Bubsy: Paws on Fire! Review — Eat Your Heart Out, Sonic Mania
Finally, a decent Bubsy game. What could possibly go wrong from here?
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “How could a Bubsy game possibly get such a high score?!” I’m telling you, I’m not crazy. Part of Bubsy’s charm is just how bad the game’s featuring him are. 2017’s series revival Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back gave fans some hope that the years of memes would finally pay off with a solid title, but that game was held back by poor presentation, lackluster controls, and a short length.
Surprisingly, Choice Provisions addressed a lot of Bubsy’s problems in Bubsy: Paws on Fire! to deliver a runner that would make Sonic Mania go “that’s decent.” Bubsy: Paws on Fire! certainly isn’t without its problems, but I can confidently say it is a varied and fun endless runner and definitely the best game in the series. Though let’s be honest, that isn’t a very difficult feat.
This is when most of my reviews delve into the complex premise and overall plot… butwere you really expecting that much from Bubsy: Paws on Fire!? To be fair, the game spices up the typical “stop the non-developed bad guy” plot with two cutscenes that have a lot of charm and are filled with references and characters from that infamous animated Bubsy pilot. I never thought we’d see the likes of Virgil Reality, Arnold, Terry, Terri, and Oinker again, but lo and behold, they are all here. While none of these characters are anything more than one-note, Bubsy: Paws on Fire! demonstrates that the developers have knowledge and care for the franchise that no other game has ever shown.
This attention to series detail carries over into the four playable characters. First, you have Bubsy, who can jump, pounce, and glide like usual. Bubsy’s versions of levels are typically easier than the second playable character that adheres to the traditional runner style: Virgil. This vole replaces Bubsy’s glide and pounce with a double jump and slide, allowing for more difficult levels that are technical and precise in the movement required. To round up the lineup there’s the simply named Woolie, who flies a UFO in shoot ’em up style levels, and Arnold, who rolls through tubular levels Sonic Lost World style.
As a runner, Bubsy and Virgil’s sections function quite similarly to those in Runner3. If you weren’t a fan of that series that spun off Bit.Trip, you won’t like this game. That being said, Choice Provisions is consistent in delivering console-quality runners, and the same applies to Bubsy: Paws on Fire!. While there are no specific mechanics or gimmicks that will turn the entire genre on its head here, their levels are, dare I say it, fun. The Bubsy series has always been plagued by its controls, especially when it comes to movement (Bubsy 3D flashbacks intensify), so it’s pretty ironic that the best Bubsy game takes away most of the movement controls.
The Woolie levels are easier but still fun. While there are only 30 levels, there are three variations of each for every character. Even though this may sound like padding, these level types are varied enough to stay fresh. It’s worth playing all three in each level as well, as 75 medals, which are received by completing a character’s version of a level, are required for the final boss. This ultimately provides a meatier Bubsy experience that is actually worth the $24.99 price tag.
In this way, the progression system of Bubsy: Paws on Fire! is surprisingly competent. Players can pick and choose which levels they want to play in order to meet the level unlock requirements. That said, the medal and currency requirements for costumes are high enough where players will get have to get a taste of everything. Three Arnold Medal pieces and 150 of each character’s unique currency are also scattered throughout each stage, and must be gathered in all three versions of a level to unlock Arnold’s special courses, adding even more for players to sink their teeth into.
For those interested in a challenge, Bubsy: Paws on Fire! does actually deliver one, especially in the late Bubsy and Virgil levels. Players only have one life, so dying is frequent. For the most part, this is not a problem as checkpoints are spaced out well, but this decision rears its head in the 3 boss fights, which can be frustrating until the pattern is learned. This is one aspect in which Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is actually superior, if only by a small margin, as generous lives and checkpoints made its few boss fights bearable. Even though the game is fun, these boss fight issues do serve as a blemish on the otherwise solid runner formula.
While Arnold’s level are tubular in a literal sense, they aren’t figuratively. His sections controlled the worst out of anything in the game, especially if a d-pad is being used. Like Woolie, the control stick is the preferable control option here. The saving grace of these levels is that they are all relatively short and can ultimately be skipped in the route to 25, though they do serve as the weakest link from a gameplay perspective. You weren’t expecting a Bubsy game with flawless gameplay, were you?
The other problem with Bubsy: Paws on Fire! is its bland visuals. Just like with Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, Bubsy’s world feels cheap and flat and lacks the same life as its main character. As I’ve mentioned, Paws on Fire is quite similar to Runner3, which also had a fairly bland style at times, so it isn’t surprising that they are similarly underwhelming here. I also ran into a recurring sound mixing glitch that hurt the otherwise solid sound design. If there’s one area a future Bubsy game could improve from here, it’s in the presentation.
While I’ve covered a string of negatives that bring down an otherwise fun game, I’m ending on one of the best parts of Bubsy: Paws on Fire!: its soundtrack. Stemage returns from Runner3 and provides some great tunes that actually sync up well with their respective characters, levels and even the gameplay in some cases. Stemage’s video on the music’s creation is definitely worth a watch if you are interested.
I have never been as pleased with a game of this score before as I am here. While Bubsy: Paws on Fire! isn’t anything outstanding in the grand scheme of things, when looking at it in terms of the whole Bubsy series, Paws on Fire stands as the best entry to date thanks to interesting progression, a great soundtrack, and gameplay that is fun for a majority of the time. It will certainly be a bit odd as a Bubsy fan going forward as there is now actually one good game in the series, but for those who are sick and tired of the memes and insults, Bubsy: Paws on Fire! should be a welcome treat.