Out of all the various platformer mascots that could have been picked for a modern revival, Bubsy couldn’t have been high on most people’s lists. After all, the 1993 original was mostly notorious for bizarre, meandering level design, and a multitude of cheap deaths. But somewhere, somehow, someone thought bringing back Bubsy in an all-new side scrolling platformer was a good idea. Oh, how wrong they were.
The aggressively mediocre Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back follows everyone’s least favorite loud-mouthed bobcat on a bog-standard side-scrolling, platform-hopping quest to protect Earth’s yarn from alien invaders. He’s armed with his old slow-falling glide move from previous games, but also a few new tricks: he can scale certain walls with his claws and execute a pounce to destroy barriers and attack enemies. That’s fairly useful… when it actually works, which is roughly half of the time. The other half it actually jumps over what you’re trying to hit, and sometimes into something that’ll kill you.
One thing that is nice, though, is that you can chain a regular jump with a glide or pounce, giving you a double-jump and a lot more control over Bubsy’s aerial movement. That agility is necessary for the later levels.
Each stage is fairly large and littered with enemies, platforms, traps, and collectibles. In terms of difficulty, Woolies Strike Back isn’t as nasty as some of its old-school predecessors: falling from great heights doesn’t hurt, checkpoints are copious, and every level has lots of T-shirt pickups that give you shields and extra lives. Getting through it wasn’t a problem, but it wasn’t fun, either – there are several examples of irritating level design with lousy jumps and annoying enemy placement, leaving you occasionally scratching your head wondering how to get around like the game wants to you.
The levels are also just plain dull. Sure, they’re declawed compared to the overly long, heavily trap-laden levels in the old Bubsy games, but everything about them is so utterly nondescript. You’ll be bouncing on mostly the same enemies, using the same bounce pads and clingy walls, and hopping across the same types of platforms in the last set of stages as you did in the first. It all blurs together into a platformer that’s fundamentally competent, but completely unmemorable and fleeting.
Every five stages bring a boss encounter in which difficulty spikes beyond the challenge of the regular levels in a very off-putting way. These fights are just variations on the same UFO boss, but they involve lengthy, tedious exercises in dodging before you have an opportunity to stomp on the glass dome and take off a sliver of life. Sometimes, they’ll take an attack pattern you’ve already become accustomed to and change it with little warning, leaving you no choice but to take a cheap death as a learning experience. Fortunately, there are only three of these in the whole campaign, because it’s 14 levels long.
Wait, only 14 levels? Yup, it’s that short. You can expect to burn through all of it in just a couple of hours. When you’re done and finished a futile search for where The Woolies Strike Back hid the rest of its levels, there are some poorly implemented attempts to add replay value to what’s actually here. You’re challenged to find all the keys to the Woolies’ yarn vault in each stage and finish each level with no deaths, but it’s really hard to care enough to do them because these levels are just so utterly bland. Even if you’re desperate to hear a cartoon bobcat bust out some annoying one-liners, you’re best off picking up one of countless better platformers out there.