One video game's 'reboot' shows industry grasping at straws

Show of hands from all of you who grew up with a game console in the house: Who remembers Bubsy?

I don’t mean people who’ve heard of Bubsy through various YouTube videos, a few of which have millions of views, but have a distinct memory of the character from their own childhoods the same way one would fondly recall Mario or Sonic.

We live in the age of Kickstarter. This site can act as a genie of sorts, bringing all sorts of projects practically oozing with '80s and '90s nostalgia back from their graves. But the odd thing with nostalgia is that not everyone shares the same nostalgia for the same things. 

As a personal example, while I like Mega Man as a franchise quite a bit, I’m nowhere near the level of fandom of the roughly 62,000 people who donated over $3.8 million to the Kickstarter campaign of its spiritual sequel “Mighty No. 9.”

However, in video game circles the Mega Man franchise is old and storied with a long pedigree extending from the obvious video games to cartoon shows to musical tributes. Not everyone can be Mega Man. The question is, is there a property so obscure that no one has nostalgia for it? And if so, what is the motive behind bringing it back? Is it an honest attempt at giving new life to a dead franchise, or simply a blind grab at nostalgia with the only property they could get their hands on?

This brings us back to Bubsy.

Bubsy was a small series that didn’t even make it to the 21st century. Out of nowhere, with little acclaim, Retroism Games announced that a re-release of the original two games will be considered for Steam Greenlight. Commentators had a field day.

But again, why Bubsy?

The listing for the game seems sincere enough. “Can Bubsy rise from the ashes,” the website reads. “Cast your vote to #SaveBubsy and begin his journey to redemption!”

But how sincere is it, really?

There are three words that get mixed up a lot: “Remake,” “Remaster” and “Reboot." A remake is a full, from the ground up overhauling of a game. A remaster is simply prettying up the graphics and maybe adding a few gameplay tweaks to make it play better. A reboot is a complete reimagining of a game for a modern audience.

Bubsy is none of those things. If you watch the trailer, it is simply the original games uploaded to play on a PC. Nothing appears to be changed.

But then why reboot it if nothing’s going into it?

Simple. The original company behind Bubsy, Accolade, closed its doors in 1999, and most of its assets went to Atari. There was no big company behind it and no demand for a reboot so it was an easy thing to get one’s hands on, and, while no numbers are available, it was probably pretty cheap, too.

But is that a bad thing?

Maybe not. While there is no exact number, games development can be pretty expensive for big name titles in the industry. And while independent games have much lower and more varying costs, it is something that requires investment to put your foot in the door.

The smaller the investment, the easier it is to get a return. Yes, perhaps Bubsy was churned out for an easy profit, but it’s a much safer bet to throw out a game that cost little to acquire and nobody buys than a costly license that falls flat on its face and could sink a fledgling company with it.

The fact of the matter is that a game should stand on its own two feet, not on a platform made of nostalgia. While I will not vouch for the quality of Bubsy, I will say that sometimes all it takes is the passing of time and, through enough purchases either sincere or “ironic,” an obscure property can be given new life and a small publisher could find even modest success with little risk. And who knows, maybe one day even Bubsy could give someone a feeling of nostalgia.

Related Link:

Sony should shut door on mascot game revival talks


Reach the columnist at drsmit19@asu.edu or follow @Maxx_Lazerblast on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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