Bugsnax Review: An ambitious adventure full of strange characters and a lot of heart
Played On: PS5
When the small, but largely ambitious game studio Young Horses broke onto the game scene back in 2014 with Octodad: Dadliest Catch, their quirky humor and strange concepts instantly captured the attention of the gaming community. Not only was Octodad: Dadliest Catch a big hit that rode the wave of a new generation of consoles and a lot of community support, but it made the announcement of their new game Bugsnax being a PS5 launch-game incredibly enticing – even though no one knew what it really was.
With cryptic trailers that eluded to an odd mix of a child’s cartoon show and a secretive strange horror, it was a genuine mystery what Bugsnax was really all about. However, as more information came out about the game, it became clear that this game was going to be vastly different from Octodad. Where Octodad felt like an experimental demo that was incredibly fun with how wacky it, but ultimately a little too short, Bugsnax really is a full-fledged adventure with the same type of charm and humor with deeper gameplay.
In Bugsnax, players will take the role of a journalist looking for their next big scoop as they head to the mysterious Snaktooth Island in order to interview a well-known adventurer named Elizabert (voiced by Helen Sadler) who’s created a community based around a major discovery she’s made on the island. However, after crash landing on the island, you not only find that Elizabert and her girlfriend Eggabell (voiced by Fryda Wolff) are missing, but that the small community of Snakburg is in total disarray. Outside of the clumsy mayor Filbo (voiced by Max Mittelman), the other residents have scattered after a major conflict divides the group. Oh, and you also begin to notice that the island is inhabited with creatures called Bugsnax – a cross between insects and food that’s both oddly adorable and slightly creepy. So, in order to find Elizabert and rebuild Snakburg, complete tasks in order to bring everyone back to Snakburg to figure out why Elizabert has disappeared and catch some Bugsnax along the way.
Young Horses has always been about creating games for both kids and adults and exuding “empathy and good humor for all” – at least as their website says. Bugsnax is a pure embodiment of this goal as its aesthetics and designs are ripped straight out of a children’s cartoon, with its own playful theme song, mixed with their own brand of charming humor with a slight edge. Honestly, after seeing it in Fall Guys and Bugsnax, I’m really starting to dig the FMOD engine and Young Horses puts it to good use into creating the game’s characters. Grumps, the game’s main species of characters, basically look like multi-colored walking, talking walruses with incredibly adorable designed matched with colorful personalities. Although they spew some of Young Horses mordern comedic charm, the characters’ looks give off that educational kids show vibe with Elizabert being the adventurous host, Filbo being the clumsy comic relief, and other characters fulfilling roles like the farmer, archeologist, scientist, and pop superstar.
As you begin to bring characters back to Snakburg, the conflicting character relationships and bad pasts arise, and the real comedic gold starts to show. The feud between farmer Wumpus (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) and Bugsnax lover Gramble (voiced by Sam Riegel) is great, Wiggle’s (voiced by Kenna Ramsey) big musical bouts are great and the one she has before a giant boss battle was hilarious, the will they/won’t they romance and brain and brawn connection between Snorpy (voiced by Roger Craig Smith) and Chandlo (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) is incredibly adorable, Beffica’s (voiced by Cassandra Lee Morris) need for you to find some hot and juicy gossip leads to some late night hilarity, and Filbo instantly warms your heart with his caring mindset and clumsy demeanor. The voice cast nails all of the great dialogue between characters and Bugsnax also contains a surprisingly good amount of LGBTQ+ representation. These representations leave such a surprisingly strong impact and really warm your heart with how the game allows their stories to feel fleshed out.
Players can even change the look of Snakburg’s residents by feeding them Bugsnax as their limbs and body parts change based on what you feed them. Just by feeding Grumps Bugsnax, you can give them curly fry arms, a straw nose, or even ice cream scoops on their heads. It’s a process that looks great and hilariously turns from being adorable alteration to horrifying concoctions. But first, you have catch some Bugsnax and its certainly no easy task.
