Remember the early days of gaming? You probably don’t. You’re probably younger than me and you only know of the current state of gaming that features Sonic and Mario but precious little else. So you won’t remember those days where every game company wanted a mascot character that would sell games. Konami wanted one. Namco wanted one. Sega had Sonic. Nintendo had Mario. Basically every single gaming company wanted SOMETHING. The PS1 ended up with Crash Bandicoot in the beginning…
Yeah. I wish they wouldn’t have done that. However, without even the smallest shred of evidence, I shall present to you the case in point as to why mascot characters are really not worth their salt: BUBSY. That name is synonymous with failure, derision, displeasure and genuine, genuine hatred. As much as you want to say the poor character’s been given a bad rep, there really is no denying quite a lot of things about this character but they all basically point to what everyone is thinking when you utter his name:
He absolutely, plainly, completely, insurmountably sucks beyond every reasonable doubt that is purely possible. Everyone in the gaming field KNOWS it and that is why everyone knows who Bubsy is. He’s not famous; he’s infamous. He’s largely known for his derisible mess of a 3D platformer Bubsy 3D: a game so bad that most people still regard it as one of the worst games ever made. And suffice to say that Bubsy’s first iteration was not a whole lot better although for the most part, it does at least work. For the most part.
And lo, I return to this game after seventeen years of not even touching it at all only to remind myself of the utter misery I put myself through at the time.
But here’s the thing: it never SEEMED that bad as a kid. Why? Hype.
Hype’s a funny thing, you know. When Bubsy first appeared in the magazines and all that, there was MASSIVE hype for the game. We’re not quite talking Rise of the Robots levels of hype but it’s not exactly far off. Magazines were going CRAZY over this guy. They said he’d be a Sonic-killer and would be ‘better than Sonic 2’ and all that bobbins. It was genuinely hilarious in hindsight to think that a game as… basic… as Bubsy would get THAT much hype.
They emphasised his speed and they talked about his ‘tude and they made it out as if it was really going to be the biggest thing ever.
Bet everyone feels a bit silly now.
Lo and behold, everyone! For there is a plot here! It is pretty much a crappy example of how not to story! An alien race known as the Woolies want to steal Earth’s yarnballs (I AM NOT FUCKING KIDDING YOU) and seeing as Bubsy has a MASSIVE stash of them, because bobcats just LOVE yarn TRUE FACTS TRUE FACTS, he’s at risk of losing them. So he basically goes off to get them back before the aliens steal them all.
It’s really as flimsy as that. Holy shit.
I mean… seriously. Look, I know that Sonic doesn’t have much of a story past Sonic wanting to find the Chaos Emeralds to stop Dr Robotnik and save his friends and all that but… really? Bubsy’s plot doesn’t even have a purpose. It’s basically “HERE IS WHY YOU COLLECT THINGS AND BEAT ENEMIES.”
Enemies that you don’t even need to kill. Enemies that only need to so much as graze past you and you die. This is exactly what was wrong with Pandemonium – there wasn’t a reason to do… any of it. Why kill enemies that aren’t actually doing anything? So they want wool. Big deal. Do we know what it’s for? Fucked if we know. We knew what Robotnik wanted the Chaos Emeralds for. There aren’t any major reasons for a group of aliens to want… wool. It’s not life-threatening.
And that’s the problem with this game. The set-up really deflates EVERYTHING out of it. There isn’t an actual reason to care.
And holy shit, Bubsy, as a character, you certainly do NOT help matters.
See… Bubsy’s got this attitude going on where he’s made out to be a massive wise-cracking ass. He has this smug expression on his face constantly when standing still and to be honest, given that he dies from being blown on, he’s hardly worth all that and has NO reason to feel quite so fucking full of himself.
At the start of each level, he quips something HILARIOUS as a way of easing you gently into the game. As such, upon pressing start, we are greeted by a voice clip of the eponymous hero asking:
Well, I don’t know, Bubsy. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?
CLUE: nearly EVERYTHING.
Let’s get all of the nice things out of the way first, OK? the graphics are reasonable. They move nicely. There’s plenty of good sprite animation and at the start, it’s fun to watch the death animations, particularly the more unusual ones. The last one I ever found was when I jumped up into an enemy from below and Bubsy split in half. I remember seeing it and thinking it was quite off-putting. There are also water deaths (BECAUSE CATS HATE WATER HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA THAT IS FUNNY) and plenty of fall to your doom deaths too.
But get used to them because DEATH is pretty much a given in this game. Expect to see Bubsy die REGULARLY.
And why am I expecting to see him die regularly? Is it a hard game? Not per se. It shouldn’t be hard. It’s not exactly full of enemies that are likely to blow your head off and whatnot. There are plenty of stationary enemies who literally do nothing but blow raspberries at you. A lot jump about. A few throw eggs. A few walk very short distances and a few roll cheese wheels at you.
