Console: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
Genre: Mascot Failure
Next week is going to be Sonic the Hedgehog week, where we look at the various Sonic games on the list (as well as a few Sonic-themed excursions) and thin out their ranks a bit.Before we can talk about what makes the better Sonic games so great however, it helps to take a look at a game that desperately tried to emulate Sonic but failed:Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind
One look at the really awful pun in the title of this game ought to tell you everything you need to know.I mean, honestly – “Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind”?Is there any chance that anyone – anywhere – in the world would ever find that funny?Of course not, and don’t fool yourselves, the publisher knew that too.But there it is, in the title anyway, stinking up the place like a rotting corpse at a garden party.And that’s pretty much par for the course for this game – it knows its awful, it just chooses not to care.
Bubsy himself is his own little nightmare of character design.He looks like he came out of the brainstorming sessions of a bunch of guys who knew nothing about making games, but were making wild guesses at what might be popular with the kids these days – you know, a marketing department.Fans of The Simpsons call this the “Poochie Effect”.For those of you not familiar with the Poochie Effect, just imagine a bunch of corporate types crowding around an artist’s desk, shouting out ideas for how the character should look and act, while the artist indifferently draws whatever idiotic things they suggest.
And what ideas they had!”Make him some kind of cute animal, but with more attitude!Make him run fast like Sonic!Have him act cool!”Bubsy’s the anti-hipster, except in a way which makes that way less appealing than that sounds – he’s a walking collective of every mainstream trend in both gaming and pop culture that the marketing people could think of.He’s so formulaically cool that he ends up being painfully lame.We’re lucky they didn’t give him a football (“No, a basketball!No wait, soccer – that’s what all the kids play these days!”), and some wacky stereotype of black people to be his sidekick.
Oddly enough, one person at that brainstorming session must have been shouting out “More death animations!Lots and lots of death animations!” because Bubsy has more animated deaths than any other character I’ve ever seen in a game (including that guy from The Immortal).Drop him off a high ledge – there’s multiple animations for that.Have him run into an enemy – several animations.Drown him in water?Yeah, that’s covered.Whereas Sonic and Mario are happy just to hop up and fall off the screen, Bubsy hams up every death scene like a dinner theater production of Hamlet.
And here’s the thing – This isn’t an Evel Knievel simulator.Killing off the main character isn’t supposed to be the most entertaining part of a game like this.The idea isn’t to reward failure.You want death animations?Put ’em on the enemies.Make them die for our entertainment.
Here are some general rules for making a good mascot-based platformer:
- They need likable characters – Bubsy’s not – he’s so trendy it’s annoying, he stares at you with this smug look on his face all the time, and he’s more fun to kill than to keep alive.
- They need to be consistent with their ideas – Bubsy fails here too – he can run real fast like Sonic, but unlike Sonic, he dies immediately if he runs into an enemy or hazard, or falls very far. This forces you to play cautiously and not use all that really fun speed they gave you.Which is actually stupid enough to make you want to slap yourself in the head.
- They also need good music – That may not sound important, but good music is that little bit of extra motivation for when you’re about to jump onto the back of your 10,000 turtle, and wondering what the point is.In fact, I bet you can remember all the tunes from your favorite Mario and Sonic games.This is a problem for Bubsy, as most of the game’s music sounds like it was stolen from whatever TV jingles they have in hell.
The people who made Bubsy tried to cash in on the success of Sonic, but did so without understanding what made those games good, putting more emphasis on making a “cool” character than on the logical, tried and true design ideas that were the real secret to the hedgehog’s success.The end result is a game that is below average in every way imaginable.