Catching Bugsnax has a strong reminiscence of Pokémon Snap and more traditional RPGs. By whipping out their camera and snapping a photo of each Bugsnax they come across, players will be able to see their movements and make a plan to set a trap. Some Bugsnax will be as simple to capture by just setting a trap in the middle of their path and springing it once they’re in range, but others aren’t as simple. Sometimes players will have to use different condiments, like ketchup and chocolate, to lure them over to the trap or utilize other tools in order to capture them. Players might even have to enlist other Bugsnax running around the area to help knock out or lower another Bugsnax’s defenses to catch them. However, even then it’s not all that simple as some Bugsnax really take some genuine thought and planning and that’s when the freeing nature of Bugsnax really comes into play.
Bugsnax is a trial and error, almost puzzle-like, experience that’s incredibly freeing and allows for more organic discoveries that players can make on their own accord. There’re times where players might run into a Bugsnax that can’t catch at the moment because they don’t have a specific condiment, tool, or know how to catch them. For instance, when I first encountered the Sandopede, a cross between a centipede and a sub sandwich, I had gone through so many different trial and error moments to try and separate it’s sections in order to snag them. Eventually, I got a tool that did the job and I even figured out how to catch other Bugsnax in the area like the Pinkle, a cross between a hermit crab and pickles, with the same tool. It’s makes catching Bugsnax a fair challenge that’s incredibly fulfilling to figure out. Even utilizing other Bugsnax in the area for help was really intriguing as guiding a Paletoss Grande, a cross between an Atlas Beetle and a Paleta, over towards a Stewdler, a walking bowl of stew, so that their icy exteriors could cool down the fiery bowl of the Stewdler so that you can scoop it up with your net took a lot thought and effort but was ultimately very rewarding.
With there being very little handholding or tips directly given to players, there’s a lot for them to unpack themselves and make genuine discoveries of their own. Every time you find a different way to catch a Bugsnax, it legitimately feels impactful because you made the discovery for yourself and it creates such a stronger experience that’s easy to develop a personal connection towards.
It can be easy to get stuck though, especially when you’ve exhausted options and are just absolutely puzzled with how to capture or even find some of these Bugsnax – but that’s when a PS5 capability really shines. PS5 players actually have the ability to look into different tasks they have to complete within the platform and gets some easy to understand tips as to when certain Bugsnax are out and how to possibly capture them. It’s great to see a game make a great use of the PS5’s features and even feeling some of the haptic feedback you get when you capture a Bugsnax with the trap adds to the satisfaction.
All of these great things come together for a truly marvelous adventure about community building and exploration. Aside from just the ultimate joy of catching Bugsnax and having these strangely designed creatures with adorable names that they say like Pokémon at your disposal, the game just has a very charming story of adventure and homecoming. As each character comes back into Snaksburg, you can feel some of the tension that still resonates between characters, but it eventually melts away as they begin to work together again and believe in the values that Elizabert instilled in them. By the end, you really feel the growth that everyone’s gone through, especially Filbo, and it creates some really emotional ending moments that are perfectly placed before a really rad twist is revealed. Just as things seem all peaceful and complete towards the journey’s end, there’s a horrifying truth about the Bugsnax that’s revealed that changes everything you thought about them. It’s an excellent body-horror twist that not only makes the actions you’ve done have an unknown and horrifying impact, but kicks off an incredibly fun final fight sequence that utilizes all of the skills you’ve obtained in a new way.
Bugsnax is the perfect kind of quirky, heartwarming, and kind of weird adventure full of incredibly addicting gameplay and a wonderful cast of colorful characters. It’s an excellent showing of the genuine prowess that Young Horses has in creating uniquely fun experiences and stories as well as the largely creative ambition that can come out of a small studio. Bugsnax is easily one of the best indie games of the year.