It was a tough time for platforming games back in the 16-bit era. Mario, the little guy who revolutionized the whole genre, had somehow lost his place to a smarmy blue hedgehog by the name of Sonic, whose blazing fast gameplay and bad attitude provided enough of a contrast so that adolescents could play it without feeling wussy. There were many contenders for this crown, many other would be-heroes that were shot down, despite being focus tested into oblivion. Yet one character, one furry little cat, went on to beat down both legendary mascots and claim the delicious crown for himself.
That hero was Bubsy the Bobcat (AKA The Bubster).
Bubsy was published by Accolade for both the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, taking both sides of the 16-bit console war and exploiting it for its own game. No longer excluding kids who could only afford one of the consoles, both critics and gamers everywhere proclaimed Bubsy to be an amazing triumph, a sight totally unseen in any other market of the video game sector. Bubsy's zany antics warmed the hearts of kids everywhere, who began to demand more of the lovable feline in droves.
But how did such a character come out of nowhere, from a company that was known for computer ports and sports games, to become such a rousing success? The simple answer: they created a character that everyone loved. At first, they simply looked at Sonic, and saw that much of his personality was displayed through his animations, like the way he teetered at the end of ledges, or looked impatiently at the player if they stood still. The Bubsy folks took this and ran by creating even more wacky animations. The designers rationalized, since you often died in platforming games, why not make the player laugh at the same time? Therefore, several different death scenes were added - Bubsy would shatter, or squish like an accordian, or salute and admirably "go down with the ship" if he fell into water. Furthermore, these were the days before Mario or Sonic had voices. Bubsy was granted vocal chords, with a witty saying at the beginning of each level. "What could possibly go wrong?" Bubsy inquired at the opening of the first stage, of his first game, opening up a new level of hilarious immersion in video gaming. Many of the jokes revolved around brilliant feline related wordplay and puns. As the logo to the second game says - "Accolade: Games with Purrsonality!"
But what would all of this be without a solid game to back it up? Bubsy is one of the deepest, most involving, thought-provoking games of it's era. You see...ah, who am I kidding, Bubsy is SHIT.
There's a special place in hell for the people behind Bubsy. Not necessarily the graphics or sound guys, because they did their jobs. Not the programmers, because even though they weren't very good at it and ended up creating a game that's only occasionally playable, they were probably only doing it to get their paychecks. Not even the creators, who just wanted to make a platformer game that payed respects to the humor of old Warner Bros. cartoons. No, the worst people involved are the people who marketed the hell out of the concept, without any regard to the final product. Bubsy is the very pinnacle of exploited soulless corporate drivel, which shouldn't be anything new...I just happen to take it personally.
This all started when I was maybe twelve years old. I had just gotten a Genesis to play Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which were pretty damn cool. Yet Bubsy, who appeared on the cover of EGM, appeared in wacky advertisements, bragging about this new star would totally eclipse everything that came before it. And, you know, I had seen that one episode of the The Simpsons with Gabbo, the talking puppet that eclipsed Krusty the Clown due to its ridiculous hype, and I should've known better. (I am pretty sure this was before the episode with Poochie, but the general idea behind Bubsy is exactly the same.) But I fell victim to it, and I saved up my money for months. At that age, I got about $5 a week from my parents, so a $60 game meant over three months of not buying anything just so I could experience this new kind of platforming we were being promised. It may not seem like much when you're an adult - buy a bad game and you just shrug it off - but $60 is a huge deal when you're a kid, and wasting it was a spirit draining experience.
Now, I don't remember exactly what happened, but I ended up wanting something different, and decided not to get Bubsy. I settled on renting it, and good Jesus, was I glad I did. Even though I was susceptible to this kind of hype, I wasn't an idiot, and could still tell a good game from an awful one. And Bubsy was pretty awful.
But that was only part of it. Bubsy himself was designed to have so much attitude that it was just impossibly annoying. The incessant voice clips were aggravating, especially since the same unfunny saying popped up after you died. But the character design himself just lacked charm. Just look at this:
See those beady eyes? That's not someone I want to play as, that's some fucker I want to punch in the face. His design is too engineered - a sly smirk, gigantic eyes, and an exclamation point on his white t-shirt that was essentially his "catchphrase," as if a mere punctuation mark could fulfill that role. I mean, Sonic was basically designed to be an anti-Mario, which was precisely the image that Sega needed. And before Sonic's hijinks devolved into stupid furry drama, his character evoked a balance of cuteness and toughness that seemed fresh. But Bubsy doesn't fit in anywhere in the console war, doesn't fit in with Accolade (who published...uhh...Ishido? Hardball? And mostly other crap for the Genesis, not counting the port of Star Control). Bubsy's lame design, combined with his hollow reasons for existence, along with the low quality of his games, resulted in a complete black hole of a character.
