Review – Bugsnax
So we are finally, FINALLY, talking about Bugsnax, that tiny independent game from Young Horses that was revealed during a PlayStation State of Play. The game with the theme song, by Kero Kero Bonito, that infected all our eardrums like a wild Strabby. The savior of Next-Gen, as lesser titles like Cyberpunk 2077 delay again and again. It may not be the gyro we need, but it’s the gyro we deserve. Yes! We are talking about Bugsnax!
Surprised by a sudden invitation, you catch a plane to a remote, unmapped island. Shortly after you near its location, your air transportation crashes, leaving you stranded. You slowly make your way through the mysterious island, only to find that all the inhabitants are missing and/or changed. Wait! That’s Bioshock. No, nevermind, I was right the first time. Let’s carry on.
Where was I before interrupting myself? Bugsnax, Cyberpunk, invitation, travel, island, ahh, yes; soon after awakening on the mysterious Snaktooth Island, you come across fellow Grumpus and mayor of Snaxburg, Filbo. He explains how you are too late to meet your invitation sending host, intrepid explorer, Lizbert Megafig. Soon after an expedition of hers, there was an earthquake and she has been missing ever since. To make matters worse, soon after that incident, the inhabitants of the Snaxburg began getting more and more at odds, until they slowly all disappeared, leaving their homes behind.
Yes, it is undoubtedly true that the majority of the gameplay is, in true Pokémon fashion, all about catching the cute and edible wildlife of the island. Every single side quest of every single Grumpus deals with you catching your delicious prey and feeding it to them. This is the hook and the main story vehicle. It is basic at first: you lay a trap, you catch a bugsnax, you feed a Grumpus. As the game continues, however, you need to begin to think outside the box on how to catch them.
The surprise and pleasure, though, is that as much as this is the main mechanic, it never feels this way. Bugsnax is, at its core, about these side fetch quests, but it’s mostly to solve a puzzle, to think outside the box to catch what you need. After a handful of these puzzle solving captures, the Grumpus in question heads back to the village where you can interview them to find out what you can about your main objective.
While these quests are mandatory to continue the story, there are optional quests as well. Some are the same fetch-snax that you had to perform to get them back, but others result in actual boss fights. While you can’t die, and the boss battles are never entirely difficult, it was a great addition nonetheless, adding to the overall feel that this just isn’t a kids’ game, but a kids’ entry into an adult’s game. Imagine if Bioshock and Viva Pinata had a child.. baby’s first Bioshock, so to speak. There are even video diaries that you can find to fill in some blanks to the story, but instead of being missable, you would almost have to go out of your way to ignore them. Towards the end, with the main quest just at arm’s length, the side quests did start to feel cumbersome, however Bugsnax is still excellently paced thanks to the slight variations in focus.
With a very accessible menu system, it is easy to glance over the map of the island, review obtained diaries, or to check your journal of spotted, captured, or unknown treats still to find. You can view a bugsnax’s behavior to help you capture it. You can also view bugsnax for each area, making it very easy to go back and complete your journal.
Capturing bugsnax is straightforward, at least in theory. You spot a creature, see its walking path, lay down trap, wait to catch. As the game continues, it gets increasingly difficult but never more than a good challenge. Some may be on fire and will set your trap on fire, some may freeze your trap, some may need your trap tossed in the air, etc. To help you, you collect other tools, such as a trip wire, a grappling hook, and a launch pad are used to help you think outside the box and to hunt down each.
Although I am certain the PS4 version runs at a much lower resolution and framerate, Bugsnax features a colorful, vibrant world. The humanoid, Muppet-like Grumpus are vivid and plush like a child’s stuffed toy. The entirety of the game’s giftwrapping is very child-friendly, as there is nothing a child couldn’t relate to or grasp. The island of Snaktooth is split into six or seven easy-to-differentiate sections. You have the falls, the forest, the village, the beach, a desert, mountain peaks, and so on. While loading screens aren’t too long, about 25 seconds each, they are numerous as you get one every time you cross into a new section of the island. I expect that, on a PS5, these loads time are entirely removed.
Although you play the quiet protagonist of the game, each Grumpus is voiced surprisingly well, adding to their character. The various bugsnax also have unique sounds that add to their demeanor. All in all, it is as charming as it is mysterious, with each bugsnax and Grumpus standing out terrifically.
There is no reason not to visit this delightful world. Whether you focus on catching every single bugsnax available or mixing it with the mystery, wit, boss fights, charm and an overall system that appeals to adults while accessible to kids, it is a treat. Bugsnax is an excellent entry point to story driven narrative adventures. And the Strabby on top of the Cake Boss, Bugsnax is a PS5 PS Plus title, available as soon as the console launches up until January 4th 2021.
Colorful vibrant world that makes use of theme and characters so a kid can easily adapt to the slightly more mature overall story.
Primary focus on capturing the island wildlife, but also makes fantastic use of investigation, boss levels, mystery and characters to keep the game on pace.
Wonderfully voiced characters that add to the Muppet like environment and all-around fun of each individual.
An excellent entry point to story-driven narrative adventures.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Bugsnax is available now on PS4, PS5, PC
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Bugsnax was provided by the publisher.