Thanks to Accolade for the review code
Title: Bubsy: Paws on Fire!
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 08/28/2019
In this sequel to Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, you take control of Bubsy and his three companions as they all set out to investigate some strange events going afoot. While the last game featured entirely on Bubsy, this one brings three other characters from other parts of the franchise to the spotlight as well, making this story a big fanservice for whatever fans of the Bubsy lore there are.
While you might assume that this would look and feel like this is running on the same engine as Woolies Strike Back, that’s definitely not the case here.
While the models might look similar in detail, the ones here in PAF are a lot more expressive and animated, and the game’s backgrounds have a lot more to them in general. The music is also pretty great, which is no surprise considering Choice’s resume.
Even better, in some bizarre twist of irony, the voice acting here in the game is surprisingly good. While there aren’t many cutscenes at all (only two!), and Bubsy still has an obnoxious voice, the direction here is waaaaay better than in Woolies Strike back, with not as many line repeats and better performances all around, even for the new characters! Definitely an aspect that had a lot of love put into it, which I was very pleased to see.
Paws on Fire is split into four different auto-scrolling playstyles, each related to one of the four playable characters. Bubsy’s the titular hero, and has a playstyle that’s easy to get used to, with the abilities to jump, dash and glide at your command, as you work on avoiding obstacles while collecting each item in a stage.
The great news is that these levels play so much better than those of Runner 3, and while it still falls way shorter than the heights of Runner 2, these stages are competently made and are fun enough to keep you going and wanting to perfect them, just like how Choice’s Runner games managed to pull it off!
Next up is Virgil, who plays exactly like Commander Video from the runner games, save for being able to double jump. He’s the most familiar feeling of the four, and definitely the recommended pick for those wanting this to be the most akin to the Bit Trip Runner games. Not much else to say for him, but he definitely is the easiest of the two “running” characters, I feel.
Then, there’s the Woolie, who oddly ends up being my most favorite by far, as her stages play like horizontal shooter stages, with quicker pacing and fun layouts, making them the most replayable. It may not be jumping focused anymore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to fly around in the Woolie’s saucer and shoot things down while collecting all you can. Definitely the preferred character for pick up and play action.
Last but not least, is Arnold, an Armadillo only playable in bonus stages accessible if all three characters get every piece of his medallion in a stage. These are pretty fun, with going down a tunnel with lots of obstacles to dodge while still focusing on collecting as many gems as possible, bringing to mind a mix of Sonic special stages and the core running levels, and it’s done in a super fun way. It’s just a bit of a shame that these stages are few and far between compared to the main three, and you have to repeat a stage three times just to play one of his stages.
So, upon clearing a stage on the map with one character, you assume that you can move onto the next stage with the same character, right? Well, no, since you have to get enough medals from clearing stages in order to progress, and the only reliable way to get the medals to progress, is by clearing the same stage with the other two main characters, since their variants of the stages are technically new stages, thus earning them medals upon completion. Arnold stages also earn you a medal, but the aforementioned stage repeating required just to play his levels is a big drag in itself.
This progression medal system means that you’re encouraged to basically clear every stage three times, once as every character, just to be able to progress through the end of each world. You don’t have to perfect the levels, but the fact you can’t just pick your favorite and use them for the main stages at least is just absurd, and feels like a lame way of doing artificial padding to extend the game’s length, in order to make up for the few worlds in the game. There’s no reason for them to do this, either, since the stages are still perfectly good as they are, and having to play different variants with each character just to progress in general doesn’t make them feel better, but they just drag out more and more.
In the end, these four characters and playstyles are still really well-crafted and enjoyable, and collecting everything in a stage is still a fun challenge to take up if you want. But the utterly asinine progression gating completely kills the pacing of this game for a casual playthrough, which is a true shame. It would make a lot more sense to have this gating focused on Arnold’s stages only, or 100% completion purposes, rather than the main worlds. So while Paws on Fire is still a fun, short experience at the end of the day, its bogged down by a lot of unneeded padding.
In the end, Bubsy: Paws on Fire ended up being a pretty fun game, one that I found to be a lot better than even Runner 3! However, it still feels very basic in the grand scheme of things, and lacks some of the creative insanity from Runner 2. The odd part about this whole thing is that I ended up vastly preferring the playstyles of Woolie and Arnold more than Bubsy and Virgil, probably because their levels ended a lot quicker and felt more fluid and fun.
This leaves me in a strange situation. On one hand, the game is well designed, enjoyable, and 3/4 of the playstyles are just pure joy to play (with Bubsy’s being the most boring of the bunch). But on the other hand, parts of this game feels like stuff I’ve already done before, and the weird level gating aspect puts a damper on my enjoyment by forcing me to replay certain levels as multiple characters, when I just wish you could stick to one or two for the main game, instead of all three, and save the bonuses for 100% purposes.
In some ways, the progression problems caused me to prefer The Woolies Strike Back, while in others, I truly felt that Choice Provisions did a great effort in making the most polished Bubsy game to date. I just wish it was up the same outstanding qualities as Woah Dave and Runner 2, and wasn’t afraid to let the player go through the game the way they wanted to despite the short length, rather than being in fear of it.
I give Bubsy: Paws of Fire a 6 out of 10.