Hey, uhm, Ernie here with a piece from a brand new contributor who was surprisingly excited to write this piece. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I just gave in because I didn’t want to see the claws. God help us all.
Today in Tedium: Coming of age in the 8- and 16-bit era wasn’t always easy—especially when it came to video games. Sure, we had quite a few now classic games find their way into the hearts of an entire generation, but there were a few hidden gems that fell through the cracks. As for the mascots themselves? Sonic was far too slow. Mario couldn’t jump high enough. Alex Kidd? Never heard of him. Crash Bandicoot, Rayman and GEX were still few years off. To fill this void, there was only one video game mascot who could hold his own across any quest. Today’s Tedium is all about the world’s most pawsome video game mascot—a high-flying, wise-cracking, orange bobcat called Bubsy! — Bubsy @ Tedium
The release year of Bubsy’s first video game adventure. Entitled Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, the game featured a brand new hero who could easily relate to the modern youth of the era. In the game, an evil yarn-stealing alien race called The Woolies scheme to steal the world’s entire supply of yarn balls. Bubsy—with the distinction as the owner of the world’s largest yarn ball collection—naturally was the most vulnerable to the maniacal machinations of the wooly aliens menace. Bubsy had the kind of personality that could fill a room with excitement. Heck, he even has an exclamation point! On the shirt! Wow!
What could possibly go wrong?
By 1993, Mario and Sonic were lighting up the video game world. With each new game, their stories grew deeper and their worlds began the expansion that would eventually lead to their inevitable convergence a few decades later. In the meantime, several other video game mascots were being baked into various 16-bit games. The likes of earthworms, flying mammals and the ever-popular rodentia scurried their way across the 16-bit era. From the darkest depths of the mascot wars, arose Accolade and their champion: Mike Berlyn.
Mike Berlyn was already an accomplished science fiction author prior to joining Accolade. After a long stint creating adventure games for various companies, he desired to do something else. Something better. From this desire, the legendary Bubsy was born.
In issue 36 of GamePro magazine, it’s revealed that I apparently went through a variety of changes, at one point even carrying a hoverboard, before I eventually became the wise-cracking bobcat we know and love today. Drawing inspiration from Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog, Berlyn and his team finally settled on the renegade bobcat who can glide in mid-air.
(Editor’s note: “Renegade” is a little strong. How about “annoyi … STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!)
My original adventure, Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind has fifteen platform-filled levels, each sporting a hilarious name like “Cheese Wheels of Doom,” “Dance with Woolies” and “Rock Around the Croc.” Someone on the development team must have also been a Clint Eastwood fan, as the levels “A Fistful of Yarn” and “The Good, the Bad, and The Woolies” are absolutely references to a few famous Clint Eastwood films.
Bubsy was well-received in its original incarnation and Volume 50 of Nintendo Power Magazine even featured the game extensively, providing a full walkthrough and strategy for defeating the Woolie menace once and for all!
To add to the sheer awesomeness of the franchise, the game’s instruction manual was a crowning achievement of package design. Not only did it contain instructions for gameplay, but it featured a magnificent comic detailing my story and those sinister creatures who “stretch the fabric of reality,” the woolies. Several other Bubsy titles came with the comics, which are available at the Bubsy Bobcat Fan Blog in all their 16-bit glory.
The number of hours Bubsy creator Mike Berlyn spent playing Sonic the Hedgehog each day for a solid week, in an attempt to find inspiration for his new bobcat character. As Berlyn told Gamasutra in 2005, he was sick of making adventure games and got really into Sonic the Hedgehog. Deciding to mix the gameplay style and character of Sonic with the design elements of old 1930s cartoons, Bubsy was born.
Is there a veterinarian in the house?
Another Bubsy title arrived for the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy in 1994, without Berlyn’s involvement. (They’re fortunate I didn’t walk.) The second time out, I had to prevent a villain from stealing the world’s history. How epic is that? While the idea was sound, the game wasn’t necessarily favored by everyone—especially my game’s creator.
During a discussion with Retrovalve in 2015, Berlyn discussed his opinion on Bubsy II:
Bubsy 2 was a good attempt made by people who were unfortunately not really designers…
At that time in the game design business, the game designers had to be capable of doing character design, level design, populating the levels, coordinating all of the efforts, and managing the art in the team. And working in conjunction with the producer, who did basically a lot of the same things in collaboration with the designer. It’s very much changed now, but at that time in the business, designers had more responsibility and had more control over the product…
And at the time, the [Bubsy 2] designer was a designer wannabe, let’s put it that way. That’s why it kind of fell short.
