GameSpite Journal 10 | Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind | Dev.: Solid Software | Pub: Accolade | Genre: Sonic-like | Release: May 1993

Sonic the Hedgehog had a huge impact when he tore through the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly in that famous teaser ad. A combination of slick programming and equally slick marketing convinced gamers around the world that Mario was old and creaky and that the new wave of the future was blazing fast, covered in spikes and fur, laden with attitude.

It was quite possibly the worst thing that could have happened to video games.

Need proof? Consider Bubsy the Bobcat. Four years before The Simpsons brought us Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie, Accolade brought us the real thing. Bubsy may or may not have been forged in the crucible of focus testing, but he was absolutely the sort of character created by people who looked at the success of a work like Sonic and decided to offer their own take without taking the time to really dig down and figure out that what made Sonic the game a true classic wasnít its heroís look or attitude. Those things were mere window dressing to a masterfully crafted game crammed with great level design, interesting mechanics, and expert programming.

Bubsy, on the other hand, focused almost entirely on the character. Bubsy the Bobcat was a true Sonic-come-lately; where Sonic had an idle animation, Bubsy had numerous comical death animations, multiple idle animations, and smug-sounding voice clips. He exuded a middle-schoolerís idea of cool, all smirks and winks and hijinx. And, being a middle-schooler at the time, I was pretty amused by Bubsy! For a week or two, anyway.

After a while, though, the shallowness of the game design began to overshadow the strengths of the game. Bubsy himself was kind of amusing, and those wacky death animations were fun, but before long they began to point to the gameís overall mediocrity. Bubsy was given nine lives per game, because he was a cat, see! But also because the levels were full of cheap, arbitrary, deaths that were difficult to avoid without precise memorization. And probably because the designers were really proud of the work they put into those animations and wanted to show them off as much as possible.

Bubsy desperately tried to ape Sonicís sense of breakneck speed and convoluted level designs with water chutes that sent players speeding out of control, but in doing so it demonstrated a failure to understand that the genius of Sonicís high-speed sections was in the way they offered one possible route of many through its intricate, multi-tiered stages. Dashing through Sonicís stages was rarely dangerous and never sent players into super-dangerous situations; rather, the challenge inherent there was predicting opportunities to find new paths and sustaining your momentum. Bubsyís water slides were typical mine cart crap. Sonic collected rings not only to earn extra lives, but also as a test of skill (can you keep them all until the end of the stage?) as well as a cushion to protect against unexpected enemy collisions. Bubsy collected yarn for points.

A lot of people blame Sonic for the flood of crappy mascot-driven platformers that inundated the market in the 16-bit era, but thatís not fair. Blame developers who wanted a piece of that delicious hedgehog pie but didnít understand what made it so tasty in the first place -- a march to missing the point, with a smirking bobcat at its vanguard.

By Jeremy Parish? | Jan. 3, 2012 | Previous: The Super FX Chip | Next: Alien 3