Review: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back

Unlike countless other anthropomorphic platforming mascots, Bubsy holds no special place in my heart. So after a 20-year catnap (more like a hibernation), the wisecracking bobcat’s return in The Woolies Strike Back isn’t met so much by sweeping nostalgic feels as it is more of an: “Oh yeah, I kinda-sorta remember that t-shirt wearing cat who tried really hard to emulate Mario and Sonic once upon a time. Where’d he scurry off to for all these years?”

After a short-lived attempt at the world of 3D platformers, Bubsy returns to his roots for a by the numbers 2.5D (the models are 3D but the game is played in side-scroll format) collect-a-thon romp that sees that pesky race of intergalactic trolls known as the Woolies crash Bubsy’s cat-crib to steal his prized Golden Fleece. To reclaim his purr-ecious ball of golden yarn, Bubsy must brave a compact 14 stages (tutorial, 10 main stages, 3 boss battles) spanning a forested mountainside, desert canyon, and the outer space. Injecting a dose of pun-tastic humor, the level names, like the title of the game itself, play on references to movie titles. For example, Reservoir Cats, Back to the Furrture, No Country for Old Cats, Star Claws: The Fur Awakens, Cabin in the Wools, and Plan 9 From Meowter Space.

I give the furry fellow a gold star for effort, but in the end Bubsy’s personal attempts at humor fall flat. Supposedly over 100 new one-liners were recorded, but I kept hearing a lot of the same verbal jabs over and over. The jokes aren’t particularly inspired, nor does the Bubster have a particularly charismatic personality, so ultimately his wisecracking attitude just fades into the background. But at least he’s self-deprecating about his place in the pantheon of platforming anthropomorphs, a trait that turns him into somewhat of a sympathetic underdog. I also got a chuckle from the options menu offering a setting, called Verbosity, for controlling the frequency of one-liners. You can set it to Silent Bobcat at 0%, Occasional One-liners in between, or cranked all the way up to Bubsy at 100%, to have him spew quips as often as an obsessively licking cat horks up fur balls.

Like any self-respecting bobcat, Bubsy can run, jump (but not double-jump), climb certain walls, and pounce attack. Somehow he can also now glide through the air like a flying squirrel, because this is Bubsy the damn bobcat, so why the hell not? The objective for each level is to reach the exit within a given pool of lives. Nabbing colorful yarn balls along the way builds a gradually decreasing point multiplier and adds to your overall high score. Leaderboards are provided for posting high scores, but not for competing speed run times. Most levels have something like 600 yarn balls scattered about, so yeah, this game is not shy with the collectibles. Additionally, each stage has three optional objectives: finishing without a single death, finding all t-shirts, and opening the Wooly Vault, a bonus room near the end of the stage that’s chock full of yarn balls but locked behind a gate requiring that you’ve first collected the five golden keys from elsewhere in the level.

To say the game is compact is being pretty generous, because even in earning 100% collectibles and achievements the game only took me about three hours. Ignore the collectibles and optional objectives, and you could probably scamper through the game in an hour or so. Unless you’re OCD about skipping by yarn ball clusters, many levels can easily be cleared by climbing to a high point and gliding past the majority of the enemies and pitfalls.

Indeed, the game’s pretty lenient when it comes to its level of difficulty. Rather than a persistent pool of lives with which to complete the entire game, each level starts you off with nine lives, and provides ample opportunity to add to that total. Bubsy is a fragile feline, meeting his untimely demise from only a single blow. However, collecting a t-shirt pick-up gives Bubsy an invulnerability shield to absorb any one hit. If you manage to keep the shield active, all subsequent shirts grant an extra life. You probably won’t need to burn through many lives, but checkpoints are fairly abundant, so you really won’t ever be forced to retrace a lot of familiar ground, should death reach up and grab you.

The only halfway respectable challenge comes from the three bosses. Or I should say boss, because the game lazily rehashes a Wooly UFO for all three encounters, each one iterating on the last with slightly different attacks and patterns, as well as a larger life bar for an ever-increasing test of endurance and pattern recognition. The third and final battle kicked my butt a handful of times before I finally helped Bubsy rekindle his love affair with a golden ball of wool.

Bubsy’s return to gaming isn’t without merit. The jump physics are a touch floaty and the hit detection is just a hair off, but neither to the point of becoming seriously detrimental to playability. The Woolies Strike Back is a perfectly competent platformer that breezes by without suffering from any critical drawbacks. It’s not a great game. It’s not a lousy game. It just kind of exists, neither offending nor innovating. Fans of the genre, who will use any excuse to pounce on any new game that allows them to run and jump sideways through colorful levels and collect a bunch of shiny trinkets, should be able to claw out a few fleeting hours of harmless entertainment. Like it’s predecessors, though, the game is entirely forgettable, lacking the personality or that one distinguishing characteristic to make it stand out from its place in the middle of the pack, or to inspire more than a modicum of hype for the inevitable sequel. (Yes, there’s a post-credits teaser to that effect. At least the wait until next time won’t be decades.)

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Pros:
+ Wholesome collect-a-thon platforming for all ages
+ Charming, colorful graphics

Cons:
+ Only 10 actual stages (not counting tutorial and bosses)
+ Bubsy still just doesn’t quite have that special mascot magnetism

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also on PS4
Publisher: Accolade
Developer: Black Forest Games
Release Date: 10/31/2017
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Steam key for Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Accolade.

Buy From: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is available on Steam, GOG, and PlayStation Store for $29.99. A PS4 limited edition physical release is available at Amazon for $39.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!