The second Bubsy game certainly loses some of the charm of the original, but it’s still a blast and even improves upon its predecessor in several ways. The sequel features some characters from the Bubsy TV pilot (more on that later) and sees Bubsy and Co. fulfilling their destinies as misbegotten mascots destined to fade into obscurity.
Another title of mine, Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales saw me, the titular hero, in a “mixed up Mother Goose”-style world. That game found a home on the 64-bit Atari Jaguar. The game seems to be disliked quite a bit online, though. (Sad face.)
Then there was Bubsy 3-D. We don’t like to talk about Bubsy 3-D. What I will say is that Berlyn returned for the 3D installment and believed it would have done better if not for Mario 64 coming out at the same time. It did receive a decent review in Ultra Game Players Magazine when it came out, but sadly, the game doesn’t really hold up today. Unfortunately, Berlyn saw the game as “one of his greatest failures,” a distinction the game seems to have maintained all these years.
(Editor’s note: Deservedly so.)
Admittedly, perhaps the best thing to come out of Bubsy 3-D is the absurdist, dadaist, Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective, an effort from an independent team called Arcane Kids to create a very strange (and sort of fun) Bubsy adventure. It was an in-browser game that still exists today, produced in a time when nobody knew a new Bubsy title would be right around the corner. The game still exists at the Arcane Kids Preservation Project. It’s got my own seal of approval!
“It’d be just as fun to sit and spin around in a swivel chair while somebody punches you in the face.”
— James Rolfe, as the Angry Video Game Nerd, in AVGN Xmas Review of Bubsy 3-D. Rolfe explains in-character that one of his biggest review requests is for this game. Sure, the game wasn’t the best in the series, but it certainly had charm, if I do say so myself. Most interesting is that this is a typical reaction to the wise-cracking bobcat typing on this rusted out Amiga 500: Over time, I managed to find a different kind of popularity on YouTube—one of goofy reviews and wacky antics playing homage to the character. Aside from AVGN misrepresenting my work, I’ve been featured in videos by other popular YouTube entertainers JonTron and The Completionist have both covered the game series on their respective shows, while Did You Know Gaming has a 10-minute video centered around the frisky furrball. With so much healthy interest in this bodacious bobcat these days, can a Gaming Historian video on my career be right around the corner?
Bubsy gets animated
Like many video games before it ahem Battletoads ahem, I was the star of an ill-fated 1993 cartoon adventure. The show had but a single episode, but is certainly an interesting part of the franchise’s history. Done in the cartoon styles of the day, it paid homage to a wider range of styles and over the course of the episode, became a unique slice of cartoon history.
In an interview with the Sega 16 blog, my game’s creator Mike Berlyn expressed his enjoyment of the pilot and talks about its inspiration:
I was not involved at all. I thought it was extremely clever — it did a nice job of playing on Bubsy’s name, and the characters were all “Bubsy-like.” While the art direction was not what Bubsy was all about, it was at least interesting. Bubsy’s original art direction was an interpretation of the Fleischer cartoons of the 1920s and 30s. The rounded, bouncing, alive cars and objects was what I wanted, and after a lot of work, was accomplished. The TV pilot had a more southwest, angled feel, and that was okay since the sponsor was Taco Bell (if I recall correctly). The attitude and wisecracks were Bubsy, though.
The amusing pilot episode from Ray De Laurentis sees a bold bobcat at the peak of his television career. The show’s plot centers around a helmet that allows the thoughts of its wearer’s imagination to become reality. Of course this leads to an excess of shenanigans followed by a nice and tidy resolution at the end of the program’s short 24 minutes. Bubsy (our Hero), Arnold the Armadillo (his reluctant sidekick) and the twins—Terrence (his nephew) and Theresa (his niece)—visit an inventor called Virgil Reality. They try on the helmet and experience all manner of crazy things.
Meanwhile, the show’s villain—a washed up cat dying to become climb back to the top—learns of the helmet, dispatching her vulture and shrew henchman to steal it from the hapless bobcat. By the end of the program, the helmet is broken. But that doesn’t stop Bubsy from trying it again...only to have Virgil explain to him that, “the helmet is probably just electrocuting you.” To which Bubsy simply smiles.
Possessed of a sort of manic zaniness and voiced by the inimitable Rob Paulsen—whom you may know better as Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Yakko Warner from Animaniacs—my animated counterpart shows off his trademark wit throughout the show and confirms what we’ve all known for years: that he’s totally nuts!
