Sunday, 4 August 2013

Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales - Atari Jaguar. Is it really that bad?

 "Oh sure, let's all torch the Bubster" - Bubsy the Bobcat, 1994.

Bubsy, Bubsy, Bubsy. Just the name of this Bobcat is enough to instil hatred and spite in the heart of even the friendliest of gamers.
It's 64-bit, so it must be good, right? You do the math.

This failed mascot was created by Accolade to compete with the vastly more successful Mario and Sonic. Probably the most cringe-worthy part of Bubsy's failure is the amount of effort put in to making him the 'hip new thing'. They even had a cartoon show pilot made based on the character.

Widely known as one of the most annoying characters in video game history, appearing in one of the hardest and more generally, worst, video game series, are all of the Bubsy the Bobcat games really that bad?

Today I'm going to play the third, and probably least well known game of the series, "Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales" on the Atari Jaguar, released in 1994. It seems somewhat fitting, a failed mascot released exclusively on a failed system (not to say that the Jaguar is inherently bad, it just had alot of disappointing games, to say the least). So without further ado, onto the game! 

Here we go!

I've literally been playing for less than 5 minutes and I must have died about 10 times. The water kills you. If you don't hit the enemies in exactly the right way, they kill you. Cookies and balloons (because they are obviously evil villains) kill you. If you fall down too far, it kills you. Enemies throw barely visible projectiles at you, which kill you.

To put a long story short, this game is so hard it could cut diamond.

As you run around, the level of Bubsy's inertia increases dramatically after about a second. This would be fine, this kind of mechanic can be done really well, and even improve the gameplay by giving you something else to master (obviously Mario is the perfect example, but for something closer to Bubsy's inertia check out Psycho Fox on the Sega Master System) but in this case it just makes it insanely hard to time jumps. You can't stop, because you'll have to run back again in order to get enough speed to clear a gap, but if you go too fast you will inevitably run into an enemy, land in some water or some other horrible fate. To make matters worse, if you run into a wall, you become stunned. And this isn't half a second of stun, to teach you not to be so foolish, this is a full 6.95 seconds (I timed it) of not being able to move, while some arsehole enemy that you just carefully dodged slowly walks towards you to dispatch you. Heugh.

Oh, I get it. I mean, it's not funny, but I get it.

To be fair, a hard game doesn't necessarily mean a bad game. Believe it or not there are merits to Bubsy. The graphics in general are very colourful and other than the aforementioned hard-to-see projectiles, you can tell what everything is supposed to be. Everything fits in nicely with the fairy tale theme,  the first level is Alice In Wonderland (although actually, that being a fairy tale is debatable). 

You see Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, killing you with their yo-yo. 
You see the March Hare, and he's obviously late, because he kills you by running. 
You see pink flamingos, not being used as croquet mallets, but for some reason they're punks. 
Punks who want to kill you. 
You also see a huge floating cat head (presumably the Cheshire cat) which kills you... by licking you. Owie, that lick really hurt.

Keep in mind that while I am praising the graphics, I still feel I would have kind of felt let down by them back in the day. By Mega Drive/Turbo Grafx 16/SNES standards, Bubsy would have looked and sounded pretty amazing. However, this was at a time of change for home consoles, the 16-bit era was fading and 32-bit consoles had just arrived.Sony's Playstation and Sega's Saturn were blowing people's minds with crisp polygons, full motion video, high quality audio, the works. Besides, Bubsy was on the Atari Jaguar, a 64-bit system (ahem), and having 'pretty-good-for-SNES' just wouldn't have cut the cake, so to speak. Also, while the game does look quite nice paused, most of the animations are just a few frames, making most movements seem pretty jerky.

Another gripe I have with this game is that one of the main game mechanics (which it took me quite a while to even get to) is really bloody annoying. You have to go through a door, which takes you to another door in a different area of the stage. Unless you know the levels really well, you're going to get lost super easily. It's almost like you need to make a map as you go to save yourself from confusion. To make matters worse, when you die it's likely that you are going to be sent back to a check point before the last door you went through, and for the most part the areas don't look all that different from each other, leading to yet more confusion.
He looks like an arrogant twat, because he is.

After I finally managed to get to the second chapter of the Alice in Wonderland stage, I managed to fall down a few wells, die a few more times, get lost among a load more doors, and then I found... a flashing t-shirt? I've found a few shirts with numbers on, giving me extra lives, but what could a flashing one do? Great Scott! Invincibility! Finally some reprieve! I must say that after spending so much time scared of going anywhere near enemies in case they kill me, suddenly I can run into any enemy and destroy it. I go slap-happy and run into anything I can see, I've gone flashing-shirt-crazy! It wears off... death.

Okay , so after over two hours of  playing, getting pissed off, taking a break to write some stuff down, playing, getting pissed off, taking a break to write some stuff down, playing, getting get the idea (plus more than a few game overs, yikes!), I have finally reached the first stage boss, and it looks insane. The mad hatter is in a huge spiked teapot tank, shooting lethal steam at me. 

Bet he'd make one hell of a cuppa...
What is this strange feeling? I'm not sure about 'fun' per se, but a small sense of accomplishment after finally getting this far? ...and I promptly died. I didn't even think to pause and take a picture, the above photo is nicked off the internet. Oh well, I'll get there on the next life, right?

Damn. Game Over. Damn, damn.

This game has broken my will. I tried to get back into it, and breezed through the first part of the first level, then got back into the same old cycle of death. Maybe I'm just no good at this game, but I can't bring myself to play that same stage anymore. Even worse, the manual says there are continue-points that let me restart the game at the beginning of that level. I only went through one in the first level anyway. Boo.

