Bubsy 3D is a legend. Bubsy 3D is amazing. Amazingly awful, but amazing none the less. Bubsy 3D can hold its head up high and say to the world “I exist so that game developers won’t make the same mistakes we did ever again.” Perhaps for a while, with the exception of a few things that slipped through the cracks, Bubsy 3D managed to keep shit off the shelves. I’ve got a few rubbish games in my collection but most of them are from a pre-Bubsy world. Nowadays Steam is doing a pretty good job of making sure that we get the full recommended daily allowance of shit shovelled into us every day (go watch a bit of Jim Sterling on YouTube for proof) but even then there’s nothing quite so fascinating out there as Bubsy 3D.
Developed by Eidetic and published by Accolade in November of ’96, Bubsy 3D came out five months after Super Mario 64 and two months after the first Crash Bandicoot. I just want to stick some stills of these things side by side so you can see the differences between the three of them.
One of these is not like the other ones…
Playing Mario 64 some time ago, it struck me that the graphics were a bit shoddy, but kind of decent when you think about the N64’s graphical capabilities and the fact that it was one of the first forays into what you might call “proper 3D.” Crash Bandicoot still looks gorgeous nearly twenty years down the line, and although it’s a bit blocky and geometric in places, the overall presentation is incredibly impressive. Bubsy 3D… Yeah, not so much. But we’ll come back to that a bit later.
There’s actually a couple of unusual things about my copy of Bubsy 3D. The first weird thing is that the cover is curiously devoid of the lies, damned lies that normally adorns the front of this trainwreck. Most people will know that Bubsy 3D had two major lies on the front cover. Firstly, a quotation from PS Extreme Magazine claiming that it was a “sleeper hit of 96,” which was actually from a decontextualized small preview of the game before it was released (and as anyone who’s ever written a preview article before, you’ll know that you’re not allowed to be really negative about the subject, no matter how lame or hideous it might be). The second lie was contained within a big banner that claimed Bubsy 3D was the winner of the “Gold X Award.” I don’t know what a Gold X Award is and there’s a reason for that: it just doesn’t exist. Accolade and co. made up the award in an attempt to boost sales, even if it was a terrible lie.
The rest of the difference comes on my back cover. The original version of the game told you about some of the features of the game and what you can expect – including the fact that it was a platformer in which you collect atoms, rockets and extra lives. If you have to market your action platform game on the fact that there’s extra lives then you know something is wrong. Mine though has no such claims and instead forgoes text altogether in order to present a mass of screenshots.
I used to play Bubsy 3D a lot as a child because I was very young and naïve, and the conventions of what separates a good game from a bad one hadn’t been burned into me yet. Did I enjoy Bubsy 3D? Kind of, I guess. I’m not sure “enjoyment” is the right word. I remember a lot of frustration, but I think when I was smaller I just assumed I was bad at video games (I was rubbish at Crash Bandicoot too).
So I don’t really know why I’m speed running this iconic-for-all-the-wrong-reasons game but… I wanted to see if it really is as bad as YouTubers like JonTron, Stanburdman and the Retro Replay say. Having not touched Bubsy 3D for at least fifteen years – probably more – would it be as bad as they say? There was only one real way to find out.
Yeah, there’s a story to this game, but it’s a real blink and you’ll miss it affair. In an opening cutscene, we learn that the Woolies – the major enemies of the game and noted for being armless freaks with big noses – captured Bubsy and wanted to bring him back to their home planet (presumably to kill him or torture him?) Unfortunately, their rocket crashed on a nearby planet and Bubsy escaped, and now he has to find a way back to his home world as the Woolies try and stop him. Seems simple enough, I guess. I should probably point out that the sound mixing on this cutscene is awful though. It took me a few views to work out what exactly had happened and it would have been easier if we’d actually seen all of this rather than having to watch a Woolie conference on the matter.
Aw god, look at those mountains. They’re not mountains, they’re just large blue slabs. And Bubsy is the best looking model in the whole game and he only has about ten frames of animation for anything that he does. And he talks. And he talks so, so much. I run into a question mark and Bubsy 3D – Bubsy Frickin 3D – attempts to be all meta and clever. Mr. Bobcat says “what would a platform game be without platforms?” Well, nothing, I guess, but those aren’t platforms, they’re just blocks in the sky. What is this? Is Eidetic attempting to make me feel like I’m playing an actual finished game rather than an alpha? Because if this was an alpha I’d forgive it. Honest.
I don’t have a lot to say about this level. It’s a kind of standard tutorial level and tells you about the regular objects you’ll be encountering the world: atoms, lives, platforms, switches, enemies and checkpoints. Oh and rockets. You need rockets to get the real ending but… I’m not going to be doing that. I’m not going out of my way to help Bubsy here, I’m sure he doesn’t really want to go back to his home planet. And I don’t completely hate it yet. Not quite. I guess it could be worse.
