There’s something weird going on in this, the year of 2017. Within the span of a week, I’ve reported on news for sequels for both Shaq Fu and Bubsy. A new game from the creator of Parappa the Rapper is on Kickstarter, and Shenmue 3, a real game, just got delayed to 2018. Video games are really weird right now. But… Bubsy? Really? Is Bubsy really capable of being a thing right now?
When Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back was announced, I was mostly confused. Then, predictably, Twitter started going nuts about it. But it was hard to tell if there was a difference between sincerity and the usual Internet irony arms race. After all, a new Bubsy game hasn’t happened since the mid-90's, and anything since has largely been firmly rooted in meme territory. Bubsy is the subject of non-sequiter Internet humor more so than legitimate nostalgia.
Bubsy is one of those low-shelf mascot attempts of the 90's, created during the gold rush of the time. Games like Boogerman, Earthworm Jim, and Claymates and more were all a part of this era, with varying degrees of success. Bubsy lasted long enough to get a sequel, but faded into relative obscurity soon enough. A 3D version was attempted, but it was the end save for a bizarre, browser-based, comedy game (not official of course) and a fairly recent Steam re-release of the originals. Those were also met with silly Twitter celebration and quickly forgotten.
Mascot games, especially mid or low-tier budgeted mascot games, don’t work anymore. Even Sonic the Hedgehog is a struggling commodity, much less low-hanging fruit such as Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, which also tried and failed to scramble back to relevance. What I see here is a Snakes on a Plane kind of situation. That movie seemed like marketing brilliance at the time. The whole Internet was alight with memes and crowd-sourced merchandise – the creators of the film seemed to understand the driving force of irony, making the movie one of the biggest examples of Internet-exclusive buzz in Hollywood. Then it bombed – it bombed hard. Memes aren’t money, and whatever person in charge of funding Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back may not have been paying attention.
That said, there could be just enough people who have legitimately fond memories of the first couple of Bubsy games to be interested in playing this new game. The developers are the same company that was behind Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. That was another obscure revival of an ancient, irrelevant property, and one that was made well enough and received well enough to have an enduring presence. Sure, you see it in a lot of bundles, but that’s a good sign – it means people pick it up consistently.
If Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is a legitimately good game, and priced appropriately, the memesters could join forces with the broader PC gaming audience and make the game a mild success. As an added bonus the game is also launching on PS4, which is a good sign as well. Those are two of the biggest install bases in the current video game landscape, and stranger things have happened. After all, 2017 is the home of a new Double Dragon, multiple localized spinoffs of River City Ransom, a new Shaq Fu and all kinds of other, bizarre nostalgia plays.
Let’s just hope the folks behind that failed Boogerman campaign don’t get wind of this trend and ruin it for everyone else.