Kinda bug and kinda snack ~ try to catch ’em in your trap!
If there was ever an award given for “delivering on hype,” Bugsnax would win it for 2020. I accepted this assignment curious as to whether or not it would live up to everything I had heard on Twitter, realizing about three minutes in that I hadn’t even heard the half of it. Bugsnax fills the holes Viva Pinata, Pokemon Snap, Ape Escape, and retro adventure games like Banjo-Kazooie and DK64 left behind, which should be music to a good chunk of millennials’ ears. So bring your gear and appetite; come to Snaktooth Island and discover its Bugsnax!
Developed and self-published by Chicago-based team Young Horses (Octodad), Bugsnax is currently available on PS4, PS5, and the Epic Games store for PC and Mac. With a release price of $21.24 (regular price $24.99), Bugsnax is touted as a 10 – 12 hour title but can take much longer for those who desire to catch and collect every single species on the island. Complete with a catchy pop song to round out the entire experience, Bugsnax has a lot of love to offer to anyone who heeds the call to adventure.
Players take on the role of an inquisitive journalist who just received the lede of a lifetime: there’s an entire island filled with bugs that are also delicious snacks. Appropriately called Bugsnax, the creatures also turn the limbs of those they’ve ingested into their form — so a donut shaped one will turn your leg into a donut, or a carrot one will turn your arm into a carrot. Simple, right? Not so simple — upon arriving at Snaktooth Island, it becomes immediately clear that its few inhabitants are not really on speaking terms with each other, and getting to the bottom of Bugsnax will require the entire community to come together to look for its fearless, missing leader. Can you bring peace to the humble village of Snaxburg while writing a total page-turner for the ages?
Controls are pretty straight-forward — WASD moves, mouse looks around, space jumps, shift runs, and TAB pulls up your journal. Press F to use a camera to scan the Bugsnax and other items in the environments, and Q pulls up your toolset with E retrieving them should they become lost. One nice thing I didn’t realize until way later on is you don’t actually have to hold shift, you can just tap it once to run, then tap it again to walk. This alleviates a lot of pain in the pinky for sure, so this was absolutely appreciated.
As you wander around the island, you’ll come across a wide variety of Bugsnax to catalog and collect. Each species hangs out in a particular place and may only emerge at a certain time of day, so it’s critical to explore every nook and cranny for signs of life. Some are crawling around slowly on the ground, so a simple trap will suffice, while others hurl fire at you so you’ll need to carefully set a trip wire to cause them to fall off their perch and into a pool of water below. The difficulty scales very smoothly, and side quests foster more capability and creativity with your tools, so be sure to help as many villagers as you can, as they are sure to help you catch ’em all!
Of course, it’s not all catching and chomping on Snaktooth Island; there’s still the matter of the missing leader who called you out here in the first place, and it’s no use trying to find her until her ragtag group of villagers are working together again. And there’s no way they’ll do that if they don’t resolve both their intrapersonal and interpersonal issues first. One long-term couple bickers about differing goals while a wage slave turns to crime to escape the ‘ol cubicle prison. Despite Bugsnax’s cutesy appearance, the issues presented are relatively deep — how do I help the town gossip get over their self-loathing? How should I confront a washed up pop-star who seems addicted to Bugsnax in an effort to find inspiration? Definitely wasn’t expecting this from what felt like a Viva Pinata/Pokemon mashup!
There were a couple of surprises I wasn’t expecting in Bugsnax, the first being LGBT+ inclusivity. There are three couples in Bugsnax — one gay, one lesbian, and one straight, and the relationships were expressed naturally in every sense of the word. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but the gay couple’s conversation at the final party is so accurate to how it kind of is sometimes that it was one of those things that reaches the people that it needs to and is just adorable for those that may not have that experience. There’s also a non-binary character who, again, gets to be their natural self. All characters had dramatically different personalities without going too overboard, and their personalities furthered subplot segments that provided further context for the island. It was nice that the LGBT+ characters got to be something else in addition to their gender/orientation, which made the entire town feel so much more fleshed out.
Another welcome surprise was the twist at the end (which I won’t get into) that has been described by many a reviewer as “dark.” Now, I’d personally use that term rather loosely, and I won’t go into spoiler territory at all, but let’s just say that there is definitely a deeper secret to Snaktooth Island and it’s worth sticking it out to the end to see it. And with multiple endings, you may even want to play it more than once.
There is so much here that Bugsnax did perfectly that I admittedly struggled to find fault with it at all. The concept is strong, the execution is stronger, and there’s just so much to explore that it’d be really easy to spend hours upon hours lost getting to know the ropes, then starting over again to try to speedrun the whole thing. The way in which you catch the Bugsnax builds upon not only the recently acquired tools and skillset but player creativity as a whole; it feels really natural to come into a completely new section of the island, catch the ones you’ve seen before, and think outside the box for the ones that look new. And don’t even get me started on the boss bugs — they’re not too challenging if you’ve been paying attention to the environment and how to manipulate it. This game does some pretty exciting stuff when it comes to leading the player from new beginnings to mastery; it was just such a seamless experience, a true delight to play.
As close to perfection as Bugsnax is, it still has a few issues. There’s one I’m truly willing to look over, which is dangling weights, once interacted with, reset and go apeshit. Trying to complete Chandlo’s weight training was much more difficult than necessary because the weights were literally spinning on the rope like a pinwheel. One I’m not able to overlook is that the controls weren’t all that intuitive in the long run because too many functions were controlled by one button or it was too easy to confuse buttons for each other. Too often I’d pull up my journal instead of my toolset, and the journal doesn’t pause the game, so I’d curse as I missed a chance to catch a rare Bugsnax I’d been stalking for awhile. I didn’t find it a big enough deal to switch over to a controller, but it happened far too many times to not mention it at all (seriously, why doesn’t opening the journal pause the game?).
It’s pretty criminal how much I haven’t been able to discuss in this review; Bugsnax is an absolute treat of a game that should please anyone who fondly remembers Ape Escape, Pokemon Snap, or Viva Pinata. I haven’t been this glued to a game for a long time, feeling that sustained, high level of enjoyment from start to finish. So chart a course for Snaktooth Island today and discover its Bugsnax — you won’t be disappointed!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS4, PS5, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Young Horses; Developer: Young Horses; Players: 1; Released: November 12, 2020; MSRP: $24.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Bugsnax provided by the publisher.