Honestly, even once I got my hands on Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, I remained confused by how such a thing existed. A third-rate platformer had been resurrected from the bowels of YouTube hell through irony and gumption alone, I suppose. Considering the amount of studio closures happening these days, video games aren’t particuarly cheap to produce, but somehow this reboot managed to not only get green lit, but fully released? I guess you just have to understand that some things don’t make any sense, no matter how hard you think.
For those who are perhaps blissfully unfamiliar with the character, Bubsy was one of many failed platformer mascots that got churned out during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Despite only appearing in four games, with one of them being on the failed Atari Jaguar platform, an ironic appreciation of the character has cropped up over the years. Which is crazy to me, because even the “good” ones on 16-bit consoles have aged poorly, and Bubsy 3D is unspeakably awful. However, the resurrected Accolade, which is just an off-shoot of Tommo Inc., saw there was a market for the character, commissioned Black Forest Games to develop something, and here we are.
As the subtitle suggests, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back once again sees the titular feline doing battle with the Woolies, a race of aliens obsessed with stealing fabric. Unfortunately for them, the extraterrestrials have nabbed our hero’s prized golden ball of yarn, which nudges their greatest enemy out of retirement for another adventure. That’s really about it when it comes to plot, which is light even for a genre not particularly known for strong story-telling. Considering the obnoxious personality of Bubsy, though, this is probably for the best.
The lack of any semblance of story is easy to look past if the gameplay itself is enjoyable. This is how Sonic got to be as popular as he was. However, even by that low standard, Bubsy cannot match up. Like how he controlled in his previous adventures, Bubsy is the clumsiest of the felines out there. Whether you are gliding, which also serves as a double jump for some reason, or pouncing, which is his only non-head jumping form of attack, it feels floaty and awkward. His cumbersome movement makes even the easiest of jumps annoying to deal with. The Woolies Strike Back lacks the challenge that would make these terrible physics truly a pain, but that doesn’t excuse them from feeling as shoddy as they are.
There’s also no real goal for each of the levels in The Woolies Strike Back other than just making it to the end. Technically, I suppose Black Forest Games would like you to take the time to collect every ball of yarn and Bubsy t-shirt in a level, but you would have to be clinically insane in order to want to do that. Outside of bragging rights, collecting all of these does nothing for you. You can just clumsily slip and slide through each level and get the same experience as someone who bothers with picking up every multicolored piece of fabric out there.
Outside of the meager 11 regular levels in the game, there are also three boss fights that are equally unremarkable. Each one sees Bubsy square off with a Woolie-piloted UFO with a few different attacks depending on the battle. The main game is already lazy enough, but these boss battles are something else. Again, it’s the same boring design each time, just with a few, easily dodged attacks separating them. There’s nothing fun or creative about these tussles, and they drag on for longer then they really should. All told, the entirety of The Woolies Strike Back can be finished in less than two hours. For even a budget-priced effort, this is ridiculous.
The generic boss designs are emblematic of Bubsy’s failure visually, as well. The title does boast bright, colorful visuals, and there are some differences between the different sections of the game. But there was nothing particularly interesting about the level design of the game, and it tends to reuse similar layouts for every stage. They all begin to run together after awhile. There are also only a handful of enemy designs in the game, as the Woolies are apparently a very bland looking race of aliens. Everything about the look of the game just screams “cheap” which fits the quality of it, at least.
I’ll take the unmemorable visuals of the game over the awful sound design of Bubsy any day of the week, though. Bubsy was always a very quippy character, and that characteristic appears here to. However, this obnoxious trait was unbearable in the 1990’s, and is somehow even worse now. The lines they have this poor voice actor spit out are some of the laziest, hackiest bits of “comedy” I have ever heard. Even if you turn down the dialogue, you’ll still manage to punish your ears with some truly terrible background music.
It’s just confusing to me that Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back turned out as terrible as it did. Black Forest Games is a capable studio, and I genuinely enjoyed their last major platformer, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. But this is such a poorly designed trash heap, that I can’t fathom what happened to the studio between 2012 and now. At its best, Bubsy’s latest outing is unremarkable and short, and that’s the highest possible praise I can give it. It doesn’t help that you can’t shake a stick without hitting a better title in the genre. Make no mistake, this is a bad game, but it’s poor quality stands out even more so now. 2017 has been a great year for gaming, and I beg of you, even if you are ironic on a completely unheard of level, avoid this cheap, sloppy mess.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is about as good as a Bubsy game can be. Unfortunately for this sloppy, cheap and noisy platformer, that's an unfathomably low bar to clear.