Honestly, it’s about as harmless as it possibly gets. But be prepared to be pelted with slow-moving eggs, only for Bubsy to shatter into a hundred pieces because GAMING LOGIC.
Major problem number one: THE CONTROLS.
Good. Fucking. God. These controls are woolly as absolutely anything ever. They are an absolute disgrace. They’re responsive, don’t get me wrong. Bubsy moves and jumps when you ask him to. It’s just that… they… just… THEY’RE SO BAD. They’re honestly just so bad. They float about randomly. If you jump, you might not be able to jump forward in the way you want.., everything feels floaty and the physics of his jumping feels so abominably wrong, I can’t quite put it into words. They’re so bad they make the platforming ten times harder than it ought to be. Imagine a small gap over water that is immensely makable. We’re talking leap across stepping stones level of jumping. An inch on the screen at MOST.
You could fail that easily. In this game, every jump feels like a death trap. You might be quite blasé about it and just jump for your life thinking it’ll be absolutely fine. It won’t matter too much.
NO. IN BUBSY. IF YOU DO NOT JUMP IN A SPECIFIC WAY THAT NO ONE – NOT EVEN THE DEVELOPERS – KNOW ABOUT THEN YOU WILL DIE.
And if you do make the jump, the way the ground is formed means you might slide straight back off without even knowing it.
Major problem number two: THE LEVEL DESIGN.
Imagine asking your little brother or sister to design you a rollercoaster on a clean sheet of A4. Imagine that your little brother or sister has literally no fine motor control at all because they’re… let’s say… 2-years-old at the most. They don’t know what colouring in between the lines is. They just like to make swirly lines on the paper.
Yeah, that’s what happened to the level design here.
Look, here’s an example. I managed to get through an entire level purely by gliding across the top of it and then running the rest of the way to the end.
There is literally no point to having ANYTHING in a level if you can essentially fly right over the top of it without collecting anything or getting ANY punishment for NOT collecting anything. There is absolutely no point to even having ANYTHING littering any of the levels. Supposedly, the game was built on the idea of speed but going too fast means you could bash into enemies and DIE. Going too fast means you basically fall off massive cliffs and DIE. Going too fast means that you have no idea where you’re going and if you’re even going the right way. The fact that this game is game is actually detrimental to it. There is no reason for Bubsy to be fast when the result of BEING fast is pretty much permanent insta-death. In later levels, the game relies heavily on platforming so going fast is counter-intuitive and utterly redundant. By the last stage, you’re basically working your way through corridors on a spaceship so how do you go fast there? YOU DON’T.
YOU DON’T EVEN DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE IN CASE YOU DIE.
WHAT’S THE FUCKING POINT?
OH FUCK OFF, BUBSY. YOU AND YOUR SMART-ARSE TITLE CARDS CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF. YOU’RE AN ABSOLUTE TRAIN-WRECK OF A GAME.
Major problem number three: BUBSY.
Just… no. Bubsy. You’re not cool. You’re not funny. You’re not a wise-cracking comedic wit in any way. You are not in the least bit likeable. You’re a joke. In fact, you are funny. I retract that statement. You ARE funny. You’re a joke and jokes are funny. There.
Look, there’s a reason I said the death animations are funny. Watching Bubsy have pain inflicted by so small things as eggs and a leaf or even a spider is just… mindbogglingly ridiculous. Which is why it’s funny because it’s laughable. You couldn’t find a weedier hero for a game. Someone who bumps into a rollercoaster car – a STATIONARY rollercoaster car – and dies. What even IS this character?
And there are more tiny little irritations that crop up throughout the game. The music is annoying as you’d like. It doesn’t give off any atmosphere. Even the attempted jolly sounds of the funfair levels don’t really work. They sound generic as anything. The wild west theme has this bizarre little FFFBTBFBT sound effect thing going on in the background, like someone forgot to make the music stereo or something. I suppose it’s trying to give off that ‘dust on a vinyl record’ feel or something but… yeah, I dunno. It’s just a bit shit really.
And the enemies… every time there’s an enemy on screen, there’s a bizarre little honking noise that pipes up and it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME AN ENEMY NOTICES BUBSY – which is often – AND IT’S JUST… WEIRD. AND ANNOYING OH MY GOD THIS GAME. WHY DID WE EVEN HAVE THIS GAME?
And as such, Bubsy, this here is another reason as to why people look upon you with such scorn and animosity. There is really no reason for your existence. You don’t give anyone any pleasure at all. The fact that you exist is how we got Bubsy 3D in the first place.
The hype train really did try to roll out this game like it was something special. It hid from us, the general public what it ended up genuinely being: a massive mess.
But OH NO, Bubsy. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
And they fucking well gave him a TV show.
Well… a TV episode.
No one picked it up.
There is justice after all.