Tag Archives: Michael Berlyn

FGC #318 Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales

That tongue bothers meBubsy in Fractured Furry Tales was simultaneously a terrible game and the Atari Jaguar’s best chance.

First of all, God help us, this is unfortunately another Bubsy game. We’ve spoken of Bubsy in the past, and, yes, this is yet another game that tried its best to be Sonic the Hedgehog without having any damn clue about what makes Sonic the Hedgehog an actually good game. Bubsy can run, jump, and accelerate to surprisingly fast speeds. He can also touch something as innocuous as a balloon, die instantly, and have to start all over again. It’s all part of the Bubsy experience! And, like other janky platformers of the time, stages were apparently created by a toddler with a bootleg copy of MS paint, so even basic stuff like “go right” might be called into question when your bobcat has to ascend a series of floating platforms to flip a switch that will hopefully open a gate that leads to a door that takes you back to the start of the stage, but slightly higher. If that sounded confusing, congratulations, you understand what it’s like to play a Bubsy game.

Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales does absolutely nothing to alleviate these Bubsy problems. Stage design is still an incomprehensible mess, enemies still murder Bubsy in instantaneous and inexplicable ways, and Bubsy is still tasked with platforming challenges that require catlike reflexes… while Bubsy is still stuck with a jump that can best be described as “hippo-esque”. In fact, it’s somehow even worse in BiFFT (man, even the acronym for this game sounds like a fart), as there are a great many situations where Bubsy is forced to make blind jumps straight into spikes, lakes, and the occasional boiling chocolate pit. Maybe that’s Bubsy’s greatest weakness? Monsters and hazards scroll onto the screen way too late to be avoided, and, coupled with Bubsy’s complete lack of health points (and no possible way to collect more health), we’ve got a lot of dead Bubsys lying around. Speaking of a complete lack of powerups, all of the “innovations” of Bubsy 2 are gone here, so no nerf blasters for you. Just jumping! Always jumping! Pointed commentaryAnd maybe jumping on that particular thing will kill you, but only one way to find out! Keep sending more Bubsys at that problem! It’s the American way!

So, yes, Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales is unequivocally a bad game. But you knew that already, because Bubsy is synonymous with terrible. Bubsy is a crime in the videogame world, and no amount of community service museum tours will ever change that. Bubsy is bad and should feel bad. The end.

Except… as an exclusive for the Atari Jaguar, BiFFT is actually… perhaps “promising” is the right word. Yes, this Bubsy game seems to promise a better future for the Jaguar.

The Atari Jaguar is famously a failure of a system, but it did have some worthwhile games. For instance, its Alien vs. Predator is actually a good experience. And its port of Doom is, ya know, Doom. Even some fighting games, like Primal Rage, saw sensible ports on the Jaguar (even if the ported game sucked dinosaur tail to begin with). But all the “best of” Jaguar lists (I’m sure there are a few on the internet… somewhere) seem to feature “adult” games. My grandmother may have purchased Primal Rage for me for Christmas back in the day, but I can assure you that she would not have been happy with her dear Bobby playing a game where a T-Rex tears bloody chunks off a giant ape. But she would be perfectly content with me playing another game featuring the little robot boy, or the pudgy plumber with the turtles. This “grandma factor” could not have been good for the Atari Jaguar, as we hadn’t quite hit the Playstation echelon yet, and our current reigning videogame icon was a hedgehog. The Jaguar was named after an animal known for its attitude, but there were no animals with attitude to be found!

And this lack of “cartoony” characters on the Jaguar is important. This isn’t just about appeasing grandmas and enticing children (which was/is a significant chunk of people that play videogames), it’s also about showing what your new system can do. Maybe I’m just reminded of such a thing thanks to gluing Sonic Mania to my eyeballs lately, but you can certainly tell a Genesis game from a Super Nintendo game with just a glance. It takes a little experience (or spending your entire childhood playing these games), but you should be able to notice a significant difference in the palettes and capabilities of both systems. And, if you look closely, you can see the seams of both platforms. For an easy example, look no further than another doomed game for a doomed system: Knuckles Chaotix for 32X. Chaotix is a weird, experimental “Sonic game”, but its textures and graphics seem almost… lush. With eye-popping colors and passable scaling, Hey sugahChaotix gives the impression that this is the future of the 16-bit platformers you loved on the Genesis, and the “next gen” is going to be beautiful. In the fullness of time, we know that this was an evolutionary dead end, but Chaotix did at least look pretty amazing in all those issues of Gamepro.

