Bubsy the Bobcat is one of the most disliked mascots in videogame history, and while I have always felt the animosity towards him to be somewhat irrational, I'll concede that his games aren't for everyone. There is the obvious reason (an off-putting "Sonic the Hedgehog" type hero that overflows with attitude), and the more obvious (the series' high difficulty level).
Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales (hereafter referred to as "Bubsy 3") is cut from very much the same cloth as the previous Bubsy games. The action is similar to Mario and Sonic as Bubsy bounces on enemies in a sidescrolling platform world while collecting items and powerups. Each level is a huge sprawling maze that is multiple screens high and wide. Sometimes, parts of the stages are blocked by walls that require a switch to remove, and other parts are only accessible via warp zones. Thoroughly exploring the stages is necessary to find the right paths to the goal.
I'll be honest with you - I am not the world's biggest fan of this type of stage design. It is cumbersome to navigate because you are never quite sure what exactly is above or below you, or where you have to go next (although directional arrows sometimes appear on the screen). I always feel like I never really "learn" the stages so much as I fumble through them until I get to the end. You can use landmarks to some extent to memorize a level, but even that is tricky because it's hard to tell where the landmarks are in relationship to the entire stage. Example: I know there was a platform shaped like a piece of toast & jelly that was near the goal, but where the hell is it?
Bubsy has the ability to run at very high speeds, but it is unlikely that you will get much mileage from this because once you start moving, you are likely to run into an enemy, pit, or smack into a wall (which causes you to lose a few seconds off the clock as Bubsy recovers). Many lost lives will be taken from enemies that were waiting just off-screen and reacted more quickly to your presence than you were able to react to theirs. Therefore, much time is spent using the "look around" buttons to scroll the screen forward, up, or down to make sure you won't run into something that you can't see. Issues like these can hurt the game's pacing, as it's difficult to keep any momentum going.
My belief that gamers are too hard on Bubsy would be unfounded if there wasn't a silver lining, and there is. Bubsy has very good play control (though I had to adjust the settings on Bubsy 3 to mirror the SNES Claws Encounters), which can make bouncing through the levels feel, for lack of a better word, fun. One-hit-kills and mazelike areas make the game challenging, and there is a sense of accomplishment to be had in overcoming these challenges. It is easy to lose lives, but Bubsy starts with 9 and more can be found hidden throughout stages. Even with that surplus, I still found myself consistently getting "game overs". The game has no automatic continues, but thankfully, every stage has a password.
I will even go so far as to say that, despite a few that are pathetically easy once you know the trick, the boss fights in Bubsy 3 are better than the ones from Claws Encounters, which suffered from having almost every boss be similar. I especially liked the final boss because it required me to maintain a very tight rhythm during the first half of the fight to win. Moments like that exemplify everything that is good about sidescrolling platform games. The game has a curious lack of learning curve - it starts out hard and remains at about the same level of difficulty throughout, except for the Arabian Nights world which is undeniably easier. One could say they purposefully gave you a throwaway level in the middle to cut you a break, but why not start with the easiest stage and progess from there?
The graphics are very pretty, using a combination of hand-drawn and 3D rendered objects to create a pleasantly colorful cartoon environment. Although the Atari Jaguar was touted as a 64-bit system, there is nothing here that could not have been done on the Super NES, but that doesn't mean the graphics are bad. They look like a very well-done Super NES game, and the Fairy Tale theme allows for some interesting settings, including the Mad Hatter's tea party, a twisty towering beanstalk, and a world comprised of giant layer cakes and candy bars. The music reminded me of the soundtrack to Kingsley's Adventure (Alastair Lindsey composed both). It's lighthearted, but more subdued than the wacky circus music that so often plagues cartoony platform games. So, it may not impress, but it doesn't annoy, either.
Though it has good things going for it, Bubsy 3 is noticeably unpolished. There is a complete lack of any opening sequence and the ending is a mere scroll of text over the password screen background. The story makes little sense; Hansel and Gretel have kidnapped Mother Goose (??) and this has caused the Fairy Tale worlds to go crazy or something. It's more there to provide an excuse for the Fairy Tale settings than to tell a coherent narrative, but a little more thought could've gone into making it less nonsensical. All of Bubsy's animation is reused from Claws Encounters, and he has fewer one-liners (one per each world, as opposed to one for each individual stage). I thought his death animations (based on common cartoon pratfalls) were funny when I first saw them in Claws Encounters, but it was disappointing to not see any new ones this time.
The game has its moments of wackiness (like a giant Mad Hatter in a teapot on tank treads boss), but the humor is more downplayed than before. I remember laughing out loud at the final stage one-liner in Claws Encounters, "Whoah, are you still playing this thing!?", but nothing in this game had that effect on me. The music that exists is good, but there are no boss tunes, sub stage themes, or end level fanfares as there was in Claws Encounters. It's as though not as much effort went into Bubsy 3, perhaps because it was rushed to completion, or because it was made for a risky, unproven system.
The entire Bubsy series is a footnote in the history of failed videogame mascots, and this entry, unique to the doomed Atari Jaguar system, is a footnote of a footnote. It's a game that few have played and fewer will play to completion. I enjoyed my time with it as it took me back to that era when sidescrollers dominated. But it's not groundbreaking and it would've taken a lot more than this little Bobcat to make a Jaguar roar.
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