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Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back (PC) artwork

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back (PC) review

"An underwhelming, uninspired yarn."

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back was the bobcat mascot's big chance, and I wanted to give it to him. Looking at the new game's developer and the talent behind the music gave me hope. My optimism was somewhat tempered by the character's well-earned reputation for being something of a loudmouth--and generally insufferable--at the other end of a controller. Could Black Forest Games work a miracle, I wondered? Could the studio revitalize an embattled franchise and produce a new installment that meaningfully took on board player feedback that had piled up over the years?

In a word: no. But might they have? I believe the possibility existed. Alas, even Chris Hülsbeck and Fabian Del Priore's energetic soundtrack and the clean, high-definition visuals the art team produced couldn't save the heroic feline from conspicuously vaulting toward a mediocre overall performance. The impression I get when I play the game is that the talent responsible began with a lot of enthusiasm and high ideals, but was constrained by mechanical conventions established in the previous... er, adventures. If it weren't for competing platformers, Bubsy might have done quite well for himself.

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back (PC) image

The overall problem, I suppose, is that we've collectively come to expect more from our mascots and our platformers than Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back ever delivers. I'd like to touch on what the game does right before I rub this kitty's coat the wrong way, though. I don't actually dislike Bubsy any more than I do the other poorly developed marketing mascots for which the industry is known, after all, and I wanted to give him a chance to rise above his humble beginnings. I actively tried to avoid comparisons while playing this new adventure. In some ways, that wasn't difficult to do.

As I mentioned, the soundtrack is a standout affair with some bubbly, almost dance-able music. None of it is sufficiently catchy and memorable enough to pass the "hum" test, though. Chris and Fabian are veterans, but they sometimes get a little lost in their own technique. Solos muddy what should be straightforward, overarching themes. There's some evidence of the same lack of cohesion that affects all aspects of the game, which brings me to the visuals.

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back (PC) image

The graphics are nice to look at and clearly distinguish between what is interactive and what is set dressing. Bubsy himself has certainly never looked better, but the trade-off for the well-textured assets is apparently a lack of animation. There doesn't seem to have been a lot of thought put into the aesthetic physicality or expressiveness of Bubsy himself. It really is fine if instead of moving precisely, he wants to go barreling into foes and bop heads without a care in the world. The problem is he doesn't do that with any amount of accuracy, either.

Hit detection is equally questionable, leaving players to wonder half the time why they failed to land where they thought they should have. I wouldn't feel the need to explain what makes a good platformer if the Black Forest team had only demonstrated proper skill in implementing the fundamentals, but here we are. Mario, being a stocky little fellow, moves on the screen like he has weight, whereas Bubsy feels as if he is fashioned out of the air itself. When you press the D-pad, he moves, but his feet don't land with a "thump" when you bop an enemy. They just pop like a balloon, but without a solitary bang to punctuate the event.

Let's talk levels, which are one of this sequel's strong points even though there are far too few of them. They're varied and take place within a number of different locales. That provides something interesting to look at while you try to find your way through a run-and-jump maze. Each level is reasonably long, and has a suitable number of checkpoints placed throughout so that you don't have to start from scratch unless you run out of lives. The levels are, by and large, fun to play.

I rather enjoyed figuring out the best way to complete each level, and found in some cases that there were divergent paths. The alternate routes were never fully realized, unfortunately, and I regard them as a missed opportunity for player engagement. There also was an effort to reinvigorate the aged puttee-tat by granting him a new leaping dash ability, and a shield that protects him if he collects a shirt whilst already wearing one. Yes, Bubsy can now take two hits... and if he's wearing the dark shirt any other shirt pickups become extra lives. This setup is a nifty idea, but it gets caught up in the net of seemingly pointless player goals. Rescue the golden yarn, collect the colored yarn, then some keys, a few shirts and then extra lives? When did Bubsy become a collect-a-thon? There aren't enough levels or rewards to keep this hunt entertaining for long, even though you're looking at a total of maybe six hours play. Seasoned players will reach the campaign's end even more quickly than that, which only deepens the sting of the game's price.

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back (PC) image

For all of Bubsy's self-awareness, there's no appreciation for the feats his competition has accomplished during his absence. The accidental effect is that the bobcat looks oblivious rather than hip. Mario and Sonic are referenced in level codes, but those are ultimately useless. Likewise, the "Woolies" have returned, but why should we even care? The developers should have give us a reason, and yet the Woolies have only as much backstory as they do personality, which is to say "none". In levels, they're either an obstacle or nothing more than a decorative platform. At least they don't blow on Bubsy for no apparent reason.

It seems our titular hero must have taken more than his allotment of the character budget. It's somehow fitting that his one-liners are just as stale as they were in the 1990s, and I'm grateful for the "Verbosity" slider so you I turn him right down and effectively ignore the fact he so often has something to say that you've already heard before. There simply aren't enough unique lines, nor enough wit from the writing team, to elevate Bubsy above his role as a bleating lead trying to sell an otherwise competent game.

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back (PC) image

To address a strange choice made with the very few bosses in this game: first of all, they're not bad, apart from serving as evidence of a serious case of limited imagination. Battles offer a respectable amount of challenge for young players, and for those who are picking up this title for the first time. What puzzles me is the boss checkpoint system. That's right: deplete enough of its health and you'll get to continue were you left off, even if you check out before your foe does. It's a thoughtful touch that feels out of place in a game that otherwise suffers from a lack of direction and limited awareness of its demographic. Those in the position to buy the game nowadays are the same gamers who were burned by each subsequently terrible sequel back in the day. Black Forest needed to reinvent Bubsy to capitalize on the fonder memories those consumers might have of their time with the mumbling furball. Why this game is so unfocused isn't clear, but the end result is both frustrating and annoying.

To say I was disappointed during my time I spent with the game is obvious and redundant. That's the risk one runs when going toe-to-toe with nostalgia, though: either the game measures up, or it reminds you why you moved on in the first place. This title does the latter, and yet its skeleton could easily have been re-skinned with more likeable characters from some other digital world. As it stands Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back isn't worth your regional equivalent of $20, not when it's such an underwhelming, uninspired yarn.


hastypixels's avatar
Freelance review by Simon Woodington (April 16, 2018)

Just a guy plonking away at a keyboard containing wit no greater than his own.

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