After lying dormant for nearly two decades, 2017 saw the release of a new Bubsy title when The Woolies Strike Back released for the PlayStation 4. Much like the many other entries in the series, it was received rather poorly. In our review, it was referred to as probably the last entry in the series of underwhelming platformers. Well, we have some bad news; it wasn’t.
Bubsy: Paws on Fire is an auto-runner style platformer, meaning you don’t actually move across the screen manually. Rather, you merely handle the jumping, and other miscellaneous abilities. You take the reins of the titular feline on your quest to do... something. The game has cutscenes that bookend the game, and that’s it for narrative elements. You play a handful of other characters beyond Bubsy too: Virgil, Woolie, and Arnold. The good news is that each of them play distinctly differently from one another. The bad news is that none of them are fun.
Bubsy plays the most traditionally, with jumping, dashing, and most of the standard platformer moves. Virgil is a more sluggish version of Bubsy, and while much of the game made us want to stop playing video games forever, Virgil is the primary catalyst for us wanting to give up on the title. Woolie’s levels are more like a side-scrolling shmup, and finally, Arnold is a more traditional infinite runner. The level structure has you playing the same level with each of the three main characters - Arnold has separate levels that are unlocked by getting certain collectibles - with minor variations to make them playable for each animal. While a clever way to expand content for a small budget title, this makes the environments not just repetitive, but the entire game grind-intensive.
The problem stems from the need to complete levels with multiple characters to progress to subsequent levels. If it were “bonus” gameplay, and nothing more, it might have worked a little better. This is made even more problematic by the fact that each level within the game’s three worlds are nearly indistinguishable from one another beyond obstacle placement in the environments. The whole title feels like it was made using a consumer-grade map editor.
As if this lack of variety wasn’t bad enough, the game is also ruthlessly unforgiving. Your jumps have to be near pixel perfect, especially with Virgil, but this is more challenging than it sounds as the controls are wildly imprecise, floaty, and unpredictable. While rhythm-based platformers earn the challenge, we found ourselves being hung up on certain areas of levels only to accidentally sneak through an environment on the 80th try for seemingly no reason. Oftentimes the best way to play the game was to not play by the rules. Huge swathes of certain levels can be outright skipped if you figure out ways to navigate around the obstacles. This happens through a combination of poor level design, and what appears to just be development shortcuts. There are large cavernous stretches of the environments are completely vacant, even though you can still travel through them. This is particularly prevalent for Woolie’s shmup levels, as the map leaves too much room to bypass challenges. The result is that her levels can usually be completed in one go, and without any sort of real difficulty.
Another big problem the title has is its general tone. When you pair this with the fact the romp sorely overstays its welcome, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. While the bright colours and cartoonish characters might be charming for the first 20 or so minutes you play, virtually every single possible facet is frustrating or annoying by the game’s end, a few hours later. The amount of variance for dialogue and music is so limited, that we’re not convinced the title had more than five songs made for it. While quirky and fun for a platformer, the songs got old far too quickly. This, paired with the horrendous sound design, resulted in us not only turning the volume down the longer we played, but eventually muting the game entirely.
The audio being more or less worthless to the title is also largely indicative of the title as a whole. Arnold’s infinite runner bonus levels serve no purpose beyond just existing in the game. Each of the levels take about 20 seconds, don’t offer any particularly meaningful rewards, and you can complete the game without doing any of them. Even the boss levels don’t feel necessary. There are three bosses in all, and beyond being slightly more functional than the regular levels, they are neither fun, nor meaningful. And frankly that describes the entire title; neither fun, nor meaningful.
Bubsy: Paws on Fire is a combination of elements that range from merely adequate to frustrating beyond belief. In fact, the best part of the game is often being able to break the rules and cheese your way to victory. With almost zero redeeming qualities to speak of, the only way this game could possibly offer anything of benefit is to Trophy hunters, as there are a fair number of easily unlocked gold trinkets. If that’s not something you care about, then steer well clear - it’s just not worth it. Despite the shockingly long legacy as a series, surely this time must be the last, right?