Oh yes, it could be worse… This level is too expansive. Waaay too expansive. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing. There’s Woolies shooting snot at me everywhere and there’s these little tiny UFO things that are trying to suck me up into their miniature base and probe me. But I don’t have to do much platforming. It’s just a lot of running around. I’m thankful for that.
Bubsy 3D is not a platformer. It’s something demonic with things thrown at you trying to masquerade as a platformer. Bubsy 3D can’t be a platformer. You know why? Because on this level I nearly got a game over on my first try. There’s two reasons for this, both linked to the controls. The first is the fact that I can’t really get the glide to work. Unlike in Spyro the Dragon where you can glide from the top of your jump, meaning you can get the most distance possible out of it, in Bubsy 3D, you can’t glide if Bubsy rolls in the air (aka, when he’s at the top of his jump). Instead, you have to time it so that you glide just as Bubsy is about to roll, which means you get no height or longevity in your glide. Pressing triangle just means that you do a tiny hop and basically sail straight down to your doom due to lack of momentum. This makes traversing to platforms that are quite far away monumental feats of patience and pin point precision. If you’re not exactly in the right spot, you’ll miss your target and inevitably die.
Speaking of momentum, in all the videos I’ve seen condemning this game, momentum is something that’s never talked about. And yet, Bubsy’s momentum physics are truly a thing that the devil himself must have invented. I like to compare the way Bubsy runs to the way Rayman runs. In Rayman, our big-nosed protagonist gains the ability to run about 2/3 of the way through the game, and when finishing any extended period of running, he gives a little, but predictable, skid along the floor (it becomes a little slippier on snow and the slopes of Band Land, but that’s just the beauty of the physics). Bubsy’s momentum has no rhyme and reason. When he runs, he will not stop running. I try to get him to stop but instead of even attempting to come to some form of halt, he takes an extra three, four, sometimes five steps. He’s step mad! This usually results in Bubsy careering off one of those platforms and to his doom. Over and over again. Until I get a game over. Honestly. It took a lot of will power to keep going.
Stage Four presents the first boss of the game, Woolie Bully, a big-headed yellow Woolie with a tie and thick-rimmed glasses who flies around on a giant calculator in a room whose walls are covered in algebra. I don’t know who really found this amusing. Is there something funny about this in a kind of Attack of the Nerds style? He dies easy enough when you realise that his explosive projectiles have a weird anti-gravity push around them…
It’s a water level! Good god, it’s a water level, the most hated of all levels in the history of the world ever… How, how, how can Bubsy 3D screw this up any more than it already has? Well actually, the answer is that it doesn’t. The three water levels in Bubsy 3D are probably the nicest experiences you’ll ever have playing this spawn of evil. Sure, the environments are still blocky, untextured piles of basically nothing and the character models are clunky but Bubsy now moves with a whopping five frames of animation and, whisper it quietly, he moves pretty well nicely competently. Not comparable to Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon by any stretch of the imagination but definitely average. A solid C grade. I’d still rather play these levels than the Water Temple of Ocarina of Time.
We’re back on dry land and holy frijoles, is that texture I see on the walls?? It is, it’s texture! And there’s some… very geometric palm trees on the floor! I’m not sure why Eidetic decided to take so, so long in presenting some of their best work about 45 minutes through the game (that’s honestly how long it’s taken me to get to this point) but suddenly my eyes don’t burn as much anymore. I feel like the searing pain in my retinas from the sheer blankness of everything has died down a bit. The level itself is okay and fairly linear, which is a very welcome change of pace from the numerous times I’ve been running around trying to find my way in environments full of nothing. Is Bubsy 3D actually improving?
I got so lost on this level. Like, really lost. More lost than Tom Hanks in Castaway. More lost than Wilson in Castaway. I feel just as helpless as that poor ball. Maybe I’d rather be a ball drifting in the ocean. It can’t be as painful as playing any more Bubsy.
Okay, I’ll explain. In this level you have to navigate a series of platforms that branch off in different directions. It’s the only way to pass a giant electrical plug that zaps you dead if you try to run through it (seriously it’s a plug, it’s not an enemy). So I traverse these platforms and, to my great surprise, I don’t fall in the giant acid pit once. I even collect a rocket for my troubles, the only one I’ve grabbed since the compulsory one at the beginning of the game. But I have no idea where to go. I’ve followed the platforms and the arrows to the letter and yet I can’t find a way to progress. After a while of going in circles, thinking I’d missed something, it turns out that the level itself was lying to me. I wasn’t supposed to follow the arrows, I was supposed to go in completely the opposite direction. This makes my blood boil, not least because following this alternative path – which isn’t actually the “alternative” path at all – lands me in a stage that is so, so long. It never ends. It just goes on and on and there’s no variety. Just kill the Woolies, hop on the platform, kill the Woolies, hop on the platform, over and over again. I wouldn’t mind so much – heck, the rest of the game has followed much of the same pattern – but it’s the fact that I could have been done with this so much sooner… I feel cheated. The game just decided it wanted to very clunkily extend its play time. I’m not down with that.