Through some cruel act of God, Bubsy somehow made it into four separate games, not including one portable version. This both saddens and infuriates me, because the first game was apparently enough of a success to greenlight further installments, which means there are scores and scores of innocent kids that blew their potentially hard-earned money on a marketing gimmick with awful gameplay behind it. The only thing that makes me happy is all of the negative karma Bubsy has built up over the years - it's regarded by pretty much everyone everywhere as a huge embarrassment, becoming the animal mascot of shitty animal mascot games. We are here today to look at the train wrecks that made up Bubsy's career, and we do so with no reverence, and absolutely no mourning.
Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind / Yamaneko Bubsy no Daibōken (やまねこバブジーの大冒険) / Super Bubsy - Genesis, SNES, Windows (1993)
The original Bubsy is about as basic as you can get. You can run and jump and glide, and that's it. Your objective is to kill the Woolies, an army of aliens who attack by (apparently) sneezing at you. There are sixteen levels total, taking place in a forest, a carnival, on a train, in another forest, and finally on the Woolies' mother ship. Considering the size of the levels, this is actually a pretty meaty package for this type of game, and the password function makes it easy to jump back into the game. But, really, why would you want to?
The problem with Bubsy, as noted several times, was that the developers simply looked at both Mario and Sonic and decided to create their own ripoff without being conscious of what really made those games shine. On a basic level, when jumping on small platforms, Bubsy controls relatively okay. It's when you build up the tiniest bit of momentum that things fly out of hand. Your biggest foe is often Bubsy's inertia, which will fling him forward at distances that are incredibly difficult to judge, and changing direction in midair is a futile proposition. You can glide, which makes it a little bit easier to control your landings, but ultimately, it doesn't help much. So what good is a platformer if you can't platform?
When you're not taking to the skies, Bubsy can also run fast. Really fast. He can dash, up and down the landscape, except that the scrolling can't show what's in front of you, and the level design is so poor that you either constantly run into bad guys, or fall into some kind of obstacles that, nine times out of ten, will kill you. This is pretty frustrating - Mario had his mushrooms, Sonic had his rings, and Bubsy has squat. He will die instantly upon merely tapping a bad guy, which is further infuriated by the sloppy hit detection. Most of the times, you'll jump on a bad guy and kill it. Except if you hit it just wrong, you'll die, for some reason. Furthermore, this is one of the only platformers I know of that will kill your character for falling too far, which seems to be a subtle way of telling you that you need to glide pretty much every time you jump, because it's the only way to remotely control Bubsy. Considering how easy it is to leap and careen through the skies, into destinations unknown, finding a safe spot to land is a matter of chance - you'll either die from falling too far, die from ramming into a bad guy, or maybe, just maybe, have a safe landing. And while there are several checkpoints in each level, they still don't seem close enough, given how many times you'll bite the dust. In a twist I bet someone thought was clever, Bubsy is granted nine lives, so at least you have plenty of opportunities to beat the level, if you don't give up in annoyance first.
Each level is huge and has lots of stuff to explore and lots of doodads to pick up, but they seem to lack structure and cohesion. As a result, stages that should be fun to explore are just monotonous because one part of the stage doesn't look any different from the other. And when they aren't tedious, they're confusing.
Bubsy was released simultaneously for the Super Nintendo and Genesis. It seems to have been developed with the Genesis in mind, because both versions look practically the same. The SNES version has (arguably) better music and cleaner speech samples, but they both play in the same wretched manner. It was released in Japan for the Super Famicom under the name Yamaneko Bubsy no Daibōken (The Adventure of Bubsy the Mountain Cat). It also got a port to Windows 95 under the title Super Bubsy, which has some nicely improved high-res graphics, along with some additional narration. It seems to have problems working under Windows XP. It also includes the pilot episode of the TV show (more on that later).
This idea is even more frightening - what if Bubsy was conceived to be the star of the Atari Jaguar? Certainly, it fits the feline motif, and his games were certainly representative of the crap that makes up 95% of the Jaguar library. Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales plays in exactly the same manner as it's predecessor, except this time you head through different fairy tales, like Alice in Wonderland,
They actually "fixed" the controls in Bubsy II, and by "fixed", I mean "made slightly less worse." Bubsy doesn't haphazardly fly forward like he did in the previous games, but something about the gravity and physics still doesn't feel right. Hell, it's even more annoying in the outer space level, where your jumps are intentionally screwed up. At least they did away with the one-hit kills, so the game is far less frustrating than the others. You're also given the choice to select your levels, which include Egyptian, Musical, Medieval, and Outer Space themed levels, as well as a few flying stages. The bad guys this time are a bunch of evil pigs, but there's a wider variety of strange enemies, like evil sheep and bouncing boars. Bubsy can also now attack with a NERF gun, although like the rest of the game, it's a bit unwieldy.