And, for better or worse, Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales gives that same impression. You know what Bubsy looked like on the Genesis, you know what Bubsy looked like on the SNES, and here’s Bubsy on the Jaguar. And he looks better! His whole world looks better! This Jaguar exclusive miraculously seems to run well on the Jaguar, and Bubsy looks best on this system (give or take a friggin’ terrifying title screen). There’s a potential here, and it seems to say that the Atari Jaguar, the brand new system from the people that kicked off (and nearly destroyed) the home console market, might actually be the next step forward in platforming fun. Sure, Bubsy isn’t the next Sonic, but the real, true next Sonic might find his home here with Trevor McFur and Kasumi Ninja. There’s a glorious, beautiful future for you out there, Jaguar, and it all starts with Bubsy!

But then the Jaguar crashed and burned, never to be seen again. Thanks a lot, Bubsy!

FGC #318 Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales

  • What?System: Atari Jaguar exclusive. So probably six people have played this game.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Kind of weird that Bubsy never wound up with a second player “character”, just two Bubsies. It’s because of the voice, isn’t it? Ugh.
  • What about Rayman? He jumped ship almost immediately, and, thus, does not count.
  • Favorite level: Starting with the Alice in Wonderland stage is clever, as basically everything about Wonderland can be instantly adapted to videogames (complete with size-changing mushrooms). Unfortunately, it also makes a lousy first impression, because nobody wants to be murdered by a rabbit that is barely paying attention. For my money, I’ll go with the later “Hansel and Gretel” stages, as I am a sucker for running through Candy Land.
  • Just play the gig man: It’s not like it’s impressive (at all), but I put Bubsy above Zool almost entirely because of the music. These tunes are so much… less awful.
  • This game belongs in prison: This is a crime…

    UGH

    And should be treated as such.

  • A creator’s vision: Michael Berlyn, creator of Bubsy, did not work on Bubsy 2, but did birth this Bubsy adventure. I’m just noting this to explain why we lost all those cool powerups from Bubsy 2. Wouldn’t want to dilute the Bubsy brand.
  • Did you know? The game’s rom contains information on the “secret” names of stages that make the fairy tale allusions more precise. Stuff like “Alice” and “Ali (Baba)”. Unfortunately, the underwater stages are still simply labeled as “water”, so we don’t have any concise proof that Bubsy was clowning on The Little Mermaid, and not 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Which do you think is more of a fairy tale, hm?
  • Would I play again: No. I’m running out of reasons to even touch that Jaguar.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man 6 for tonight! That’s right! There will be a live stream of Mega Man 6 this evening, because I need to beat at least one game on a stream. Just one. That will be fine. Check back here for more details, and please look forward to it!

What?
Yes, you can die while invincible.

FGC #108 Bubsy 2

This is Sonic the Hedgehog.

ring sound

This is a photocopy of Sonic the Hedgehog.

less ring sound

This is a photocopy of a photocopy of Sonic the Hedgehog.

no sound

There seems to be a running narrative today that the Sonic the Hedgehog games aren’t any good. This is objectively false, because a man that denies the joy of running at top speed as a thorny blue hedgehog is not a man at all, but perhaps some manner of three angry ferrets stacked up in a trench coat. Yes, the Sonic the Hedgehog series, going all the way back to the Genesis, had some problems, there’s no doubt about that, but is it fun? Of course it is. Or, if you don’t personally enjoy it, I’m sure you can see how it could be fun to find just the right way to run and bounce along beating badniks and saving bunnies. I’ve never been a big fan of The Godfather, but I can acknowledge how it’s a well-constructed trilogy (or at least a pair). So let’s all agree Sonic the Hedgehog is a legend for a reason.

