Bubsy: Paws on Fire Review

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I’ll be perfectly honest: Bubsy was a fun enough game for the SNES back in the day, but it wasn’t the best. Despite all the memeing that came in later years (especially with the oddball 3D titles that came afterwards), I didn’t have any particularly strong feelings for Bubsy. It was a sidescrolling platformer with some attack and gliding mechanics, a bit of voicework for short and repetitive catchphrases, and a cat protagonist. Aero the Acrobat was an arguably more involved game that had more difficult but satisfying controls and the main character was QUIET, so I liked that one better. Still, I see that a lot of people got on the “so bad it’s good” bandwagon, and the games continued in spite of overwhelming evidence against it. Now, years later and several development studios left in the dust, Choice Provisions made the call to bring the Bobcat back into the spotlight, and the result, to say the least, is interesting.

Bubsy: Paws on Fire, is the story of Bubsy needing to defeat a giant pig by the name of Oinker P. Hamm (the previous antagonist from Bubsy II), who is trying to collect every animal in the universe for his personal zoo called the Amazootorium. This naturally doesn’t jive well with Bubsy (who’s one of a kind, dammit!), and he needs to put a stop to this offending hog. Bubsy will not go at it alone, either. Bubsy will be aided by Virgil Reality, a vole who previously appeared in the Bubsy TV pilot (yes, that was a thing) and Woolie, a no-nonsense alien who is going to bust around in her personal spaceship and defeat the offending boar with or without Bubsy. Also, yes, Woolies are the name of the alien race, but her name is also Woolie, and Woolies WERE the enemy, but now they’re on your side, so don’t think about it too hard. Also, Arnold the Armadillo is here to be of some assistance, so that’s nice as well.

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Bubsy: Paws on Fire is an autorunning sidescroller that’s all about collecting and completing. Each and every level involves seeing how many of the 150 macguffins you can get for each character (Bubsy gets yarn balls, Virgil gets tiny planets, etc.) and being able to make it to the other end of the stage alive. You can only unlock the next stage by having enough medals, and every character gets one medal per stage, so you end up running the same stages multiple times with different characters just to get ahead. You want to try and also get the three pieces of Arnold’s medal per run, as well, because completing this with all three primary characters (Bubsy, Virgil and Woolie) unlocks a special bonus stage wherein Arnold shoots down an underground chute, getting green crystals and adding another medal to your pile. It’s a game all about repetition, so, if you’re not one for completionism, you might want to take a pass right now: you can’t even get to the second level until you play the first one three times with all three primary characters.

To the game’s credit, and to my immense surprise, the replay is handled exceedingly well, with each character having a different dynamic within. Bubsy is the traditionalist that fans will gravitate towards, and his levels will be the easiest for those familiar with the Bobcat’s moveset. You run, you glide, you pounce on the ground and you do a midair “dash pounce” that can get hard-to-reach yarn balls as well as take out crazy critters in your way. You should become comfortable with Bubsy no matter what, as our main dude does all the heavy lifting against the bosses in the different worlds. However, don’t sleep on the others, who bring a lot to the party and honestly kept things from being too one-note. Virgil has a double jump ability, does this fantastic duck/slide move to dodge into small spaces, and uses his ground pound attack/jump more often than Bubsy does. Woolie is the biggest departure, moving completely around her screen in 360 degrees of madness within her spaceship. She also has lasers that can take out enemies before they even appear on the screen, so her stages can turn into a mixed bag, either being exceedingly easy or very difficult depending on the enemy to manoeuvrability ratio. Arnold’s stages and movements are reminiscent of the Chaos Emerald runs of Sonic 2, asking you to roll down a chute and dodge left and right to get the crystals and fruit (fruit is just for a higher score) and avoid traps and, well, farts. Arnold’s stages are the most polarizing: while easy enough and usually a fast way to get medals, they can be frustrating, especially since an invisible line on the wall decides whether left means left or left means right. That is, when you go too far up the wall, the controls invert and clearly you’re trying to do a full loop. I missed a lot of gems from this.

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Bubsy: Paws on Fire is fun, and I mean that with no malicious or sarcastic tones whatsoever. While I was initially turned off by the autorunning feature (it always makes me think of mobile games), it quickly became apparent that it enhances the experience and the strategy of the game. More often than not, you need to make flash decisions about the path you’ll take and the timing for mashing the button (which makes total sense, since Choice Provisions famously made the Bit.Trip series), and you’ll need to play a couple of times with each character in order to figure out where the Arnold medals are, and then go back and get them again. There didn’t appear to be any sort of reward for getting all 150 collectibles per stage other than personal satisfaction, though the game constantly calling home (very annoying when outside of wifi) made me think high scores were being recorded. The controls do handle very well, and so you get into a groove and understand timing to get the most out of every play. Additionally, using those collectibles to purchase additional costumes (none of which were very expensive) adds a layer of customization that makes it more my own.

And the humor element. Well, if you’ve been a fan of Bubsy’s brand of puns, sassy backtalk and cat-related sarcasm, you’ll get more of that in spades here. Each level starts with a snappy one liner, each death has something wildly off kilter falling from your mouth, and the banter with baddies and fellow NPCs alike can turn into repeatable, annoying mantras at the drop of a hat. It’s clear that Choice Provisions wanted to capture the original spirit of Bubsy while still advancing the game into the modern age, so having the round-yet-detailed 3D graphics combined with positively ridiculous lines (“We tried to make Bubsy wear pants once. It didn’t go well) works out in a way that’s often tread and retread, but never to the point of obnoxiousness. This all-too-short game works out well in gameplay and chuckles, and I appreciate that.

The ONLY thing that would make Bubsy: Paws on Fire is a bit of a QOL patch. The load times between levels and screens does seem particularly long, and I just got a brand new memory card, so I’m confident the problem isn’t on my side. Moreover, I did see some footage from the Steam version, and the loads are significantly shorter, so I’d love if we can trim things down on the Switch’s version. Having said that, there wasn’t any issue with the performance of the game itself, nor do I think the install size is too big or the game is too expensive.  If you’re willing to do a bit of research (i.e. read this article) and know what kind of a game Bubsy: Paws on Fire is, then it delivers what it promises, and does so in a neat and appealing package. I’d personally love to see another Bubsy game in this vein in the future, and would recommend it to fans, young and old, as a good representation of giving a familiar IP a new avenue to scratch out a position within.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Bubsy: Paws on Fire Review
  • Gameplay - 8/10
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  • Graphics - 8/10
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  • Sound - 8/10
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  • Replay Value - 8/10
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Overall
8/10

Summary

In spite of previous titles, Bubsy pulls off this Switch appearance without everything turning into cliche nonsense, resulting in a fun (if repetitive) game.