Thanks to ACCOLADE for the review code
Title: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back
System: Playstation 4
Release Date: 10/31/2017
In this surprising retro revival, you take control of Bubsy as he goes on a quest to retrieve his golden ball of yarn from his alien rivals, the Woolies! Overall, the story barely exists outside of an image that demonstrates this plot in the intro, and one that pops up for the ending and credits, so it’s mainly an excuse plot.
Visually, the game looks stellar, using the same engine of the equally beautiful Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams to give a 2.5D perspective that works wonders. While the backgrounds are a step back in quality from Giana, Black Forest still managed to create a good looking game, which makes this so much better on the eyes than any previous Bubsy game, as not only do the visuals look better in general thanks to the great shading, but the field of view is greatly improved compared to previous entries.
In terms of the audio, there’s unfortunately little to praise here. While Chris Hulbeck of Giana Sisters and TURRICAN fame returns to compose the new Bubsy, there really aren’t that many memorable songs, and the music as a whole is pretty forgettable with the exception of the main theme. But by far the biggest part of the sound comes from the infamous voice acting, which is a part of Bubsy’s character almost as much as Gex is defined by his “attractive” voice. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about hearing the horrible, hi-pitched monstrosity of the Bubsy 3D voices, and the new voice actor they picked for Bubsy is the best one yet, fitting the character well and not being hard on the eyes from just one sentence. It’s kinda strange that despite all the chatting he’s capable of, Bubsy doesn’t really show much emotion in the actual stages, save for giving a goofy face whenever he dies and flies off screen.
That doesn’t mean that his lines won’t irritate you, however, as even when you max out his chattiness (by turning it up to the setting called “Bubsy”) or leave it at the default settings, he goes through the same recycled lines pretty quickly. No Bubsy, I don’t care about Taco Tuesday, nor do I wonder why you can glide with just a T-Shirt on. Some more line variety would have been really nice, but as it stands I can only recommend turning his voice down a bit below the default setting so he just talks every once in a while, in order to not be driven insane.
The main objective of each stage is to make it to a giant yarn ball sign at the end, where you’re awarded bonuses depending on if you managed to beat the entire level without dying, collected every single T-shirt, and nabbing every ball of yarn in the stage, which requires you to hunt down keys to unlock a big vault near the sign. With only three worlds to explore and thus only three bosses to fight, this game is over in no time at all if you ignore the exploration, which can make the game feel pretty unrewarding once you complete it.
That being said, even as a completionist myself who enjoys getting everything in these types of games, I couldn’t help but feel that the first world flew by very quickly, and despite a simple yet short boss fight at the end of the world, it felt as if the game was going along at too fast of a pace. This is made more apparent by the fact that in the later half of the game the developers seemed to become aware that their game was short, and thus padded out the second and third boss fights with lots of waiting for the boss to do something interesting, all while encouraging the player to go out of their way to complete the optional bonus objectives in the stage, despite the fact that when you skip them, there aren’t too many levels to go through.
For example, the second fight is up against a UFO that flies around the screen, shooting lasers that the player must carefully dodge with by gliding over an air vent to avoiding coming into contact with them, before the UFO moves around some more, repeating the process before it finally exposes itself to attack. Even if you master the pattern of this fight, it’ll take a good three minutes at least to beat solely because of how long the fights drag out. Thankfully if you die you’re able to resume the fight with the boss at the same health as it was before your death, with the only consequence being that you would fail the no-death bonus.
Sadly, there’s no quick retry option, which is very frustrating if you’re doing said no-death run of a boss battle or stage and just want to quickly restart from the beginning without having to wait through brief loading screens, so overall the boss battles go from being average to boring, long chores where you’re waiting for something interesting to happen, and with only three bosses there’s not much hope of seeing things improve.
Luckily, despite the boring boss fights, Bubsy controls perfectly fine, being tight, responsive and no longer dying from falling too high. He does have one-hit deaths still if you don’t grab a T-Shirt for protection, but since they’re plentiful throughout each of the stages, this game is by no means as cruel as Giana Sisters was at times. In fact, if a level’s too tricky, you do have the option to skip it entirely by going to the padlock blocking the next level of the game and entering the password from the level before the previous one. (or just by looking them up online) You can use this method to cheese the entire game and just fight the bosses, (which cannot be skipped) but this isn’t recommended as it’ll make the already short experience even shorter, since 100%ing the main game will only take a handful of hours if you’re going in blind, and there’s no online leaderboards of any sort for speedrunning, which is a shame as this game feels perfect for a speedrunner.
In conclusion, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is a shocking case of an infamous franchise finally finding redemption in a well-built, solid sequel. While it’s easily the best of the Bubsy franchise, I can’t help but be really upset at the short length of the game, and unless you’re aiming for all the achievements (Which require beating every single level to 100% completion without dying) this game can easily be beaten in an hour if you play through all the stages and get the hang of the game, or even less if you decide to use the passwords and only fight the three bosses. For $29.99, this game is a lot like Steel Empire in that it’s a well-made game would be worth checking out if it wasn’t for an absurd price point. (which seems to be the case solely because it’s a retail game)
But even Steel Empire had replayability and gave you reasons to replay the main campaign, which makes the lack of something such as a Speedrun mode, more levels, different difficulty options or anything to encourage a second playthrough all the more apparent. Still, if you ever see this on sale, I can give it a solid recommendation if you’re a fan of platformers and enjoy exploring every nook and cranny of in each level like myself. I give Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back a 6 out of 10, and recommend platforming fans at least give it a try, but only when it drops below the current and absurd $30 pricetag to something more reasonable like $10 or $15.