One of the worst rated games of 2017 was Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. Both the PC and PS4 versions are ranked in the 40s on Metacritic. That title was supposed to be Bubsy's big revival, but ended up being another footnote in the franchise's legacy. Yes, Bubsy has had games in the past. His original 2D games failed in comparison to the Mario and Sonic titles at the time. How about his jump into the realm of 3D? Mario, Sonic, and Zelda all made the jump into 3D platforming gracefully. Unfortunately, Bubsy 3D is known as one of the worst 3D games of all time. Combine that with a failed television pilot, and you have a series begging for its first hit. Could it be time?
Bubsy: Paws on Fire was originally announced in February. Interestingly, the game was planned to include DLC with the help of Kickstarter. Sadly, the Kickstarter did not reach its funding goal. Although it doesn't appear the DLC will be coming at the moment, the base game is now available. Bubsy: Paws on Fire is a decent auto-runner with some fun levels and challenging bosses, but lacks the overall presentation of a game worth recommending.
Bubsy: Paws on Fire's gameplay is different than previous titles in the series. The original games were standard side-scrollers. The Woolies Strike Back followed the same style. Paws on Fire is, instead, an auto-runner. Mobile users will be familiar with the genre, with titles such as Super Mario Run, and endless runners like Sonic Dash. Paws on Fire is more similar to Super Mario Run. The gameplay is split between three core characters: Bubsy, Virgil, and Woolie. The characters play differently. Busby can glide and pounce, Vergil can double jump and slide, and Woolie can shoot beams from her UFO. Each level is tailored to the different gameplay styles, depending on who you pick. The goal is to get to the end, while also collecting various pieces of yarn and metal, the latter of which unlock the bonus Arnold levels. The boss battles are locked until you beat a certain amount of levels in each world.
The story begins when Bubsy is warned that Oinker has returned, with the sinister ham planning to capture every animal. This time, the Woolies have aligned themselves with Bubsy. The greatest soldier of the Woolies joins Bubsy, Virgil, and Arnold on a quest to defeat Oinker and save the animals. As Bubsy himself says, "I was born to ready."
There are three worlds in Bubsy: Paws on Fire, with 10 sections in each (There are more if you count the bonus Arnold levels.) Each individual level can be played with one of three characters. The levels change to fit the character's play style. Thus, you can play a level three times over, but it's not exactly the same. That's a positive, but a negative is that the game can often rely too much on the same background, making running through the stages a dull experience. By the time you're done with world 1, you're tired of seeing the same forest background. The backgrounds do eventually change, but it's not enough to avoid calling the game boring to look at.
In terms of gameplay overall, auto-runners and endless runners are very popular on mobile, but not so much on consoles. That's not to say these genres don't work on consoles. Crash Bandicoot had a number of endless running sequences. However, if Crash only featured these, the game would probably not be as well liked today. The automatic running platforming does work for the most part in Bubsy. There are some good challenges in later levels as Bubsy has to know when to jump. It's satisfying sliding under hazards as Virgil, and when Woolie has to dodge hazard walls. There is certainly a level of fun when the game features a quality challenge.
The game is at its best when you're trying to collect all the items. There are some well-executed timed platforming methods to collect these things. The problem is that it's not exactly motivating to do the extra work here when there's no big reward. There are a number of times when there could be challenging platforming, but there's also a way to bypass these sections. The game should have forced the player to do these platforming sections, rather than just have them as an option. Also, collecting metal pieces unlocks the Arnold levels, which are similar to the bonus stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. However, the Arnold levels will likely feel extremely similar to one another, and not very rewarding to play. There is an in-game shop for cosmetics, but it's nothing too grand, aside from seeing Bubsy in a tux.
Bubsy's big shining moments are the boss fights. These are challenging, and a lot of fun. The second boss battle is another automatic running section, but it's awesome to play through because you have to time the jumps carefully. Unfortunately, there are only three bosses in the game. This was really disappointing. Paws on Fire could have benefited from mid-point bosses. That could have helped to raise the score slightly, since the boss battles felt like a satisfying showdown in a similar vein to the boss battles in Cuphead.
As for the soundtrack, there are some positives. There are a few fantastic tunes that elevate the levels. The negative is that the music themes often sound very similar to one another. Obviously, it appears Paws on Fire wasn't made on a big budget, but that's no excuse when critiquing an overall product. Still, there are a number of well put together themes. If there was a better emphasis on crafting diverse music themes, the soundtrack could have been on par with Sonic Mania.
Overall, Bubsy: Paws on Fire isn't bad. The automatic running doesn't feel cheap, and there is some fun challenge to be had beginning in World 2. The boss battles are excellent, and though some may find him annoying, Bubsy is a pretty fun character with potential to be great (He would be a good addition to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate...*dodges thrown tomato.*) The problem is that you can beat the game pretty quickly (Don't worry; it's still longer than The Woolies Strike Back). It really does feel like there should be more bosses, and at least one more world. Bubsy: Paws on Fire is harmless fun, and if you like running titles, it might be worth picking up. But for everyone else, there are just too many amazing side-scrollers available to give Bubsy too high of a score.
3 out of 5 stars.
A copy of Bubsy: Paws on Fire was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for the PlayStation 4 and PC. The Nintendo Switch version will be released on June 27th.