Metroidvanias sure are different these days!
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t spend more time writing a game review than you did actually playing the game. While this is a given for longer titles such as Persona 5, it becomes more of a challenge for games like The Sexy Brutale: short experiences with more engaging concepts in their pinky finger than some AAA games can muster in forty hours. In a similar vein, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is a fairly brief title, which might make it difficult to clock in a review under my playtime. However, writing a review for The Woolies Strike Back is easy, because I barely even need thirty minutes to tell you why not to play this pathetic game.
Barely mustering fourteen flaccid levels across a tepid two-hour playtime, Bubsy: The Woolies Strikes Back slaps a $30 price tag, or $40 for the “Purrfect Edition,” on a digital turd which snickering streamers will play for a bit (maybe even to completion), and then never touch again. The only people who should be laughing at Bubsy’s antics this time around are the ones raking in the cash; those who are surely laughing all the way to the bank as dumbasses such as myself drop the dosh to rack up ironic cool kid Internet points by, once again, saying “ugh, BUBSY, am I right?” while winking at the camera.
Perhaps some winking at the camera is what Bubsy needs after all, because some modicum of meaningful self-awareness might have elevated this terminally mediocre title from “bad” to “flawed, but fun.” Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is a stone-cold cash-grab; a game so tooth-grindingly generic that you could pop any model in Bubsy’s place and the experience would be exactly the same. It’s as if the developers needed to churn out a game to score some quick cash, and decided to pick up the cheapest brand-name mascot they could find. There’s no personality, and certainly not any indication that this series once produced some of the worst games of all time.
This isn’t particularly surprising, but it’s especially glaring in a year filled with games such as Super Mario Odyssey and Sonic Mania, both titles that engage with their past in fun and rewarding ways. Sonic Mania isn’t afraid to joke about the less glamorous moments of its franchise, but Bubsy delivers all his terrible-but-not-funny-terrible quips through gritted teeth, praying this mediocre platformer is enough to invalidate his past and launch him back into some sort of legitimate spotlight. Maybe instead of missing the mark with a grossly genuine and painfully generic attempt at making Bubsy financially viable, Bubsy (and his developers) should’ve taken some cues from the game’s ad campaign, and put their money where Bubsy’s smarmy mouth is.
As it stands, Bubsy can trash talk Sonic all day, but he can’t turn that dark mirror of introspection upon himself. The ad campaign for Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back desperately wants you to believe that Bubsy knows he’s bad, and he’s gonna be whipping out his best one-liners to induce those groans we all love (?) so much. The game itself peels back that veneer, revealing a sad and lukewarm title, one that wouldn’t be worth mentioning without the Bubsy name, and one content with doing the bare minimum to be better than its previous installments in order to turn a bit of a profit. Yes, The Woolies Strike Back is “better,” more innovative, and more focused than its predecessors, but that’s like saying being stabbed once is better than being shot twice: technically true, but still unpleasant, and worse than not being brutalized at all. Not to mention the weird appeal of Bubsy’s other truly terrible titles, but I digress. From a pure gameplay perspective, The Woolies Strike Back displays occasional competence – but it’s still light years behind other, more preferable modern platformers.
The platforming mechanics of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back seem good on paper, and, occasionally, feel good in game. No longer content to simply run and hop, the dreadful cosmic organism which inhabits the shell called “Bubsy” is now capable of pouncing a short distance to decimate his foes. In addition, this Being Which Shall Not Be Named has granted Bubsy the powers of flight, which manifest as a glide ability. However, the pounce attack generally arcs right over the heads over any prospective targets, and thus requires infinite patience and a mathematics degree to aim properly. The gliding is actually solid, especially when you can pounce out of it for extra jump height, but expect Bubsy to make bad-but-not-funny-bad comments on the incongruity of a bobcat being able to fly every time you use it.
Even if Bubsy’s gameplay isn’t bottom-of-the-barrel, there’s truly no worthwhile incentive to finish the game. The three (yes, only three) boss battles are all variations on the same lackluster encounter with a yarn-stealing UFO, and there’s nothing on earth that should encourage you to go back through the repetitive levels and 100% the game. The obligatory “Bubsy will be back soon…” title card post-credits should’ve been the final, heinous prize that elicits a chuckle of humorous disbelief, but instead all it gets is a sigh of resignation, and the sense that a joke has finally gone too far. Whatever lingering “bad game” attraction from the SNES and PS1 era has washed off, and with it goes any reason for you to jump, glide, collect yarn, rinse, and repeat for fourteen vapid levels.
Maybe, then, this is the true problem with Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. It’s a terrible paradox: The Woolies Strike Back is so close to being a decent game that it stopped Bubsy from being bad. However, if Bubsy isn’t bad, then he’s not interesting. The meandering, flawed, yet oddly charming levels of the original Bubsy have been replaced with ones technically competent, but emotionally empty. The pitifully cocky and “ugh”-inducing Bubsy of yesteryear is gone, and in his place is an imposter who wears the exclamation-point shirt, but can’t commit to the bit. It’s impossible to intentionally create something bad, and this incarnation of the Bubs proves this truth beyond a doubt. Bubsy is no longer just a humorously failed mascot: he’s a bad imitation of a bad imitation, a creature so robbed of his substance and so disingenuous that he becomes boring – and this is the greatest crime of all.
Trotting out a half-hearted, washed-up actor to cash in on our love of trash, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is an empty revival which should play for an equally empty audience. It’s a failure, but for a completely different reason than its predecessors. I’ve advocated for Bubsy in the past, both as a goof and as an expression of my genuine, yet misplaced, affection for the dorky bobcat. This is a life which I can live no longer. It’s because of people like me who bought the Bubsy Two-Fur on Steam, who streamed Bubsy games during Extra Life, and who earnestly participated in the #VerifyBubsyNOW campaign on Twitter, that the mediocre blight Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back got made. The golden gaming landscape of 2017 has become quantifiably worse, and for that, I apologize. Don’t buy this game.