Bubsy: Paws on Fire!

February 4, 2020
Developer: Choice Provisions
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Platform: Nintendo Switch

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Everything, apparently.


It's Runner but with Bubsy. Let's be real: Bubsy only had one or two decent games. The rest have ranged from "meh" to "one of the worst games of all time". I don't understand why Bubsy was shoved into an endless runner this time, but here we are. The core concept is pretty much exactly the same as Runner: you never stop running and you have to get to the end of the level while collecting things. However, one of the greatest things about Runner—the musicality of it all—is missing. In Runner, every jump you make, obstacle you pass, and item you collect fits to the beat of the music. When you really get into the swing of things, you get into the groove of the song and everything feels like it fits. It's not complicated, but it feels great. Bubsy, on the other hand, feels like garbage.

There are four playable characters in Paws on Fire. Three of them play through the normal levels, and one is used exclusively for bonus levels. In case you didn't pick up on this: you are supposed to play through every level three times: once per character. None of those three times are entertaining. You can pick and choose, at least: you could get by on playing some of them twice, or picking and choosing which levels to play once, twice or not at all. If you beat every level as every character in the first two worlds, you can almost skip the entire 3rd world and go straight to the last boss.

There are "only" three worlds with nine levels each, plus nine "bonus stages" per world which are for the fourth character. To fully complete the game, you will be playing through each normal level at least three times (more if you miss any tokens to open the bonus stage). Unfortunately, it's obnoxious enough to play most of the levels even once, let alone three times.

The Characters

In Paws on Fire, you are granted the privilege of suffering in three different ways per level. Two of these involve platforming and one of them plays out as a 2D side-scrolling shoot-em-up. A lot of older platformers had a 2D shmup placed somewhere in the middle, so this isn't as arbitrary as it seems at first glance. Bubsy and Virgil are the two platformer characters, each with their own set of abilities, and Woolie is the shooter character who flies around in a UFO.

Bubsy can jump one time, glide to slow his descent, "pounce" (which is really more like a dash) to destroy enemies and get some more distance on his jump, and perform a "fast drop" to descend very quickly. According to the hints displayed by the game, Bubsy's levels are "easier than Virgil's", but I find the opposite to be true: Bubsy's levels are possibly the most obnoxious of them all. You can tell that the enemies are laid out to follow obvious patterns and it always seems pretty clear that you need to jump here or pounce there, but oftentimes you have to be way more precise than is necessary. The reason it feels this way is that other times, the game coddles you by tweaking your jump angle and height to make everything flow nicer. It can't seem to make up its mind when it wants to help you out or let you fail. This applies to Virgil's levels as well. Bubsy's final unique trait is that his levels' load times are abysmal.

Virgil can perform a second jump while in the air; he can also slide underneath platforms and enemies. He collects little planet/atom-looking collectibles rather than yarn balls. His levels are supposedly harder than Bubsy's, but I found them much more straightforward. While not fun, they were at least less frustrating because the double jump gives you so much more control and makes things so much more forgiving, which is necessary given the game's near-broken nature. Virgil also has little bounce pads which require you to do the "fast fall" move above in order to use, which is obnoxious. I see no reason the developers couldn't have just made them work when you touch them; the whole "press down to go higher" thing is unintuitive and frankly, annoying.

Woolie's levels are "the most fun" of the three main characters, and by that I really just mean "the least frustrating". You have a button to move and a button to shoot. There are occasional power-ups which double or triple your shots temporarily. For some reason, when you are shooting you move much slower than when you are not. These stages are extremely easy to the point where I was practically falling asleep playing them. Snore.

Each character has a "BONUS" gauge which counts up under different conditions. For Bubsy and Virgil, you must stay in the air as much as you can while defeating enemies and collecting items. For Woolie, it comes just from defeating enemies. The bonus gauge acts as a combo meter for those insane enough to desire playing through these levels multiple times to get a high score and a spot on the leaderboards.

Give the Level Editor to the Intern

It seriously feels like they just handed a level editor to an unpaid intern and told them to have at it. There are chunks of level that appear over and over and over again—very clearly copied-and-pasted at least in spirit, if not in reality. The environments are lackluster, boring, and worst of all, repetitive: for the first world, every level looks exactly the same; in the second world, there is a slight variation in environments (but it starts out almost identical to the first world!); and in the final world, you are taken from an outside zoo, to an aquarium for a few levels (finally, a welcome change!) and then immediately back to the same zoo for the rest of the world. The environments in this last world are so lacking in asset diversity that you see the same cages, concession stands, and animals over and over and over. They are completely forgettable. Deaths are not unfair, at least—but they are annoying.

Unamusing at Best

Speaking of forgettable, the game is also completely unfunny. I don't mind this so much when a game is cheesy or edgy and doesn't take itself seriously (or takes itself so incredibly seriously that it comes off as hilarious—think Sonic Adventure 2), but Paws on Fire seems to think it's a genuinely hilarious game. Not a single hint screen tip made me so much as exhale air from my nose, except for one which made me smile the first time I saw it, but not so much the next seven hundred times it came up. The one-liners spewed by each character before the levels were horrible and I've already forgotten them all except for the original "What could possibly go wrong?"—which is really from the original Bubsy, so this game doesn't even get credit for it.

The "bonus stages" are unlocked by collecting three pieces of a special token on each character on one level. In other words, Bubsy, Virgil and Woolie must each collect their own three pieces. Once you do this, you unlock the bonus stage for that level. It is impossible to lose these levels—literally. You cannot fail. They take place in a tube, which is very awkwardly controlled by moving around its edges, like Sonic 2 but with a full-pipe instead of a half-pipe. You play as Arnold the awkward armadillo who must roll around and pick up gems while avoiding tubs of glue and bags of farts, which deplete your combo meter. I wonder if someone giggled to themselves and felt accomplished when they decided that farts, of all things, should be the main antagonist of these levels. These are probably the most entertaining levels in the game despite the awkward controls and infantile humor. They also load quickly and come to an end quickly, which is nice.

There is a functional game here, so it's not a complete loss. It doesn't totally hurt to play through. There are bugs (for example, collectibles stuck inside things that kill you, making it technically impossible to 100% some levels), but the game itself is not totally broken. It is still, however, insulting in more ways than one. Maybe buy it for your little kids or something if you have them—even then, though, there are better options.

Pass on it unless you enjoy being frustrated or really, really love Bubsy.

Final Rating