have a theory about Bubsy 3D. Many years from now, when interactive historians take a look back at the origins of 3D platform adventures (sure to be one of the biggest genres in videogames for many years - take another bow Mario), they will dig up a copy of Bubsy 3D and venture to guess that this is, in fact, the very first 3D platform game. The reason, of course, is because of how crude Bubsy 3D looks.
Now, not to take anything away from the game's design, because there are some gameplay innovations in this adventure that are noteworthy, but I couldn't get over how abhorrently primitive the look of this game was. Right away it reminded me of some of my favorite Atari 2600 adventures - early scrollers like Superman, for example.
The flat, shaded polygons of Bubsy 3D's alien worlds are uninspired and utterly confusing because of their homogenization. They are enough to have any gamer craving the better looking 2D environments of 16-bit cartridges. Hell, if I were an inhabitant of a planet as miserably generic and blocky as the alien planet of Bubsy 3D, I'd probably view a visitation from a bright orange, talking tabby cat as a welcome relief, no matter how annoying he was. The creatures in this game, however, do everything they can to stop Bubsy from venturing deeper into their environment. It almost seems that Bubsy 3D's graphics artists and designers were attempting to do the same thing.
Not Your Ordinary Feline
Bubsy began his career as Accolade's answer to the cute mascot wars of the game world a few years ago. His first game, Bubsy Bobcat in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, although not entirely unique, was charming enough to earn this smarty-puss some fans. Seeing as the character had been marketed as if he were a Hollywood hotshot, Accolade was already well set up to handle any potential buzz surrounding the game. Sequels were planned and green lighted right away.
Bubsy 3D is the first Bubsy game to appear on any of the three reigning super systems. I suspect it may also be this tabby's swan song.
The premise for this platformer goes like this:
Bubsy is trapped on the alien world of Rayon, home of the nefarious Woolies, arch enemies of our hero. Bubsy has to survive 16 repetitive levels of Woolie activity and collect 32 pieces of his rocket to shoot himself Earth-ward. Along the way, he'll be engaging in all sorts of platform-esque functions: running, jumping, climbing, swimming and floating.
Bubsy will also be able to use one of Rayon's natural resources to help him in his quest; the oversize hovering atoms that litter the trenches and hillsides of the Rayon countryside. Bubsy can shoot these atoms at Woolies and explode 'em. Seems a little excessive, huh?
Also, Bubsy will want to be on the lookout for switches, power-ups and extra lives. You know the drill.
Every few levels a boss creature comes a courtin'. The bosses live in cramped quarters (compared to the rest of the levels in the game) and require a real zest for figuring out patterns, in order to defeat them.
The element that sets Bubsy 3D apart from its platformer roots, is its true 3D exploration. You can go anywhere you want to in this game. Whether you'll want to or not is another story.
As disappointing as the visuals of Bubsy 3D are, it is the game's lack of speed and sloppy control that really make it a pain to play.
It takes forever to load a level in this game (they are large) but the hesitating doesn't end on the load screens. Before every bobcat move or action there is an irritating hesitation with the control. This gets you killed a lot. Considering that even rotating around to see what is behind you is like trying to SCUBA dive in Jell-o, the Woolie attacks prove to be much more effective than they should be.
As frustrated as I was by the handling in this game, it was the confusing environments that made making my jumps, turning corners or aiming my atoms much too difficult. And because of this, there just wasn't that sense of pick-up-n-play adventure in Bubsy 3D - something that every solid platformer needs.
The chunkiness of Bubsy 3D is unbelievable. How could the developers have been happy with the look of this game when pictures of Crash Bandicoot, Pandemonium, Tomb Raider and mighty Mario were all over the place?
Every level is this game is made up of unadorned polygons that have been slapped together in what appears to be a completely random order. The screen is colorful, there's no question about that, but the alien environments are lacking substance. You run face first into polygons that look like pathways, you try to jump to platforms that are way out of reach, some inclines you can climb, some you can't - there's absolutely no logic to these levels. And, even though these levels are supposed to be on another planet, it just becomes an annoyance to continue.
Texture maps should have been an essential addition to the naked polygons that make up Bubsy 3D. Instead, they are placed, very conservatively, only on certain polys and on specific levels - this incongruity is another failing of the game.
Not only are the platforms, ledges, walls and hills of Bubsy 3D a confusing collection of shapes and colors, but so too are the enemies that Bubsy faces. Every one of the 20 or so baddies in the game is made up of only a few polygons, so they all appear pointy and triangular. The attitude painted onto these creatures is amusing (I was particularly fond of the Dogfish, who has his own Jaws-like theme music following him around), but their misshapen bodies look amateurish.
Bubsy himself has been well drawn. His overgrown blinking eyeballs, black tinged orange ears and patented exclamation point sweatshirt are pretty darn cute. I didn't mind the 3D look of this character one bit. It would have been nice to have seen more characters as well designed as Bubsy in the game.
Backgrounds in Bubsy 3D are flat drops that have been painted with some kind of particularly nutty pattern. In later stages of the game, I enjoyed the "wobbly city" backdrop but for the most part, everything behind the action is as visually confusing as the foreground activity.
A Bubsy staple, the humorous death scene, has matured somewhat since the days of 16-bit carts. In Bubsy 3D, death scenes are delivered as rendered CG animation. See Bubsy melt, watch Bubsy drown, cower as Bubsy gets consumed by green goop, stand mortified as Bubsy gets a million volts juiced through him - that kind of thing. These cut aways are fun and well animated but they hardly serve to save the gamer from the inadequate experience of playing the game.
I really dug the pause animations in Bubsy 3D, which are also CG cutaways. In one brief scene, Bubsy searches in his pocket, pulls out a remote control and commences tinkering with your TV's settings. The animators got the adjust fonts on my TV perfectly, so I was fooled by the bit and was wondering what the hell was going on. Good show, Eidetic!
Zounds & Zoinks
The cartoony atmosphere provided by the nutball music and sound effects work perfectly within the confines of this game. The manic transitions in each of the game's music tracks have you tappin' your toes, even as you drift off to sleep waiting for the next level to load. And the bouncy-sproingy-zzap-crackle of the sound effects suggest that there's really a lot more going on in Bubsy 3D than there actually is.
On a sour note, though, I became incensed by the smart-ass whiny voice of Bubsy. His helpful hints made me want to play frisbee with the game disc. Thankfully for those who feel as strongly as I that a vocal point in this game is not necessary, an option exists to turn the Bubsy-isms off. All I had to say about that was, "phew."
The audio of Bubsy 3D is the game's strongest component. Unfortunately the splendid campy music and effects will only frustrate well wishers of this franchise.
What Could Have Been
Even though Bubsy 3D arrived on store shelves later than planned, it is apparent that the game was still not finished. Textures should have been applied to every square inch of the game, the control should have been worked on, the speed and mobility of our protagonist should have been finessed and the loading times should not have been so brutal. In short, another six months would have done this game wonders. As it is now, I think this Mario-wannabe should quickly be forgotten and left to future videogame anthropologists to figure out.