Whether it’s for cereal boxes, television shows, football teams, or major companies, mascots play a role in almost any business.
In the video game world, it’s no exception either. For companies like Atlus, a simple Jack Frost snowman is all they need to represent themselves. Sega has, of course, Sonic, and Nintendo definitely needs no explanation.
Like their target demographic, video game companies are extremely competitive in pushing their mascots and building their reputations to the be akin to the next Mario. As far as marketing and financial success, none have been able to surpass Nintendos iconic plumber. While some have arguably come close, none have really managed to maintain that consistent quality of producing decent games.
While the 90s saw the emergence of Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Banjo-Kazooie, it also gave us a lot of rubbish characters. Through their uninspired appearances, obnoxious personalities ,and (most often the case) terrible video games, most of these mascots died out instantaneously. In this piece, we aim to explore these characters, learn about their history and the people behind these games.
A Short History on Bubsy the Bobcat
Created by American author and game designer Michael Berlyn, the character Bubsy came from one man’s ambition to get into the 2D sidescrolling market with Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, the title was a play on words for Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Upon release, Bubsy was generally well-received by reviewers, with magazine outlets such as Nintendo Power giving the title an 8 out of 10 rating. As far as financial success, the game did considerably well.
Shortly after Bubsy’s release, Berlyn left Accolade to pursue his own development business. Not long after, Accolade began work on Bubsy 2. Released the following the year in 1994, Bubsy 2 was met with a lot of negative opinions, with many critics noting the title’s uninspired level designs and recycled assets.
In a 2006 interview with SEGA-16, Berlyn would go to say that the problem with Bubsy 2 was that it was handed to people who either had no interest in the character or hated him entirely:
Bubsy 2 failed due to mismanagement of the character. It was done by people who, no matter how talented and interested they may have been, had not understood the original vision.
While Berlyn would say in a later interview with Gamasutra that Bubsy 2 pretty much “killed the franchise,” sequels still managed to pour in. In 1994, Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tails came out on the Atari Jaguar. Despite critics enjoying its fairy tale setting, the title was panned for its awkward controls and harsh difficulty. Adding to the fact that the Atari Jaguar was met with poor console sales meant that this Bubsy title was doomed from the start.
Two years later, Berlyn would later return to begin work on Bubsy 3D. During the time of development, Berlyn and his team found themselves in a difficult position when it came to transitioning Bubsy into 3D. Despite his expertise, Berlyn had no experience in working with 3D environments.
I had no tools for drawing environments, no controller precedents that I could rely on, no way to relate polygon count to the kind of design I was visualizing, and throughout all of this, there had been no 3D platform games before. Remember, platform games were side scrolling, and side scrolling had no meaning in 3D.
In 1996, Bubsy 3D was released on the PlayStation. With its ugly level designs, clunky controls, and the overarching success of Super Mario 64, Bubsy 3D was a dismal failure.
After the release, Berlyn knew that there was no future for the franchise. Berlyn would later work on Syphon Filter, which would prove to be his last game.
What Killed This Mascot?
As we can see from the history of these games and the companies backing these projects, there are a number of elements that would contribute to Bubsy’s decline. First and foremost would have to be Accolade’s part and their deciding factor in developing a sequel with people who didn’t care for the brand. While I understand that with Berlyn’s departure Accolade would have obviously have to make due with their other employees, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bubsy 2 ended up the way it is with a team who wasn’t invested in the character.
The second reason would have to be the development of Bubsy 3D. While today 3D technology is something that we more or less take for granted, we have to remember that in early 90s 3D technology was something that the industry was only just starting to transition into. After a decade of consoles dedicated towards 2D titles, only a few handful of developers really understood how to make solid 3D titles. With Berlyn’s lack of knowledge for the 3D medium and the success of Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64, Bubsy 3D had no chance.
The final element of Bubsy’s decline is, well, Bubsy himself. As a character, Bubsy was just awful and felt like a failed attempt at emulating Sonic. Through his corny dialogue and obnoxious personality, Bubsy only came across as an annoying cereal mascot.
Could Bubsy have survived if it was licensed to better developers? Who knows honestly. Seeing as we live in an industry where an orange bandicoot is heralded as a childhood video game icon, I like to imagine a universe in which Bubsy was at least made toleratable.