I spent the first few minutes with Paws on Fire in a sort of Bubsy Fugue. I would reach the end of a level, watch the score counter spin past the million mark and see the various collectable parts of a medallion slot into place, and realise I had no real memory of where I’d been or what I’d done. If you’re not a Bubsy super fan, the bobcat can have a sort of enervating impact. He never seems to get the best gigs or the finest treatment. His platformers struggle to stick in the memory.
Then I noticed the ground-pound move. Hardly a massive breakthrough in platform games, but here it had the effect of jolting me out of my sleepwalking. It ended the Bubsy Fugue. Does it transform Paws on Fire into a classic? Not quite. But it’s central to the game’s best sort of fun.
Back a bit. Paws on Fire reimagines Bubsy as a runner game: the camera moves constantly and Bubsy and his pals are drawn irresistibly through each 2D platforming gauntlet to the final goal posts. Those pals of his! Alongside Bubsy, you get to play as Virgil and Woolie, and, if you unlock the challenge mode for each level, Arnold becomes a distinct possibility too. I can’t really tell you what any of these animals are, such is the vagary of the Bubsy art style, but Bubsy gets a pouncing dash-attack move as well as a jump and attendant slow glide back to earth. Virgil gets a double-jump and can also duck down to slide under objects. Woolie gets a UFO that allows them to turn each level into a side-scrolling shooter, complete with weapon power-ups, and Arnold spins things in a completely new direction, running into the screen along a circular tunnel, collecting stuff and avoiding obstacles as he races up and down the walls.