Another water level. This time the angle you start off with is so weird, I can’t even describe it. Bubsy is in a corner, I think, and he’s facing an enemy straight away, which is already blindingly unfair, but his model is kind of trapped right at the bottom left of the screen so you can barely see his ears and there’s just a big blue slab covering most of the screen. Because the camera was never programmed to clip through the environments to give you a constant view of Bubsy and his surroundings from behind, you often get these really awkward camera angles that just make navigating a real pain in the backside. This has to be the most obnoxious of the bunch though. Other than that, I’ve quite enjoyed these two water levels. They’ve got nice music, aren’t overly challenging, and Bubsy just controls better underwater. I don’t know why. Bobcats can’t swim, can they?
The mutant jagged palm trees are back! I think the acid – or is it radioactive waste? – have definitely mutated those things. This stage isn’t too bad actually, except for one minor thing. At the end you’re forced to do some precision platforming along tiny balance beams in the sky over pits of green flowing goop. And when Bubsy stands on these beams, his feet are literally standing on thin air. My heart skipped a beat when I saw what I had to achieve in this level but honestly, I think I must be getting better at this game. I don’t actually have a lot of trouble navigating along the beams and I didn’t die once. Somebody give me a medal.
I remember this level. I don’t know why though. It’s the last underwater level of the game but you start really, really close to the end of the stage. You can literally complete this level in a matter of a minute or two – and I do. I think the developers want you to explore around and find the goodies and the rockets in what could be a nicely designed level. Actually, I do know why this level sticks out in my mind. There are dogfish in this level (actual dogfish, as in a brown fish with a collar and a Rottweiler’s face). Nothing new, admittedly, they’ve been in water levels previous to this one but… these dogfish are on mass. And they will stop at nothing to make sure that Bubsy is dead in the water, which means repeatedly and viciously attacking you with absolutely no mercy.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t bother me so much now because I’m just getting to the exit in record time but if you were to explore the Attack of the Killer Dogfish would get so, so frustrating. Ridiculously frustrating. You don’t have a jump attack underwater – for obvious reasons – so the only way to defend yourself is to perform a rush attack. Unfortunately, the rush attack drains your oxygen at an alarming rate. So you’ve got a choice. Risk getting attacked by the dogfish and dying or using the rush attack and eventually dying anyway. I’m glad I’m taking the easy option here.
Oh goody, another boss fight… Yay. This time we’re participating in some Mortal Bobcat! Cue the hi-energy theme song in 3, 2, 1… Seriously though, if there was anything that interesting in this fight, Bubsy 3D might have had one redeeming quality. Instead you’re fighting a Woolie Mammoth (hur hur, geddit? Cos the enemies are the Woolies?!) but “fighting” is a bit of a loose term here. I think what you’re doing is more akin to dancing with the poor creature. He has two trunks by the way. Don’t ask why. He comes across as more cute than anything else. Poor dear.
The battle? Of course, it sucks. There’s no point in putting it more inventively. I can explain why it sucks though. There’s one major reason why I had trouble with this fight. To defeat the boss you have to lure the mammoth into banana skins which will send him flying off into the electric fence. The only way for banana skins to appear is if you jump on his stomach when he rolls over and does a kind of weird mating display in front of Bubsy. Seems simple enough right? Well the concept is and once you’ve actually forced a Woolie to throw a banana into the arena it’s very easy to get old mammoth chops to step into it (he’s not very bright). The real challenge is avoiding Mr. Mammoth’s tail, which has been programmed with a hit box so large you have to jump from a ridiculous distance in order to have any chance of avoiding being hit. Considering you have to be pretty close for him to present himself in the first place, this resulted in numerous deaths on my part. Eventually he died in the acid though. Poor bugger. Least he’s out of this game though. Lucky so and so.
How many stages have I got left? Eight? Lord save me. This is another one of those levels that’s ridiculously unremarkable but it does happen to put its defining feature right at the beginning of the stage. It puts you in front of a Woolie firing squad as soon as you spawn. I think this is the game’s way of telling you: “Look, you’ve got this far. Either turn this thing off and save yourself or we’ll kill Bubsy and put you out of your misery.” Quite nice of Eidetic to do that really.
