Bugsnax

Bugsnax tells the story of a ragtag band of grumpuses who followed the charismatic Aussie-explorer Elizabert Megafig to Snaktooth Island. On arrival, they discover bugsnax—part bug, part snack!—which quickly become their primary source of food and mystery. Only three things are certain: bugsnax are delicious, eating them changes body parts into the “-snax” part of bugsnax, and grumpuses are bizarrely okay with having curly fries for biceps and honeycombs for hands. But just as eating too many bugsnax morphs grumpuses into foodie-Frankensteins, so too does stitching together a glut of individually tasty gaming morsels render Bugsnax more off-putting than enjoyable.

Young Horses, perhaps better known for their indie hit Octodad: Dadliest Catch, write on their website that they’re “pushing the boundaries of game design in order to create experiences that players have not had before.” I’ll give them this much: it’s true that I’ve never covered a hamster ball in cheese to lure a sentient nacho mantis into fighting a loaded baked potato crab before. So, novel? Yes. Fun? …sometimes? “Pushing the boundaries of game design”? Well… If Inspector Gadget meets Pokémon meets Slime Rancher meets Sesame Street meets The Sims sounds like your preferred way of pushing boundaries, then by all means Bugsnax is probably a delightful way for you to spend 10–15 hours. For me, it didn’t quite hit the spot.

Gameplay is focused on entering a new area, finding its associated grumpuses who retreated there from the central town, convincing them to return to town via bugsnak-based fetch quests, and then coming back later to catch all the bugsnax you missed the first time. Hunting bugsnax involves a light amount of physics- and tool-based puzzle solving. Some need to be melted by tricking them to walk into a hot spring. Others need to be chased out of their holes using your snak-in-a-hamster-ball. Perhaps the most overpowered technique in the game is a carefully laid trip wire, ready to stun just about anything it touches. Figuring out these idiosyncrasies for the first time is good fun— repeating them for another ten hours to catch ‘em all is less rewarding.

You’d hope, then, that the grumpuses and their “charming” personality stereotypes would be the missing ingredients in this mediocre stew. Instead, they’re extra helpings of distraction with a dash of relational weight. Which is the main course: Chandlo and Snorpy’s romantic tension, their outlandish obsessions with fitness and conspiracy theories, or their untreated anxiety? Do we focus on Wambus and Triffy’s pursuits of career or their seemingly untrusting but fine marriage? Is Beffica a real grumpus worthy of care and concern, or a plot device via which we learn about everyone else? Without spoilers, the narrative wages a similarly bizarre subterfuge against its most important relationship between Eggabell and Lizbert; I couldn’t settle whether I was in their corner or wanted Eggabell to run for the hills. And don’t even get me started on Wiggle.

We probably do need more games like Bugsnax made with a huge amount of heart and goodwill. A basic sense of goodness and grumpus-kindness runs through it all, from the bright and colorful characters to the whimsy and silliness of snak-hunting. It may not have been the finest of dining, but would it satisfy at a family dinner? Hopefully so.

Rating

Info

Type
Video Game
Developer
Release Date
November 12, 2020
Joshua J. Daymude
Joshua J. Daymude
Assistant Professor, Computer Science

I am a Christian and assistant professor in computer science studying collective emergent behavior and programmable matter through the lens of distributed computing, stochastic processes, and bio-inspired algorithms. I also love gaming and playing music.