Bubsy The Woolies Strike Back Review
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in the review are the writers own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in any way.
“World hunger… Nuclear proliferation… Reality TV… None of those horrors compare to… Yarn ball deprivation!” I could stop the review of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back right here, and you would know just about everything you need to know about this game. A middling franchise starting on the SNES and ending at a notorious fourth game that shows just how wrong the jump from 2D to 3D can go, Bubsy jumps back to 2D (well, 2.5D) and joins the platformer revival craze we have been seeing as of late with more mainstream titles like Yooka Laylee and a large portion of the indie scene. However, just as much as the yarn balls the character collects, Bubsy is a tangled mess with little thought put into the layers of its construction.
If I were to use any phrase to describe Bubsy, it would be asset flip. Game journalism critic Jim Sterling coined the term to mean a game that consists entirely of development/engine store-bought assets with that is not significantly original from the default state of the assets themselves, nor used in a way that shows a cohesive vision beyond the use of said assets. While not actually an asset flip, the haphazard design, shoddy presentation, and seemingly everything that isn’t an in-game asset being terrible makes the game feel like the pre-bought unity store flips that Sterling often features on his YouTube channel.
The game’s story is non-existent after the beginning cutscene – your standard [insert alien species here] steals the [protagonists favorite food or object] collectathon plot. Bubsy is a talkative, sarcastic, “90’s edge,” cat who is on a mission to get back his yarn balls from the Woolies. It is a well-worn trope today, but thankfully not dwelled on much afterward. I wish I could say this is the worst part of the context this game provides, but I would be doing a disservice to the writing. Sorry, let me rephrase – I would be doing a disservice to everyone who had to experience the writing.
The worst part of Bubsy’s recent outing is his repertoire of jokes that fluctuate between being fearfully self-deprecating and brazenly self-confident just as quickly and awkwardly as he jumps platforms. The voice over of what has to be Jon Lovitz’s less talented cousin coming up with animal and pop-culture related puns at gunpoint never stops being exactly the never-ending stream of obnoxious many of you imagined just by looking at the character model.
To make it worse, the entirely random timing of said quips frequently leading to moments that do not make sense in the context of what is happening in the game at that point. I have done the pounce attack an innumerable amount of times, and after innumerable amount plus one Bubsy will still feel compelled to express his amazement at “this new move.” He will gloat about his flying prowess, then discuss his crippling fear of heights immediately after landing, back to back, on multiple occasions. He will say, “what’s the worst that can happen?” then still be alive, making jokes.
It was only after browsing the settings that I found out two things – you can adjust the verbosity of Bubsy in the audio section, and the current verbosity level was just 50%. I don’t know or want to know the series of events that would make someone willingly push that slider to the right, but I can at least credit the developers for putting the ability to mute the protagonist in without muting the other sounds.
Not that it would the worst thing in the world, as the other audio the game has to offer is forgettable, though that’s a stark improvement from the aforementioned voicework. A forgettable soundtrack that sounds like rejected tracks of a Sonic OST and generic, freebie-sounding effects make for a shoddy audio presentation throughout. Prior to me discovering the settings, the knock-on effect of Bubsy’s outward monologue of misguided sass made every new platform challenge a struggle that has less to do with twitch reflexes and more to do with a twitching eyebrow.
The game is also not a looker. Lifeless animations for both Bubsy and his Wooly foes rob the game of a lot of the satisfying tactile feedback you need for jumping and collecting objects to be fun, further marred by the bad textures and lighting even on max settings. The foregrounds tended to be almost too busy at times, distracting me from the side-scrolling on the screen. Nothing really “pops” out of a particular scene in a good way aside from the yarn balls. The color pallet can be surprisingly dull at times and too bright in others, and the models lack needed detail. All of this makes for a visual slog of a game that is prone to wear on you multiple times before the credits roll despite a short runtime of just 14 levels.
Even the act of basic platforming feels a bit awkward. The jumps and landings feel slippery and far too light. Your glide always feels not responsive enough over long distances or too responsive when turning him around. The pounce attack has an obnoxious arc that renders it worthless for anything but moving faster through levels and breaking cracked rocks to make your way to extra yarn balls.
Thankfully the game is not really about precision platforming, but of collecting all the yarn balls in each stage as quickly as possible. Plentiful checkpoints, pickups, and extra lives at the very least save it from being both bad and overly difficult. The boss battles save your progress to their health, although also keep the level timer going. If you don’t care about scores or total minutes to completion, Bubsy can be easily blasted through little to no level restarts in under two hours. However, the overall design of the levels you explore has boredom taking the place of death in stagnating the pacing.
Irrelevant of the quality of the assets used, their placement feels arbitrary, not implying any cohesion or overall vision was taken into account on an individual level basis. Unrelated platforming challenges are placed near each other without building upon any ideas, challenges, or themes. These qualities also extend to the enemies. Desert sharks coming out of walls and swimming in midair right near a silver turret shooting blue lasers with a red pilot in a farm themed level on a gray platform serve to remind aspiring developers that more does not equal better. Usually, however, you are usually fighting the same copy-pasted walking and flying enemies that manage to look out of place regardless of the environment they are in, with collectible yarn balls strewn throughout a tapestry of chaotic boredom wherever there is room left.
Breaking up the levels are three boss fights. All of them are with a UFO, and two of them are the same UFO with different attacks. None of them are particularly fun or interesting but also represent substantial difficulty spikes compared to the majority of the game.
Bubsy is messy. Its voice acting is obnoxious, it’s level layouts thoughtless, and its presentation and core gameplay soulless. All of the game’s elements coalesce into something more boring and annoying than the sum of its parts. It is a middle school jazz performance of disparate visuals, design, and pacing that reminds me of the unique brand of messy and amateur seen in a flood of steam greenlight asset flips – and if you want that, you have cheaper options.
- The core platforming could have been worse
- You can mute Bubsy
- It is too easy
- It is too short
- The presentation is mediocre to poor on every level
- The level design is uninspired, slapdash and lazy
- Bubsy, at least until you figure out you can mute him