Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Year Released: 1993
I know I’ve been doing a lot of SNES games for Throwback Thursday lately, and I want to assure you that I haven’t gone fanboy or anything. I picked up a handful of Super Nintendo games at VGXPO last month, but the busy review season has kept me from having much free time to play them. I bought this game because of sheer nostalgia, despite not having played it in over a decade. I never owned Bubsy, because I never had a 16-bit console as a child. However, one of my best friends had the game, and I would spend a lot of time at her house playing video games with her and her brother. When they got Bubsy, I fell in love with it instantly. In fact, I remember being obsessed with this game, and I also remember my friends and my brothers wondering why. After playing it again, I can kind of understand where they were coming from.
With the success of title characters Mario and Sonic in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was no surprise when a rash of platformers starring wise-cracking animals emerged during this time. Like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Gex after him, Bubsy the bobcat was designed with mascot appeal, although he never quite reached that level. In Bubsy, the titular cat must make his way through five worlds with similar-themed levels in each, similar to the Mario and Sonic games. Unfortunately, the world has been invaded by Woolies, alien creatures from the planet Rayon, who are among the most annoying enemies in the history of platformers. Woolies can be a nuisance in multiple ways, including jumping up and down, throwing eggs and cheese at Bubsy, and trying to blow him away (literally, by breathing very hard in his direction). In addition, Bubsy must watch out for, among other hazards, water, spitting gumball machines, and sharp tacks.
There’s still a lot to like about Bubsy, starting with its appearance. Bubsy is a really nice-looking 16-bit game, and I remember loving the level design as a child. There are so many details that really make each area pop, and the variety in the different worlds is also neat. It’s fairly challenging for someone who hasn’t memorized every single level, and as someone who loves old-school platformers, I still found it enjoyable. That being said, the game is not nearly as obsession-worthy as I once thought it was. Bubsy starts out with nine lives (because he’s a cat… get it?), which I thought seemed like a lot for a 16-bit game. However, it soon became apparent that he needs those lives, because it is far too easy to get killed.
For a bobcat with the ability to jump and glide, Bubsy sure is a vulnerable guy. First of all, there’s no incremental health meter of any kind, so touching an enemy or harmful obstacle results in an instant death. Bubsy will also die if he falls from too high, goes in water ankle-deep or higher, falls off a rollercoaster, gets hit by a gumball, and sometimes, honestly, he’ll keel over and you won’t even know why. Maybe the game’s developers wanted to show off his numerous death animations. At any rate, Bubsy can be pretty unforgiving. There are checkpoints scattered throughout each level, which is helpful, but doesn’t entirely dissipate frustration. To make things worse, Bubsy will sometimes get killed by jumping into something that wasn’t visible onscreen, and there are some levels that seem designed to make you fail if you don’t have the whole thing memorized. Trust me, even with the number of extra lives strewn about, you’ll still be going through them pretty fast. After hearing Bubsy say the same punch line at each level screen every time you die (seriously, dude, say “More like a bridge too short” one more time), you will soon want to strangle him yourself.
It’s not that Bubsy is a bad game; it wasn’t in 1993, and it’s not now. It was well-received and spawned several sequels, including Bubsy 3D, a PS1 installment that is regarded as one of the worst games of all time and ultimately killed the series. While I have many bitter memories of Bubsy in his 3D form, I can still find 2D Bubsy enjoyable. I’m sad that it’s not the wonderful, amazing adventure I thought it was fifteen years ago, but hey, I was ten, give me a break. It may not hold up like I wanted it to, but I’m still glad I picked it up.