New to Bubsy II is a two player mode, where a second player can control one of Bubsy's younger relatives, to collect orbs or attack enemies. There are also a few mini-games, where you can launch frogs at various targets (similar to those carnival games), or play as Bubsy's armadillo friend as he makes his way through the inner workings of a moving truck. It's nothing outstanding, but it at least shows the developers were putting some effort into a well-rounded package.
Overall, Bubsy II is definitely an improvement, mostly because you're not dying every five seconds, but the designers simply cranked the dial up from "pile of junk" to "terribly mediocre." Once again, the SNES and Genesis versions are practically identical, although Accolade developed a Game Boy version as well. The controls are even more slippery than usual, and the levels that weren't cut out (the Outer Space and Medieval levels) have been redesigned entirely. It's also a bit weird that the sprites are light colored against a dark background, which seems reversed from most B&W Game Boy games.
As much as I hold disdain for the Bubsy series, it's really, really hard to hate Bubsy 3D. This is because it is possibly one of the worst video games ever made. The 2D Bubsy games were frustrating, sloppily designed, and mostly just unfun. The 3D Bubsy game is practically unplayable. I guess I can imagine the conditions under which this game was designed, programmed, and published, since it was one of the first 3D platformers on home consoles. But jeez, does it even crash and burn. Where to even begin?
Well, the graphics. The Bubsy character model is one of the best looking things in the game, and this is only because it is so incredibly malformed that you can't even think something so bad looking was intentional. The entire landscape is composed of flat (not even shaded!) polygons, with checkerboard patterns and mishmashing color schemes that adorn the floors and mountains. One of the most hilarious things about the game is wandering through the bare-bones landscape then randomly find an object that the artists decided to texture. It's also difficult to discern water (which will kill you) from pop-up, which is quite severe.
Bubsy 3D came out before the Dual Shock, so the entire game is controlled via the digital pad. Pressing up will move forward, pressing down will hop back. You turn left and right with the left and right buttons. There is no other camera control. Now, Bubsy 3D also came out about a month after Super Mario 64, which essentially revolutionized both 3D controls and environments. As a result, it looked and felt hideously dated, even at the time it came out. The simple act of moving Bubsy from point A to point B is a frustrating and tedious process if it involves any path other than a straight line. Trying to jump from platform to platform like this is a nightmare. To its credit, the camera automatically aims downward, so you can judge where you land (something more early 3D platformers should've done, actually), and Bubsy can grab on to ledges if you just barely miss a jump. Still, you'll spend a lot of time jumping and missing and falling and watching more hilarious death sequences. Also, you attack enemies by jumping on them (or at least trying to) or running up to the various atoms that litter the landscape (??) and tossing them at the Woolies. Since Bubsy 3D is now on CD, you can expect more awesome voiceovers. They seem to have changed the original voice into something more girly sounding, and it makes all kinds of clever remarks about platforming games (take that fourth wall!) I guess it's not as annoying as the stupid, repetitive remarks from the other games.
There's so much wrong with Bubsy 3D that it's almost hard to think that it's not just a huge joke. I guess one could argue that the whole game is some kind of hilarious experiment, but I'm not up for Insert Credit-style analyzation of such things. Interestingly enough, Eidetic - the team behind Bubsy 3D - apparently redeemed themselves and went on to create the vaguely respectable Syphon Filter games for Sony.
In keeping with the grand master scheme of Bubsy, Accolade produced a television pilot that aired on Thanksgiving in 1993. (Battletoads pulled a similar stunt in prior years.) It featured Bubsy and his niece and nephew, along with an armadillo, who all made guest appearances in Bubsy II. Naturally, it never caught on, so the single episode produced is the only one in existence. If you thought the catchphrases in the game were annoying, well...wait until you see this. There's some plot about a virtual reality helmet, which our hero and friends get their hands on. And there's some evil cat woman who wants to steal it for her own ends. Oddly enough, the Woolies, the bad guys of the original game, never make an appearance. In its favor, it does have plenty of respected voice actors playing the roles.
In any case, on some level, I feel that maybe I've been a bit harsh on the Bubster. There are several platformers that are definitely worse, such as Tengen's Awesome Possum, which couldn't even run at a respectable frame rate. Bubsy's kicker is that, at times, it's almost a fun game, once you learn to get him under your control, but there's still too many consistently cheap deaths for it to be remotely enjoyable. Note that none of these kind words apply to Bubsy 3D, which needs to be played just to see one of the most embarassingly laughable games ever released on the commercial market.