This level is called ‘Daze Of Thunder’ and the title card looks really fun. Bubsy is speeding around in rocket ship through rings – a bit like the flying levels in Spyro – and the Woolies are powerless to stop him.
Unfortunately, I know by now that what might appear to be fun on the surface of Bubsy 3D is usually concealing a big fat lie that’s about to eat just one more mint. These rocket ships are either too slow or too fast and don’t give you any control. They’re on rails. Bloody rails. All you can do is sit and wait or hop out and there’s nothing else to do. It’s like being on the teacups at the fun fair.
You can even get shot by enemies because there’s no way to defend yourself or evade attack when you’re riding in these rockets. To add insult to injury, you can’t move the camera at all when you’re riding and that means you have little to no chance of seeing where you’re going and being able to jump out at the right time. This generally results in you dying in a pit of acid when the ship literally disappears after a TV at the end of its route (just go with it. I’m too mentally tired right now to comprehend why a TV would do this to a rocket ship). It’s possibly the most bizarre piece of programming I’ve ever seen.
Ah, gawd, another level that just lasts forever. This time you have to hit four switches to release four fans and… metal spiders?… to reach the end of the stage. But combined with a lack of clear direction, this seemingly easy task is made mind-splittingly tedious.
Have I mentioned the snakes yet? Translucent floor snakes are one of the only enemy varieties in the game, being introduced around the mid-point. They’re ridiculously annoying, mostly because they move much faster than Bubsy and you can’t kill them by standing on their heads like other enemies. You can only get rid of them by using the lightning shield (I assume you can also fire atoms at them but I’ve never been fast or accurate enough to test this theory). The worst thing is that they make this awful, hideous, demonic groaning noise that’s abusive to the ears. No, I actually haven’t muted the sound yet but if these snakes continue their campaign of terror I might consider it.
More spaceships. More death. More acid. When Bubsy is about to fall into water or slime, the camera pans around to his front and he waves goodbye at you like Wile E Coyote. That’s offensive to the trials and tribulations of Wile E Coyote.
This is another massive, very open level where it’s once gain entirely unclear where you’re supposed to be going. Only this time there’s more rockets and more enemies and more trees that look like lamps from the 1970s and… Make it stop! Please make it stop, I have a migraine from how awful this all is. I spent forty five minutes on this level. Forty five minutes. No action platformer should have a level where a relatively experienced gamer has to spend forty five minutes looking for the exit because the navigation and sense of where you are on the map is so poor.
Oh. It’s the penultimate level. I might actually make it through this. Talk about saving the best until (nearly) last though. Gone are the checkerboard floor patterns, gone is the relatively stupid enemy AI, the rockets have a decent camera angle so you can see where you’re going and the challenge is fair. Fair, I tell you. I mean it’s not great, it’s distinctly average and still feels like a grad student’s first alpha program but it’s okay. It’s okay. Perhaps all these niceties stem from the fact that I’m nearly at the end though. The relief that I’m near the end is sending endorphins through me.
The last stage. There’s so many enemies. And they’re all invincible. I think they’re meant to be robots. The checkerboards are back. And the final boss is… A giant two headed Woolie followed by the Woolie Queens. How creative. I defeat them. It’s not that hard. It’s over. Bubsy doesn’t go home. I turned it off before the end sequence played. The Bobcat wasn’t going to get any satisfaction out of me.
This, ahem, “speedrun” took about six hours. Considering I deliberately didn’t go out of my way to collect the rockets, and there wasn’t that many stages and the challenge was mostly obliterated once I figured that jumping everywhere was the best way to play, this should have taken me all of two hours. That’s roughly how long it takes me to “speedrun” Crash Bandicoot 2, which has roughly the same amount of levels. But no, the wonky controls, the artificial lengthening of the game, the enemy AI, the camera angles, the slow platforms, the awkward rockets, the hideous bosses… It all tots up in the end.
Is Bubsy 3D the worst game I’ve ever played? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel cynical; it often feels like someone put their heart and soul into making it and just didn’t really know what they were doing. I couldn’t have programmed much better. Here’s some things in favour of Bubsy 3D: it’s original, it’s not a Unit Z clone, it wasn’t made in Unity, it doesn’t have pay-for-play, it doesn’t have pointless DLC, it’s at least trying to be cute, it’s mercifully short… That’s not too bad. Plus it has a cute little cutscene if you leave your game alone too long where Bubsy fiddles with the settings on your TV that is literally the best thing in the entire game. But no, I don’t think Bubsy 3D is the most abhorrent thing I’ve ever played.
And I survived. After 19 years, I’ve finally finished Bubsy 3D.