Yes, like every review out there, I’ll start by saying that it is time to talk about Bugsnax. The follow-up to Young Horses’ Octodad Dadliest Catch has finally arrived after much hype and speculation. This prompts many questions to basically anyone who watched the initial reveal trailer, naturally. What is Bugsnax? How is Bugsnax? Am I Bugsnax?
The game was pitched as a cross between Bioshock, Pokemon Snap and Viva Pinata – an eclectic mix to be sure. It can’t actually be that though, surely? Well, lets find out.
Would you like some bread to start?
You play as a journalist looking for the latest scoop following a tip from fellow Grumpus and nature enthusiast Lizbert Megafig (yes everyone in Bugsnax has equally ludicrous names). The world seems to be full of these Grumpuses, essentially Sesame Street-like creatures of varying colours and statures, you’ll see them pictured throughout this review. Lizbert has told you of Snaktooth Island, a chunk of land populated by 100 different Bugsnax, when a Grumpus eats Bugsnax, they adopt some of their characteristics, be that an ice cream ear or curly fry leg. It’s a whacky premise, certainly, but it is an intriguing set-up and leaves you curious whether this is just “LOL RaNdoM” or if there is something deeper below the surface.
On your way to Snaktooth, your aircraft is destroyed, leaving you to fend for yourself, not unlike Bioshock. However, the plane crash in Bioshock wasn’t caused by a kaiju made from pizza taking you out. Well, actually, you never saw outside the plane, could be?
From here, you meet Filbo Fiddlepie, voiced by Max Mittelman, of Persona 5 fame, which I cannot unhear. Filbo is the seemingly disgraced Mayor of Snaxburg, the central hub for the games proceedings. He also lets slip that Lizbert is missing, so you need to help him find her. You’ll learn the basics of catching Snax and be set your initial goal for the game – return the residents of Snaxburg to the town, since they have recently parted ways and now reside within various other areas of the island, hopefully stumbling across Lizbert on the way.
Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside
Plot-wise, there is quite a lot to this one, much more than I first expected. This is made possible through excellent character writing for each of the main 13 grumpuses. The art here was balancing the absurdity of the concept, with more grounded, melancholy notes, a line which Young Horses treads impeccably.
Whilst the game may look slapstick and kooky with the oddball concept, many of the interactions between the characters when they return to town feel extremely real. Each character is driven by a motivation that is if not relatable, understandable. As they return, you have the opportunity to interview them and dig deeper into their quirks and insecurities, it doesn’t take long before you begin to care about these fuzzy weirdos. There are many big topics covered here, from sexuality to imposter syndrome, it could quite easily try too hard and overstep a mark, but it never does.
This makes you want to complete each of their respective arcs before seeing the credits roll, meaning that if the gameplay loop ever felt stale, the character work would surely see you through the roughly 8-10 hour campaign. Every Grumpus is unique, and whilst I definitely preferred hanging out with some than others, each character is lovingly written. As I mentioned, what first appears as bright and fun, is washed over with a melancholy stroke at various points throughout the journey, nothing hits quite as hard as seeing my boy Filbo dancing his heart out at a party full of arguing Grumpuses.
Gotta snak ‘em all
So, I have talked for quite a while now about Bugsnax, but I haven’t said what you actually do. It is basically a first-person collectathon. As you explore Snaktooth Island you meet various characters, but more importantly, the titular Bugsnax. Each Grumpus will ask for various ‘snax, this could be a “cold” snak, or a “green” snak, then it is up to you to hunt them down and feed the poor creatures to the greedy Grumpus. Early on you gain access to various tools, such as a camera, slingshot, a remote trap and a couple of others – these are your means of catching Bugsnax.
The main loop here is snapping a snak with your camera to determine their likes and dislikes and working out a way to lure them into your trap or stunning them so you can swipe them up with your trusty net. From example, Fryers (spiders made of chips), can be caught by setting up a trap and dousing it with ketchup, they love ketchup. Where this gets more complex is by throwing in different ‘snax. Some Bugsnax hunt one another, some are on fire, some are freezing cold – you need to find a way to juggle the plentiful moving parts in order to catch the one you want. It makes for some unique and satisfying puzzle-solving, but equally, can devolve into a Bugsnax bloodbath, with so much going on that you barely understand how you “solved” it. This is all part of the fun of course, and as you become a more experienced hunter, you’ll feel like a regular Steve Irwin.
If hunting down the incredibly cute critters isn’t to your tastes, then, I’m not sure there is much else for you here. Every quest involves catching and feeding Bugsnax to various people. Thankfully I loved it. Discovering each creature and accompanying tiresome food pun was a blast and I am now the proud owner of a fully complete Bugsnax encyclopedia.
Most of the critters are created with such care, you can practically see the childish grin on the artist’s face as he finishes up his concept drawing of a “ribblepede”. Everyone is going to have a different favourite too, it’s a joy to discover. Unfortunately, there are some duds in here, with 100 different species, what are you to expect. Moving between areas, some Bugnsax are simply palette-swapped versions of previously caught insects, whilst disappointing, not a deal-breaker, it just means discovering your next favourite is made all the sweeter.
On top of the smorgasbord of common snax, there are a few apex predators which make up the few boss battles throughout the campaign. These legendary Bugsnax are each memorable in their own right and require you to utilise all of your hunting techniques gained up until this point. I won’t spoil any of the designs or names of these, but they’re awesome, trust me. Whilst only one truly stumped me for a few minutes, they were still fun to figure out and ultimately trap. After all, I am the top of the food chain on this island.
A little raw for my liking
It isn’t all pizza parties and Panda Pop however, for you see, there are some raisins in this seemingly chocolate chip cookie. Playing this on a PlayStation 4, due to being hindered by insufficient funds following my car being written off, may have disadvantaged me here. This might be an issue siloed to the PS4 version, but the performance leaves a lot to be desired, there are lengthy load times and choppy framerates in abundance here, particularly when entering a new biome. These load times are exacerbated by having to sit through multiple if you would like to get across the whole of Snaktooth Island to catch a specific Snack – No fast travel, with an interconnected world, means you will be going through these over and over again.
This could have been easily solved by implementing a fast-travel system, and it wouldn’t even be too out of place. Each area could have a “BUG-gy” (yes, I’m leaving that in), which allowed you to drive from one biome to any other, allowing you to suffer through just a single load, rather than the potential four.
Visually, like Octodad before it, there leaves a lot to be desired, whilst the Bugsnax and Grumpuses themselves are modelled just fine, the environments could do with a little more populating. This is not why you come to Snaktooth Island so it is by no means a deal breaker, but something to consider.
It seems comical that this would be the game that I complain about performance for, looking at it visually, the game just does not seem optimised for last-gen systems. That is totally fine too, it never hampered my enjoyment too much, it was just an inconvenience which I though I should mention if you were thinking of picking this up on older hardware.
Just the bill, please
I’ve tried not to go into too much detail on some of the specifics here because they are much better when discovered for yourself. On the whole, you would be hard-pressed to find a game with more heart and charm than Bugsnax. The characters are well written, the loop of catching bugs is fun, it truly is more than just an internet meme and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves. I cannot wait to see what Young Horses do next, I think they are onto a winner here, I’d love to see some DLC islands or a full-blown sequel before dropping this and moving onto a new project. In short, yes, it leaves me wanting seconds.