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Capsule Review: Bubsy: Paws on Fire!

A collaboration between Bubsy franchise publisher Accolade and BIT.TRIP Runner developer Choice Provisions, Bubsy: Paws on Fire! features Runner-like gameplay starring Bubsy and friends. The result is a highly readable rhythm platformer with varied gameplay and a wide competence zone where the player has a good amount of freedom in their approach and a lot of opportunity for flow. It’s more than the sum of its parts and I’m left thinking that Bubsy and Runner were each somehow exactly what the other needed.

Gameplay is divided between four playable characters with differing abilities and play styles. Bubsy the Bobcat and Virgil Reality have the most Runner-like gameplay, as their levels are side-view auto-runners requiring rhythmic actions. Their abilities differ slightly - both can jump and ground-slam, but Bubsy gets a glide and a forward “pounce” dash-attack while Virgil gets a double-jump and a slide for ducking under obstacles. The third character, The Woolie, plays a bit differently - her levels are also side-view auto-scrollers but she’s in a flying saucer that can move freely within the screen’s current confines and has a forward-firing laser. The fourth character, Arnold the Armadillo, rolls forward along a tunnel in 3D and can be steered around the cylindrical tunnel walls.

The common core is that every character uses their abilities to progress through levels picking up collectibles and avoiding obstacles. There are 150 standard collectibles placed along each level’s ideal path, but they aren’t actually required - they increase the player’s score and can be spent on costumes but have have no effect on progress through the game. This makes for a nice wide competence zone - it’s relatively easy to just reach the end of a level, and that’s all that’s required to progress in the game. Getting every collectible (or doing so on a single continuous run without hitting any obstacles to max out the score combo) presents a much harder optional challenge. Players can choose their own goals and difficulty curve - as a BIT.TRIP Runner veteran, I enjoyed getting every collectible before moving on, but did not try to max out my score to climb the leaderboards. Other players with different tastes can choose their own preferred experience.

The game is split into three worlds, each of which has nine levels for each of the four playable characters and a (collectible-free and generally kind of lackluster) boss level played as Bubsy. Progress is gated through “victory medallions” earned by clearing levels, one per character. Later levels require increasing numbers of medallions, but like stars in Super Mario 64 or equivalent systems in other collectathon platformers, the number required is always less than what’s earned by finishing each level with each character. The player thus has some freedom in how they order the game’s challenges and can skip some that are particularly difficult or unenjoyable, though it might have been good to lower the requirements even further so that players who don’t enjoy a particular character’s play style could skip them entirely. I came to enjoy all four characters and cleared each level with each character in order before moving on, which meant I got frequent and enjoyable changes of pace but ones that were predictable and under my own control.

Unlike Runner3, Paws on Fire! is very consistent and restrained in its presentation, which allows the gameplay itself to shine. The camera remains static and zoomed out enough for you to see what’s coming, and parts of the level don’t suddenly move or change. This means gameplay stays readable and it’s generally easy to maintain a flow state - though unfortunately Bubsy’s three ways to increase air time (jumping, gliding, and pouncing) mean some of the challenges of his later levels become ambiguous - it’s not always clear what combination and order of moves you need to perform to reach all the collectibles. In some of these levels, I had to take a few tries to figure out what I was even supposed to do, which is frustrating in an auto-runner. Fortunately, this didn’t happen with any other character.

For me, the only true source of frustration in the game was when I would miss a collectible and then not have an obstacle to hit before I crossed a checkpoint or the level’s finish line. This meant my error would be locked in to my current run and I’d have to restart the entire level to fix it. Runner3 eventually added a “self-bonk” to fix this problem and I’d to see Paws on Fire! get something similar (though I’d rather it be an option in the pause menu).

Overall, I found Bubsy: Paws on Fire! to be an incredibly enjoyable experience with the strengths of the BIT.TRIP Runner games magnified (readable levels with wide competence zones and flow-inducing gameplay, with variations in play style left to the player’s control) and the flaws lessened (no disruptive camera tricks, sudden terrain changes, or forked paths requiring backtracking). I had a fantastic time and would love to see a follow-up.

I Stopped Playing When: I fully completed the game by clearing every level with every character and getting all collectibles and achievements. This took me about fifteen hours.

Docprof's Rating:

Five Stars: Favorite. This is one of my all-time favorite games that made a significant impact on me or that I've returned to time and again.

You can get it or learn more here.