These days what’s old often becomes new again, thanks to remakes, remasters and sequels. While this is most prevalent in the movie industry, where classic films are often remade or updated with modern technology and today’s leading actors, gaming has been far from innocent when it comes to this practice. Since the beginning of the last generation, companies have been remaking, remastering and re-releasing classic and popular games, through retail and digital services like Xbox Live Arcade. At times, it’s worked, allowing publishers to earn extra money off of cheaply upgraded games that they’ve already released once before, but it doesn’t always pan out.
Some things simply need to stay in the past, where they can remain dead, buried and perhaps even forgotten.
Enter Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back from Black Forest Games of Giana Sisters fame. Yes, that Bubsy, who hadn’t been heard from since a laughable last foray on the original PlayStation.
At the beginning of this brief, uninspired and dreadfully forgettable return, we find Bubsy the Bobcat doing what he loves. That is, sitting in his favourite chair while staring at his most prized possession: the Golden Fleece (a golden ball of yarn) that resides in a glass case atop a small table. It isn’t long before he’s interrupted, however, as a UFO carrying a couple of Woolies (fabric stealing alien creatures) crashes into his living room and takes off with his beloved thread.
What is Bubsy to do, but go after those who stole what he fought so hard to obtain decades ago?
Thus begins a campaign that spans three different regions, and contains approximately 14 stages, including three separate boss battles. One that can easily be completed in an hour and a half if the player can last that long without either falling asleep or deleting the game entirely.
Simply put, the Bubsy games were never well liked or revered, even during their heyday back in the early 90s. Now, almost twenty-five years since his debut, the orange bobcat’s antics feel more antiquated than most other things in gaming. This could’ve been avoided if a good amount of effort was put into reanimating this almost forgotten series, but that didn’t happen. As such, Bubsy: The Woolies Strikes Back is the exact opposite of a lovingly crafted game, which makes you wonder why they even bothered.
Although the game’s surprisingly limited amount of levels all take place within three different regions (a forested mountain, the Wild West and outer space), they all play almost identically. This is because there’s almost no design variety, nor is there any creativity to be found. As Bubsy, players must simply jump, pounce and glide from the start of each 2.5D stage to its finishing point, which is identified by a billboard featuring the image of a large ball of yarn.
Bubsy begins each level with 9 lives, and can pick up t-shirts that give him more, as well as a darker shirt that shields him from one hit. Whenever a shield isn’t active, it’s one hit and you’re dead, so not getting hit is the key to success. Unfortunately for those who hope to obtain the trophy for beating the game without losing a life, this is much more difficult than it needed to be, thanks to some awfully cheap hit detection issues that stem from lackluster animations and a lazy hit box. Bubsy can kill enemies by pouncing, or by jumping on their heads, but sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t work, causing death instead.
It doesn’t help that later levels are littered with boring enemies, as well as hazards like sand sharks (yes, you read that right) and falling boulders. Couple this with a camera that sits far away from the action and incredibly dated visuals that allow enemies and hazards to blend into the environment, and you have the recipe for frustration. Most won’t have too many issues beating the stages, but those who try to do so without dying, or hope to get all of their collectible keys, will surely become frustrated by these design problems.
In addition to completing each stage, players are rewarded for collecting as much yarn as they can. Given that every level contains about six hundred different, randomly coloured balls, it’s certainly not hard to find, or well hidden. The catch is that lots of the wool is either up high, on perilous platforms or in areas that are tough to get to, which means that those who aim for 100% completion will find themselves fighting the game’s poor platforming mechanics as they attempt to collect each piece. Furthermore, it must also be noted that lots of this yarn is hidden in locked cages that can only be opened by finding the eight, or so, keys that happen to be hidden within each stage.
Due to a lack of creativity and an obviously low budget, players must do battle against the same UFO three times over during the course of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. Each battle takes place within a closed arena, of sorts, wherein users must avoid getting hit by lasers, balls of electricity and other such hazards. This means jumping from platform to platform, hiding in the corners and using the cat’s weird and unnatural glide ability to hover over air vents. One must also use the glide’s ability to momentarily increase Bubsy’s height while jumping, in order to reach platforms that would otherwise be out of reach.
The problem with these boss battles isn’t just that they’re all the same, or that they all require you to jump on the UFO’s glass top in order to cause damage. No, the real problem is that they’re cheap, difficult and far from player friendly. Unfair is a great term to use, because what transpires is a group of engagements where avoiding being hit can sometimes be impossible. Little time is given to get away from attacks, and sometimes there’s simply not enough. It also doesn’t help that the UFO’s movements are often random, like its attacks.
Truth be told, I didn’t have much of a problem until I got to the second boss and noticed a surprising spike in difficulty. That particular one actually ended up being the most difficult part of the game, by far, and took more lives than anything else. What helped was that, despite being cheap and hard to avoid, this boss — like the others — never reset when I died, meaning that its health bar would remain weakened.
As much as he’s known for cheesy and poor platformers, Bubsy has also always been known for being a loudmouth, with lots of quips and one liners at his disposal. That trend continues here, although I don’t know where the 100 different one liners that the developers advertised ended up getting to. Over the course of my 90, boredom filled minutes with this game, I heard the same few lines over and over again. He frequently calls himself a winner, says he’s invincible, and refers to himself as a furdresser, while also saying something about yarn eating enemies that sounds strangely dirty. His new levels also have a laughable, tongue-in-cheek nature to them, with names like Reservoir Cats, Cabin in the Wools, Back to the Furture, and Wool Wars: The Fur Awakens.
Well, what few levels happen to exist in this terribly short and dreadfully poor game.
Together, the visuals and audio in publisher UFO Interactive’s latest combine to create something offensively dated, terribly ugly and incredibly grating. This feels like something that would’ve been found in a bargain bin during the PlayStation One era, not on PC and PlayStation 4 in the year 2017. No part of this thing looks, sounds or plays like it belongs in this generation, let alone the last couple of decades, and it stinks of rushed development.
Unless you’re a masochist who enjoys playing bad games, or someone who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to such things, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is a terribly easy pass that nobody should ever bother with. How they ever justified asking $29.99 US/$39.99 CAD for it blows my mind, and I’m someone who rented and found some enjoyment in the original SNES games as a young kid who didn’t really know any better.
**This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided with.**
- It's only 90 minutes long
- PSX era visuals, which allow enemies and hazards to blend into the environments around them
- Poor animations, questionable hit boxes, bland level design and terrible bosses
- Bubsy is annoying, and repeats the same one-liners over and over again