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April 2021

Bubsy: Paws on Fire!

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Accolade
Developer: Choice Provisions
Release Date: May 16, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Bubsy: Paws on Fire'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 1, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The world's furriest egomaniac is back in an all new platformer/runner with more thrills, more friends, and more excitement.

Buy Bubsy: Paws on Fire

First appearing in the mid-1990s as a competitor to Sonic and Mario, Bubsy the Bobcat starred in a rather forgettable platformer, but the Bubsy train kept going until it reached the lamentable Bubsy 3D, which is widely considered to be among the worst 3D platformers ever made. In most situations, you'd assume that would be the end for the misfit mascot, but somehow, the bouncing bobcat keeps coming back. Two years ago, we saw an ill-fated revival with Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, which was about as far from a successful relaunch as you can get. Now we're getting our latest attempt at a mascot revival with Bubsy: Paws on Fire. As a positive, the game is done by developers Choice Provisions, who were responsible for the excellent Bit.Trip series. This means that Paws on Fire is the best Bubsy game to date, but that's a low bar to meet.

Paws on Fire is an endless runner, as you might expect from the Bit.Trip developers. If you've seen an endless runner before, you have a pretty good idea of how this will play. Your chosen character runs forward, and you do simple jumps and platforming to reach the end of the stage. Your goal is to collect as many trinkets as you can while avoiding danger. Death comes frequently, but you can restart stages quickly. Basically, it's a good game to pick up and play for five minutes or so.

Paws on Fire offers four playable characters, and each is fairly distinctive. Bubsy brings his jumping and gliding abilities, and he's also by far the easiest character to play as, making for a relaxing challenge. In comparison, Virgil the Vole lacks Bubsy's gliding ability, so players are forced to be more precise with movements, such as the double-jumps and a slide. Think of those two characters as essentially "easy" and "hard" mode.

There are two other characters, but they're more like minigames than runners. The Woolie (one of Bubsy's arch-nemeses) flies around in a UFO, transforming the game into a side-scrolling shoot-'em-up. Her stages are pretty fun but not too special. They're a nice distraction from the platforming, but I would've liked to see more difficulty in her stages because I'm used to side-scrolling shooters being significantly more punishing.

The last character, Arnold, is unlocked in a stage after you've completed it with the three other characters. Arnold has his own stages, which are from a third-person perspective and require you to roll down tubes to collect tokens and avoid dangers. If you've ever played Sonic 2, then you have a good idea of the basic concept. Unfortunately, like the blue blur of the '90s, Arnold's controls aren't the greatest, and it often feels pretty awkward to slip between some obstacles. He's easily the weak point of the game, and I feel like it wouldn't have hurt the game had he been excluded entirely.

It's a good mix of characters. There are only 30 stages in Paws on Fire, but since each character has different versions of stages, it means there's a fair bit of value here. The variety in the characters works in the title's favor, as it is very easy for runners to get tedious long before you've reached the endpoint. As mentioned, Arnold is probably the least fun to play, but he's also fairly ignorable since he's more of a bonus rather than a required character. You might still run into the problem of the game overstaying its welcome, but at least it feels well-paced.

It also helps that the stages are well designed. They're the right mix of punishing and forgiving. There are a lot of checkpoints, and while death sets you back, it never sets you back too far. It usually hits the right balance of being frustrating while still making you want to try again. A few stages are flops, but they're never too bad thanks to solid controls and strong level design. If worse comes to worst, you can always change to another character to try their version of the stage before you return to whatever was giving you trouble.

Completing stages unlocks harder stages and grants currency that you can use to purchase slightly different costumes for your characters. The new stage progression feels good, since you're frequently encountering new and interesting dangers. The other unlockables feel kind of lackluster, as the character models are so small that it can be a bit of a chore to choose new outfits. Thankfully, the focus is on the gameplay, and you never feel forced into stages that you're not ready for. 

Paws on Fire isn't the best-looking game on the market. It looks best when its stages are bright and colorful, befitting the cartoony aesthetic. Anything that goes darker looks boring and can make some obstacles difficult to read. The characters also feel the need to spout a handful of catchphrases over and over again, which can be pretty grating if you're repeatedly screwing up in the same segment. It's not bad, just rather bland.

Bubsy: Paws on Fire's biggest problem is its branding. The game is a perfectly fun and competent runner tied to a mascot who (as near as I can tell) only exists for irony value. The game is straitlaced about Bubsy, so it doesn't feel like a joke, but it also seems like the mascot does more to drive away people than to pique their interest. If you enjoyed the Runner3 style of gameplay, then you'll enjoy Bubsy: Paws on Fire. If you didn't, then the addition of a cartoon cat probably isn't going to change your mind. It's still the best Bubsy game to date, though.

Score: 7.0/10

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