Approximate Release Date: May 1, 1993
The release of Sonic the Hedgehog set off a tsunami of copycat animal mascot platformers with attitude in the 1990s, with Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind being one of the more famous examples.
That it took this long for such a quintessential part of my memories of that era of video games is surprising. Sure, 1992’s Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool was the first trickle of the eventual deluge, but even it doesn’t really count because it’s an advergame with a preexisting character. Bubsy was a trailblazer for the SNES.
Bubsy is a bit too basic for its own good. You can’t run and you can’t attack enemies other than bopping them on their heads. The Y button lets Bubsy glide like a flying squirrel, which isn’t as useful as it should be for navigating the stages. It’s slow and hard to maneuver, and I accidentally glided into more than a few pits and baddies.
The real benefit to gliding is more clear in the fiddly precision platforming segments. The movement physics, for lack of a better term, in Bubsy are jacked up. Bubsy has a great deal of momentum whenever he moves. This isn’t a huge deal when just running around as Bubsy will only take a few steps once the D-pad direction is let go. Jumping is another matter. Bubsy has very strange air control. Let’s say you are running to the right and jump to try to land on a small platform. If you overjump and try to pull left to correct your descent, Bubsy will start very slightly moving left. Let go of left, and Bubsy will resume momentum back to the right. It feels like playing a driving game with a miscalibrated analog stick. I thought my controller was broken.
You can adjust to this, though. It’s not unplayable, just unpleasant. Bubsy is generous with continues and extra lives – you even start with nine lives! – so dying because the controls give out isn’t as frustrating as it might be otherwise. The annoying music and lo-fi vocal quips are more effective at getting me to stop playing, anyways.
One thing that struck me about Bubsy while playing was that the developers understood an aspect of Sonic‘s success that most others ignored: the level design. The best Sonic the Hedgehog levels were deceptively open and had multiple paths to the exit that would feel organic and even improvisational to players. Bubsy seems to take many of these design cues to heart and really emphasizes this freedom in at least the first two worlds. It’s nice to avoid a hazard you’ve died to a few times by going in a different direction and finding a whole new set of challenges. It helps ease frustration, even if it isn’t a perfect example of the concept.
Bubsy has received a bit of guff in some circles for being a lazy game. It’s true, but there will be much worse angry critter games coming down the pipe, though. So get ready.
Ultimately, Accolade’s attempts to turn Bubsy into a cash cow whiffed. There were a few sequels released – most notably Bubsy 3D, which is one of the worst games of all time – and an aborted attempt at a children’s TV show. I really recommend watching the pilot because it truly is something special.
Next time: Did you know that Congo’s Caper is the prequel to Joe & Mac? I didn’t!