Review: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back

The early ’90s were an interesting time in gaming for many reasons. The industry was moving towards polygonal gaming, with 2D fighters and side-scrolling brawlers being huge as well. On the platforming side of things, you had Sonic and Mario and then “everyone else.” Tons of characters existed, with some like Zool doing just that. Bubsy was different, through. He was a wise-cracking character and had a unique look — with a white shirt and giant red exclamation point at least allowing him to stand out. The two major 2D platformers he was featured in, however, were heavily-flawed and his lone 3D outing killed the franchise for 20 years outside of re-releases. Now Black Forest Games is at the helm and that’s good thing for Accolade — because their work took the Great Giana Sisters from obscurity and gave them a level of not only fame, but also critical acclaim that was previously lacking. Their work with Giana Sisters: Twisted resulted in one of the best platformers of the past decade and Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back uses a similar polygonal side-scrolling platformer style as that incredible game while also changing things up so this doesn’t feel like a reskin of a past game.

Poor Bubsy has had his precious golden fleece ball taken from him by the woolies and you’re out to hop on them and pounce on them to get it back by any means necessary. Jumping works well, but the all-new pounce ability is what helps separate the all-new Bubsy from the prior one — that and a much-needed addition of polish to the presentation. The pounce has you leaping at foes and also using it as a way to get around the terrain. It can allow you to jump fairly large gaps with ease and if you chain it with a jump and/or some enemy jumps, you can clear a lot of an area fairly quickly. Pouncing allows you to burst through rock formations and find hidden goodies — so while finding a black shirt can help you take one more hit, the real key is finding more of them because then you add an extra life to your lineup. Hidden keys also help you out a lot because they can unlock a yarn vault — and the more yarn you collect, the higher your score will be at the end of the level. Pouncing does have major downsides though — with the biggest one being just how hard it is to aim. It acts as a giant forward-leaping springboard of sorts and while its trajectory is always the same on the ground, it can be difficult to figure out where you will wind up landing in real-time when you combine it with a jump.

Bubsy’s bounce is easy to time on enemies, but the pounce can lead to a few needless hits or deaths. Fortunately, with the extra hit and easy lives to obtain, it’s not a major issue — but it does lead to some frustration. The incredible thing about The Woolies Strike Back is that while it’s flawed, thanks to it being rooted in the Giana Sisters reboot, the core game is quite good. The platforming itself is rock-solid and you have a lot of little shifts in the platforming to ensure that you make use of everything in the environment to excel.

Bubsy retains his glide from the first game, and thankfully, that’s about all he retains from it. The glide allows you to carefully aim your head bops and also grab more yarn in mid-air. Bubsy can also climb onto rope-like textures on the walls to not only attack, but move around the area and find hidden areas. Wind gusts allow you to use the glide to fly upwards and can be invaluable during certain boss battles. Some platforms also rise up and allow you to plan attacks better, while others fall down quickly and force you to move around quickly.

The original game was known for having you slide around far too much and Bubsy never quite felt like a character you were fully controlling. Now, thanks to it being on a different engine, Bubsy feels far better. Outside of the pounce, you can always feel confident that Bubsy will go where you want him to and that is a small thing — but an important one for a side-scrolling platformer. Bubsy’s increase in control is much appreciated, but the shift to a completely different engine does show off some weaknesses when it comes to body language.

Bubsy in mid-air is just completely still — it sticks out when you’re jumping and it stands out more when you’re going down a deep chasm. It looks odd and a bit cheap. Bubsy may not have been in a great game before, but the character had vivid animation, which isn’t the case now. His animations are a bit wooden and his face now lacks any expression during the core game. This isn’t an issue during cutscenes, where you get a sense of the jovial nature of the character, but that no longer comes through with his core body language in the game itself.

Other than the lack of expression, the revamped Bubsy as a whole looks good. The environments have effective lighting and it adds a sense of realism to the in-game world. Character animations are solid, and bosses and other enemies have good enough animation to not only look smooth but also remain easy to figure out in real-time to avoid attacks. The environments are impressive to behold now too — with rock formats having a ton of little creases in them and things like trees blowing in the wind somewhat realistically. Small touches really do help out the game as a whole.

Musically, The Woolies Strike Back doesn’t hold up well. The soundtrack has a fair amount of whimsy to it, but nothing sticks with you after it. The best part of the audio is Bubsy’s quips — which may seem strange, but work here. The clips are frequent, but offered up with enough variety to never get old. Bubsy talks smacks about his past games and issues with it — which does showcase that Accolade can at least poke fun at the franchise’s history and is planning something for the future with this as the new foundation.

Closing Comments:

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back may not be perfect, but it’s easily the best Bubsy game ever made. As a side-scrolling platformer, it’s a rock-solid entry in the genre. Bubsy now controls far better than he did in prior games and while there is an issue with a lack of life within the character due to poor body language, it’s a worthwhile pickup for platformer buffs. His new pounce is tough to learn, but is an effective tool to¬†quickly run through the game. The 2.5D appearance is good overall — with an impressive amount of lighting and detail in the environments. Bubsy’s soundtrack is a bit weak now — but his voice clips work shockingly well this time around.