It’s weird, funny, and filled with the type of cartoon violence. The best part? Each time Bubsy gives one of his little speeches, black & white inspirational clips based on whatever he is talking about are spliced in between the animation cels. It’s bizarre, but it works. Add a super sweeeet guitar based theme tune and the voices of everyone’s childhood— including Jim Cummings, Pat Fraley, Tress MacNeille, B.J. Ward and Neil Ross—and you have a recipe for weekday afternoon success!
Unfortunately, the show never went to series and it’s not without its own shortcomings. Occasionally, the characters seem disinterested and it lacks a true focal point for Bubsy to explore. The over-reliance on catchphrases certainly doesn’t help matters, according to my critics, but in reality, I don’t say them that much! Despite this, the cartoon is a solid piece of mid-90s entertainment, akin to Animaniacs or Tiny Toon Adventures. For those interested in such things, the pilot is available to watch/download in full at The Internet Archive. For the authentic experience, though, it may be best to check out this original broadcast with the commercials intact:
The year the Bubsy franchise received a shot in the arm from Black Forest Games with the title Bubsy: the Woolies Strike Back! The game is a bit different than previous games in the series and was basically the result of the resurrected Accolade approaching them to take on the project. In doing so, they provided a fresh take on a beloved character, and accomplished an impressive feat, given the developers at the time hadn’t experienced any of the original games prior to beginning development.
Five 16-bit game mascots whose legacies are lost to time
Suuuuuure, Ol’ Sparky thinks he’s a cool dude because he’s got a rocket pack. And a sword. But does HE have the WORLD’S LARGEST YARN BALL COLLECTION? Didn’t think so...
Rocket Knight Adventures was a pretty great game. Despite what some may think of Sparkster, one thing remains clear—this game is a triumph of action and adventure, that is simply a joy to experience. Players guide Sparkster on a journey through airships, fields, and even a castle to defeat the evil pig menace. It’s a shame Konami’s awesome opossum never caught on with the masses.
4. Ardy Lightfoot
Who does this guy think he is? Some kind of hybrid, anthropomorphic at creature
Ah, good old Ardy Lightfoot. This is one of those fun little platforming titles with heart. A cat-creature named Ardy must find some rainbow shards. Not as interesting as yarn, but at least it’s...um...colorful.
3. Rocky Rodent
Ugh. This friggin’ guy. Thinks he’s soooooo cool. He’s nothing but a rat with a mohawk. What’s he doing? Spray-painting graffiti all over the place? Wait...that’s hairspray. What the…?
Taking a break from their typical giant robot and R-Type shooters, IREM released this little gem for the SNES. Rocky Rodent is...bizarre. Rocky must rescue a restaurant owner’s daughter from the mafia, using only his spiky hair as a weapon. It’s like Super Mario Bros. with more bodacious rodents, of course.
2. Aero the Acro-bat
Oh. I get it. Acro-BAT. He’s a bat. Bats and circuses don’t mix, pal. Yet, somehow, I am in awe of your utter coolness...
This totally tubular, moonwalking bat can do it all. He jumps on trampolines, dives through hoops and takes a ride in a cannon or two—all while fighting some truly evil clowns. There’s also a sequel, but it’s not as good as mine!
1. Earthworm Jim
The early bird always gets the worm, Jim! But since I’m a bobcat, I’ll just eat ya now. What could possibly go wrong? [blasts are heard, followed by a whipping sound, then a loud “whoo-hoo!”] Oh...I see...is there a veterinarian in the house?
Earthworm Jim rocks. It’s a great game series, with a hilarious TV show. Someone around here should write about it sometime.
If I do say so myself, Bubsy was at times hilarious, bumbling, moronic and just plain fun. The character was a breath of fresh air that came and went all too quickly, but now is not the time for despair! A new Bubsy adventure is on its way to a console near you.
Released in 2019, Bubsy: Paws on Fire is sure to bridge the gap of the older Bubsy titles and the current generation. It’s already garnering some decent reviews and may be one of the best Bubsy games yet. YOU can even take home a copy today for your Playstation 4 video game console right now!
(Editor’s note: We don’t condone any negative effects that might arise from playing a Bubsy game, no matter what the auth … OW! OK! I’LL STOP!)
At the end of the day, I’m an important part of video game history—a reminder of what a mascot can be when the going gets tough. It only took 25 years to get there! And who else can say they’ve had adventures across the Super Nintendo, Game Boy, PlayStation, Windows and the Atari Jaguar? Yeah; that’s what I thought.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to dive into my research for my next piece on the dark and tragic history of yarn. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, that was Bubsy, and while he might be speaking too soon about a new piece, he did write the above. So that happened. Share it with a pal … if you think the above is parody, rather than copyright infringement. And see you next week!