Honestly, when you stay alive long enough to get a decent bit of exploring done, this game actually has a small amount of fun value to it. When you think you're about to die from running into an enemy, then the enemy inexplicably dies, there's a small feeling of victory. I almost feel like once you completely memorize the levels, get the inertia-control down to a t and get over the fact that you're still going to die a lot, this game may even be slightly enjoyable. I feel that if there were an 'easy' mode, and a few tweaks were made to the game's physics, Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales could have had potential to be a genuinely good platformer, but it was just off in too many places. 

Fortunately, one of the few redeeming factors Fractured Furry Tales has is it's password system. Even if I'm not good enough to beat the first level, I can at least have a peek at the rest of the game.

The second set of 3 chapters are set in Jack and the Beanstalk. There are wasps (which were also, for no real reason, in Alice in Wonderland, too) , ants and nights in shining armor. Nice imagination, guys. To be fair, in this level there is one character I really like the design of...

That's a snail, and it's shell has a little chimney. And when it pokes it's head back inside it's shell, it puts out a little 'out to lunch' sign. Is that not the cutest thing you've seen in the last 5 minutes? No? Well go back to playing with your stupid cat/dog/child then, I'm happy with a cartoon snail.

The next stages' theme is Arabian Nights, although how much this actually has to do with Arabian Nights is somewhat suspect. When the manual says 'Busby and the Arabian Nights' I think they meant "We've done a castle level and a jungle level, we'd better do a desert level now". Crikey, anyone would think there might be a water level next! (wink,wink).
Anyway, these levels have everything you would expect from a desert level. Snake charmer-ish music, blokes with big turbans swinging swords, lizards, vultures, snakes, cactus people...

... glass bottles with legs that randomly jump out of the sand at you? Okay, so that's a new one.

That cactus is wearing sneakers, for sneaking!

I actually played the desert levels for a while. There were a few fun new ways to get around, floating platforms that appear when you hit your head on them (quite annoying) and tents you had to bounce on. The bouncing was almost fun, but you would always have to reach some tiny gap and there would be enemies or other hazards waiting to catch you when you fall. Did I mention that this game is hard? 

Next up, as I had foreseen (admittedly I may have seen it in the manual) is a water world. The name of the world is 'WaterBubsy' I'm not entirely sure if that was supposed to be a pun on WaterWorld or some other crap, I mean WaterWorld is hardly a fairy tale, or if they had run so low on ideas that they literally just named the world what it was. Water + Bubsy = WaterBubsy.

There's a reason everyone's least favorite level is the water level, especially in platformers. Gravity normally goes sort of floaty and you have less control of your character. Mario, Sonic, Turtles, Banjo, you name it. If it has a water level, it's bound to be considerably harder than the other levels. I assume this is the same for Bubsy? Nah. Nothing changes. Bubsy has an air bubble drawn around him, but the gameplay stays exactly the same. To be honest I'm a little disappointed. Mainly because Bubsy is hard enough to control anyway, and I wanted to see how badly they could mess it up. I guess one good decision made while making this game was to not make anything even more difficult.

Darling it's better, down where it's wetter, take it from meeee

Again, the enemies are just standard under the sea fare. Seahorses, Mermaids, Sharks... Bomb dropping Hamsters in submarines. Eh, Okay? I think they might have just picked one 'zany' character for each level. Punk flamingo, Snail House, Bottle Legs, Sub-Hamster. Actually, it's pretty lame. It's like they knew they knew that the game didn't make sense, so they just lobbed in some half-baked character ideas as filler. They made them zany and wacky because kids love zany and wacky, right? Oy vey.

Right-o only one set of stages left now, and it's Hansel and Gretel.

Custard pie? Lemme have it!
I'm not sure which the zany character is here, there's a pie throwing machine. A Never Ending Pie Throwing Robot, if you will. There is also a man made of forks. That's it. There are two unique enemies that I could find on this stage, the rest are wasps and inanimate objects. Cookies (again!) falling chocolate and milk bottle lids are the hazards here. 

One good thing about this level is the milk bottle tunnel system. The tops of milk bottles pop off and you have to get in the bottle before the cap comes back down. You can then travel through layers of cake. I mean, it still doesn't make the level great, but it's a nice touch.

And this is as far as I'm willing to go. I've been playing this crappy game all day and I just have no desire to try and get through to the bosses and actually complete it. I have a feeling that if I tried it would either take years, or I would die or go insane.

True, Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales isn't the worst game I've ever played. Some (albeit very small) parts of the game are actually fairly enjoyable, and when you've been grinding at a level for an hour, then finally complete it, that's a great feeling. It's just a shame that it has to be preceded by an hour of depression, really. 
There are some nice graphical touches here and there. Most of the worlds and their backgrounds, with the fairy tale theme remind me of some of the Mickey Mouse games. I don't mean that in a nice nostalgic way, though. They just make me think "Oh god, why am I wasting my time on this when I could be playing 'Castle Of Illusion' or 'Mickey's Wild Adventure'."

If I forced myself to say one more positive (well, neutral) thing about this game, it would be that the soundtrack is fine. Not good, not bad, just fine. Distinctly not-memorable, but certainly nothing that got too annoying, even when I had to play the same level over and over.

And now, here's a guest speaker for the final verdict:

Spyro does not approve.

Well if Spyro disapproves, then so do I.

Is Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales really that bad? Yeah, it kinda is. 

Cheers for reading, 
Dusty Old Games.

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