumps that historically Bubsy has never been able to pull off. So for that, I give Black Forest Games a big thumb up.

Visually, things start to come apart.


Don't take it FURsonal, Bubsy! I still love ya!

Do you see those bright glowing spheres? Those are yarn balls you collect for points. You see those bright glowing things on the ceiling? Those are deadly spikes that kill you in one hit. These things are not always clear.

Nothing in Bubsy looks very good. It just doesn’t. The lighting is basic, and animations tend to be lackluster. Most enemies just sort of walk forward and more often than once I found myself kind of squinting and trying to figure out what I was even looking at. I rather like some of the backdrops and all the color used, but the foreground doesn’t stand out enough and sometimes characters blend in with the environment, which ruins the fun of having nice backgrounds. The platforming mechanics are great, but the levels you navigate can take the fun away when it isn’t made clear what is or is not lethal. Bubsy can get a shield, but normally dies in one hit which kind of discourages trial-and-error your first time through the game. One caveat: The game is tremendously generous with checkpoints, so when you do die, you aren’t punished terribly.

Another complaint I have is Bubsy’s lacking personality. The whole selling point on the character is that he is a character. Bubsy has always been talkative and never shies away from a cat pun, and The Woolies Strike Back fails to deliver on the one ironic strength Bubsy brings to the table. His lines tend to be along the lines of “I don’t know what this is…but I like it!” and “I love this new ability!” You will also hear these same lines pretty much once per stage. There aren’t any environmental quips or anything very memorable, and that’s a shame. The options screen includes a slider to increase or decrease his frequency of speech, but when he says nothing of value who cares? Bubsy also historically had a variety of silly deaths. He’d act like a real cartoon character when he died, like shattering into glass or melting unexpectedly. For whatever reason he now just sort of falls over unceremoniously.

I sincerely hated this boss, and this guy’s existence brought the score down a point.

I mentioned earlier that Bubsy was fun to control, which raises the question of “Why take that fun away from me?” There are only three bosses in the game, but it feels like three too many because each one puts a stop to the fast and frantic platforming fun. This one pictured here was especially frustrating because of the randomness of attacks. Most abilities are telegraphed in a way, but they are odd tells: things like facing straight down on the right side and making a beeping sound before dashing to the left and firing a laser that fills half the screen. Bubsy might have nine lives, but I feel like they’d be better spent elsewhere. It just isn’t rewarding to overcome a tedious challenge. This one boss fight in particular got me thinking a lot about Bubsy’s competition.

When they first announced The Woolies Strike Back, I thought it a bold move to compete with both Sonic Mania and Mario Odyssey, but it felt oddly fitting that he should face off with his old rivals. I was willing to give Bubsy the chance he deserves. It’s almost impossible to write about Bubsy and his history and not bring up those other platformers, but The Woolies Strike Back has a much more dangerous enemy in Cuphead.

Cuphead brings a strong game in the form of responsive and frantic game mechanics that reward reflexes with victory, and I think Bubsy was a little close here. The key difference that puts Cuphead far ahead is simple: The bosses are both challenging and fair. I know Cuphead and Mugman have a tough road to do the Devil’s bidding, and many reviewers have commented on the RNG some boss fights bring to the table, but the genius to Cuphead‘s gameplay is that you are allowed to get hit once or twice. When a boss pulls a surprise attack on you, it’s a learning moment. Each death feels like you could have done something different, and you’re ready to try again. When you die in Bubsy, you tend to ask the game, “Was that really necessary? Is that what we’re doing here? Come on.”

When I’m running around as Bubsy at the best parts of the game it makes me very sad knowing there is so little of it. The bosses detract from the flow of the game, occasional quirks in level design punish you unfairly, and there’s just not enough levels to really justify a $30 investment. Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back feels like a late-stage alpha build of a game, or something that should have been released on Xbox 360 about 10 years ago. There’s fun in here, and even worse there’s missed opportunity for a sleeper hit of 2017, but these claws don’t cut it. Don’t take it fursonally, Bubsy, I still love you.

About the Author

Cameron McFarland

Cameron loves cartoons and bad movies almost as much as bad cartoon movies. He is also the world's best spaghetti-eater, so don't bring it up around him or he won't shut up about it. Author and Artist for world-reviled World of Warcraft fancomic, www.taurenitup.com