Of course, that is, more or less, the problem with Sonic the Hedgehog. Like with any legend, there are people on either side of the “is Sonic the Hedgehog good?” divide, and the major stumbling block for everyone involved seems to be… hm… video game studies needs more words… let’s call it “level interpretation”. In short, even in recent weeks, there have been a number of Gotta go fast?academic, objective looks at Sonic the Hedgehog levels/gameplay, and, unfortunately, no one seems capable of coming to a consensus. Somehow, we can agree that Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 3 and Final Fantasy 3 (USA) all have stages that are designed thoughtfully, but Sonic the Hedgehog 3? There are those that love those stages, and those that think the average STH level was created by Jackson Pollock randomly smearing pixels across the digital canvas. And this debate rages on, decades after the release of the original Sonic games, because games are important, dammit.

So what hope did anyone have of interpreting and copying Sonic the Hedgehog back in its prime?

Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, aka Bubsy 1, was designed by Michael Berlyn, a man who previously worked on PC adventure games. Anyone from the era can see the “PC Adventure” aesthetic on display in Bubsy, as the titular feline mugs for the camera and makes tass comments with fur-real voice acting. While console games of the time seemed to focus on gameplay above other indulgences (a tradition that Nintendo seems to still follow with its generally mute Bowsers and Links), the PC was a land of daring narratives and living cartoons, so, while you might not see King Graham leading a physically-demanding adventure, you were pretty much guaranteed he’d be accompanied by a cowardly owl that narrated every damn thing. Oh no, Graham, the PC is so much more expressive than the console games of the day, but Bubsy is here to try to bridge that gap.

Get it?But that was only one half of Bubsy’s creation. As the legend (or Wikipedia) goes, when Berlyn encountered Sonic the Hedgehog, he liked the game quite a bit. In a mere week, he played nearly 100 hours of Sonic. That… does things to a man (I speak from experience), and, vowing to make his own dang Sonic game (I also did this… but all I had available was graph paper), Bubsy (Bubsy Bubsy) Bobca(aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa)t was born.

Of course, if gameologists still haven’t cracked the Sonic the Hedgehog code decades later, Berlyn wasn’t going to uncover “what makes this good” in time to cash-in on the fad. Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind isn’t the worst game in the world, or even the worst mascot platformer, but it isn’t all that great, either. You run, you jump, you have a little bit of a glide to better control Bubsy’s descent, and that’s about it. The whole game wears its Sonic influence on its sleeve, and, like Sonic, the game is at its best when you’re just barreling forward and expertly hopping over enemy after enemy. Unfortunately, not all the right lessons were learned in the transition from rodent to feline. For one thing, and one very important thing, Bubsy has a more traditional life meter in the form of, basically, three hits and you’re dead. This, as even Tim the Toolman Taylor learned in the 16-bit era, is the antithesis of a game where you’ve gotta go fast, as no one moves at full speed when they’re one hit away from a lost life. Without Sonic’s easily reclaimed rings, Bubsy is dramatically more fragile, and, ultimately, it detracts from the experience immeasurably. Luckily, the game isn’t that difficult, you just can’t Weeeezoom around at quite the speed of sound, and, at that point, you’re playing a weirdly unwieldy Mario clone. Not the worst thing in the world, and usually the kind of thing that gets worked out in the sequel.

Bubsy 2 was released a short year after the original Bubsy. This wasn’t super unusual for the era (I’m moderately certain there was a new Mega Man game in time for every third issue of Nintendo Power), but, presumably to speed things along and cash in on Bubsy-mania (not a thing) Berlyn and the original Bubsy team were completely replaced and/or ignored. A new design team set to work creating Bubsy 2, now faced with the conundrum of iterating on a game that they had only experienced as players. On one hand, that’s maybe not the worst thing in the world, as it’s probable this new team would be less likely to immediately fall into the trap of missing the flaws of a successful game thanks to being too close to the project; on the other hand, well, does creation work like that? It’s only natural that a creator will revisit a previous work, notice its issues faster than a casual consumer, and wish to create a refined, “perfect” version… which will inevitably look like crap in six months. Don’t blame me for this thinking, Lucas shot first. Point is that the new Bubsy team probably had a fifty-fifty chance of making an actually worthwhile sequel, and, spoilers, this toast landed butter side down. Into a sewer. An… unclean sewer.

