DF Retro: What links Bubsy the Bobcat with Days Gone?

The origins and legacy of a notorious 16-bit mascot.

The 16-bit console era was defined by the platforming, bottom-bouncing, power-up scoffing cartoon mascot - and which comedic character had more of an impact on gaming than, um, Bubsy the Bobcat? In this very special 'not-at-all inspired by April 1st' Digital Foundry Retro, we go back to the heady days of the Mega Drive and Super NES - the era of 'attitude' - and revisit the awesome might of Bubsy, discovering his bizarre legacy and his direct connection to upcoming PS4 first-party exclusive, Days Gone.

Looking back to the original game's launch in 1993, we have to wonder - how did Bubsy become one of gaming's most maligned mascots? After all, Accolade's original release actually garnered a range of decent reviews at launch and it's one of the few successful multi-platform console projects of the time. Not only that, but the origins of the character are fascinating to say the least: the original creator of Bubsy - Michael Berlyn - actually has a celebrated history of development hailing back to the earliest days of mainstream gaming, cutting his teeth on Infocom text adventures before moving to Electronic Arts and then to Accolade.

Berlyn was fascinated by the extreme popularity of Sonic and Mario, and spent a long time analysing each title, drawn to the exploration and puzzling of the Nintendo title and the sheer speed of Sega's mascot. Thinking he'd cracked the formula, Berlyn approached his producer with his concept - and the rest is history. What followed is a promising enough debut release, let down by a truly awful sequel (Berlyn has left Accolade by this point), with Bubsy's reputation reaching the lowest of lows with the PS1's Bubsy 3D.

The full story of Bubsy the Bobcat is fascinating - and far stranger than you might imagine.

In this new DF Retro episode, I talk to Audi - fan of the original game and self-proclaimed Bubsy World Champion (note: I'm not aware of any Bubsy world tournaments as such), dig deep into the origins of the game, stack up all versions of the game and lament the Bubster's gradual self-destruction across a variety of astonishingly uninspiring and downright depressing sequels. Along the way, we'll unearth a barrage of baffling trivia, like the fact that graphics developer ATI (now AMD) produced an upgraded PC port of the original game.

And years on, maybe it's time to re-assess Bubsy 3D - it's perhaps stood the test of time a touch better than of its contemporaries. Michael Berlyn took back control of the character and founded new studio Eidetic with former Infocom colleague Marc Blank. Eidetic would evolve into the developer behind Syphon Filter, now known as Bend Studio and currently putting the finishing touches to PS4 exclusive Days Gone.

But is Bubsy truly beyond redemption? Well, after years in hibernation, the infamous bobcat resurfaced in a strange but brilliant browser game. Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective is a bizarre indie tribute to the franchise that sends this crazy bobcat into the mouth of madness. It's just one baffling component of the Bubsy mythos, which must surely have one of the strangest legacies in gaming today.

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About the author

John Linneman

John Linneman

Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

An American living in Germany, John has been gaming and collecting games since the late 80s. His keen eye for and obsession with high frame-rates have earned him the nickname "The Human FRAPS" in some circles. He’s also responsible for the creation of DF Retro.

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