Review | Bugsnax
Bugsnax is the kind of game I have hard time classifying. From the people who brought us Octodad: Deadliest Catch, the company never shies away from zany ideas. On paper, the concept of capturing bug food hybrid critters may sound like a failed Pokémon clone. But thanks to an irresistible charm, clever writing, and first-person gameplay that never becomes stale during its modest runtime, Bugsnax might be one of the biggest surprises of the year.
The game takes place in the world of Grumpuses, bipedal furry creatures who act like humans. Players assume the role of a Grumpus reporter who must uncover the disapperance of Lizbert Megafig. She is a renowned explorer who sent a video request to join her expedition to Snaktooth Island, home of the Bugsnax. On the island, the reporter runs into the meek mayor Filbo Fizzlepie. Filbo explains that Liz’s expedition crew split off after a fight causes everyone to split up. It’s up to the reporter to recruit the missing Grumpuses and find out what happened to Lizbert.
The reason why Lizbert decides to explore Snaktooth Island is, as one would imagine, the Bugsnax. The titular critters are definitely the most prominent feature, as their appeal is justified right from the get go. From a crab made out of apples, a butterfly made of Cheetos, scorpions made of jalapenos, there’s practically no end to the creativity. As mentioned, all the Bugsnax call out their names, akin to how Pokémon would sound in their TV anime. Nothing brought me more joy than finding the burger with fries for legs and having it gallivant in the forest while saying “bunger bunger bunger!” Bugsnax never make the same sounds either, so their cries never become repetitive.
The primary goal is to capture all of the different Bugsnax species by using a variety of tools. For example, players can use a camera scanner that can show details about the Bugsnak in question, such as their likes and dislikes, and most importantly their movement pattern. By analyzing their path, players can set a Snak Trap in the right area to capture them. Bugsnax won’t come out of their hiding place if players are too close. This means being stealthy and waiting for the right moment is key to success.
There are also other gadgets that make the hunt much more enjoyable. The launchpad can bounce a Snak Trap towards an airborne target, or a slingshot that can shoot a variety of sauces that can lure critters over. The game shines when players must use multiple gadgets at once in order to catch one Bugsnak, further bolstering its addictive puzzle solving gameplay.
However, capturing Bugsnax isn’t without its flaws. Perhaps the biggest issue is how oblique some of the information given by the scanner can be. For example, the game tells players that Bunger can be stunned by ramming into objects using ketchup. Logically, covering a wall with ketchup and having a Bunger charge into it may sound like a great idea, but it doesn’t work. In fact the only way to stun a Bunger is by having it run into another, making capturing Bugsnax rather limiting in its solution.
Another problem is some of the tedium involving gadget usage. If players want to set a new launchpad, they must backtrack all the way to where their original is, take it back, and return to the new spot. Granted each of the nine or so environments aren’t huge, but it would’ve been an appreciated quality of life upgrade. The game does also have its fair share of random glitches. One time my Snak Trap somehow appeared outside of the level’s perimeter. The only way I could retrieve it was by exiting the area altogether and losing some progress.
Why go through all the effort and catch Bugsnax anyway? Well it plays a major role in the story of course. Most of the game’s story takes place in the main hub area of Snaxburg. In each of the different environments, players must find the Grumpuses and convince them to return. Most of the quests will involve the Grumpus asking for a specific Bugsnak and feeding them. Bugsnax are edible after all. Not only are they a delicacy, but Bugsnax can change the anatomy of the Grumpus by altering their body parts. This change is rather cosmetic, but the creative types might enjoy customizing characters by turning them into food abominations.
But the reason players will want to help the different Grumpuses is thanks to their wonderful characterizations. The portrayal of all the characters is wonderful thanks to fantastic writing and a stellar voice cast. Some of the highlights involve Max Mittleman as Filbo (Ryuji from Persona 5) and Fred Tatasciore as Wumbus the farmer (Soldier: 76 from Overwatch).
Each character has their own motivation for embarking to the island. For example, Beffica, the gossip, was ostracized by her friends due to her tendencies of snooping around. Despite her loneliness, she can’t help herself from finding out everything she can, to everyone’s dismay.
Seeing characters grow throughout the story and interacting with one another is one of the best parts of the game. I also have to give major kudos for the inclusion of an LGBT storyline that isn’t ham-fisted. Despite the goofy premise, I was surprised at how heartfelt the story could be, especially towards the final act.
This also leads to a somewhat unfortunate realization. The best moments of gameplay are relegated to optional content. Side quests don’t only flesh out characters, but also are a home to Bugsnax that are not part of the main story. In fact, the few boss battles against giant Bugsnax are a definite highlight that most players may never experience.
From a technical perspective, Bugsnax runs great on the PlayStation 5, for the most part. Sometimes the game dips from its 60fps whenever there are multiple fire or ice effects on screen, but those moments are minimal. While it doesn’t push the graphical limits of the system, it does at least feature reasonable loading times. The PlayStation 4 version, however, stutters constantly and the loading times may last upwards to 30 seconds between each area.
Ultimately, Bugsnax is one charming adventure. Underneath the wacky exterior of outlandish critters lies a surprisingly heartfelt story. Even with its shortcomings and glitches, the game rises above thanks to its charm. This is a case of style over substance that manages to exceed expectations. While it may look that Bugsnax isn’t going to be to your tastes, it might just be perfect for your flavor profile.
Final Score: 8 out of 10