Bubsy 2 is exactly what you’d expect of a clone of a clone. It improves on none of Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind’s flaws, and merely adds new, completely useless gameplay gimmicks. Bubsy can now shoot a gun with limited ammo (presumably in pursuit of that damn chaos emerald), use a smart bomb to clear the stage of monsters, and drop into a portable hole to avoid damage. There are also vehicle sections that wind up working like shoot ‘em ups. And… that’s about it. A handful of new gameplay features, none of them particularly exciting, and a Frog baseball?complete lack of even so much as acknowledging problems from the previous game.

And, let’s be clear here, Bubsy 2 has its own share of problems. First and foremost, the level design is terrible, and, thanks to a glut of doors that go basically nowhere, confusing as all hell. The stages aren’t difficult, mind you, you just often find yourself inches from the goal, but there’s a wall, so you enter a nearby door, and you’re teleported somewhere on the clear other side of the world, and, go left or right, it doesn’t matter, just hope that the next door you find puts you on the other side of that wall, and not, as is a possibility, right back at the beginning of the stage (not that you’d notice you’re at the beginning of the stage until you see a checkpoint you’ve already cleared…). In 1994, this level design was just confounding, but in 2016, every (and I do mean every) level feels like trolling Super Mario Maker levels that play fast and loose with door placement and mocking the player with spike fields blocking goals. Sonic the Hedgehog is never this terrible: at least 90% of his stages are left to right affairs, or, if you’re backtracking, it’s only temporary and generally illusory, like ascending a spiral staircase. In Bubsy 2, you are literally all over the map, and whether it’s because the team was dealing with limited pixel space or simply had no idea what they were doing is immaterial in the face of the fact that the end result is about as fun as unscrewing an electrical socket with your tongue. The unfriendly skiesYou might accomplish something, but it’s more likely you’re going to come out of the experience a little fried.

So, you know what? Even with our finest scientists working on it, we still may never find what makes Sonic the Hedgehog tick. I don’t know, you don’t know, and Sonic Team clearly has no idea. But I can tell you what Sonic the Hedgehog would look like if it were awful, and it’s Bubsy 2.

Bubsy 2 is a copy of a copy, and, in the end, it’s just blurry and unrecognizable.

FGC #108 Bubsy 2

  • System: Super Nintendo for the review, but there’s also a nearly identical Genesis version. A Gameboy version also apparently exists, but I hear it’s terrible, and I’m not willing to try it, even if it would only make my photocopy of a photocopy metaphor all the stronger. Also, against all odds, this game was apparently released on Steam a few months ago. It’s $3 for both Bubsy games? That’s too much.
  • Number of players: 2 player alternating, like a lot of platformers from the era. Two player simultaneous Bubsy would be a cat-astrophe.
  • Favorite stage: If I had to choose, I’d say the Egyptian stages, because they seem to contain the most period appropriate enemies. Though if I can use this bullet point to complain about the game some more, I’d point out that you can reenter completed stages, Not a favoriteeven though there’s absolutely no reason to do that, but you can’t just exit a completed stage, you have to finish the whole thing all over again. Damn everything.
  • Favorite gag: The music levels are dreadful and generally boring (I’m not going to say “flat”), but the idea of using sharp symbols (♯) as spikes is inspired. That’s some pointed punnery!
  • Refreshing: I guess one other thing that Bubsy has that Sonic doesn’t is “water slide” areas where Bubsy is just ushered along by the current. I don’t know what pisses me off more: that Bubsy somehow made waterslides (waterslides!) not fun, or that Sonic eventually adopted a similar mechanic for its 2-D “rail grinding” sections.
  • Is there a mascot platformer worse than Bubsy 2? Oh, certainly. At least one involves a circus acro-bat.
  • Just realized: This entry should have been Suikoden related.
  • Did you know? There was a pilot produced for a Bubsy animated series, and it even starred Rob Paulsen, aka the voice of Raphael (80’s), Donatello (10’s), and Pinky (narf). Paulsen is the voice of Bubsy in the games, too, but I’d assume that those recording sessions lasted a whole seventeen minutes. Hey hey it’s talking Krusty.
  • Would I play again? Perhaps as a cautionary tale for others, but that’s about it. This game is so bad!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom for the NES. Oh boy, Donald and Goofy and 999 or so ghosts! Please look forward to it!