This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Ah, video games! A medium where there was an entire year of arguing and warring between fans over the new consoles, leading to one of the two holder’s presentation where the thing that captivated everyone was…Bugsnax and that infectious song! That’s not a diss on the game, it’s just an indication of how worthwhile “console wars” are and what actually matters, which is interesting and intriguing new games, so it’s fitting that in a presentation where technology was the main focus, a game that my toaster can run was the absolute winner.
What captivated me and a lot of the public most though was the concept; travel to a remote island to seek out an explorer whose gone missing, and her posse, while catching and feeding them these sentient bugs and snacks. Basically, creepypasta Pokemon but instead of cute animals, its cute snacks that you eat instead of enslaving and forcing fights to death (or fainting as some chose to believe). In a sense, that is exactly what Bugsnax ended up being; there’s some Pokemon Snap in the final product as well, the characters are all voiced very well and are written with some surprising willingness to explore some dramatic ideas, but without loosing their comedic sharpness. In the process the feeding part seems to have lost some of its intented impact and is basically a cosmetic function for the game, but overall, it is exactly the game I thought, and hoped, it would be.
Bugsnax starts off rather simple: You are a journalist looking for your next major scoop and you receive a film reel from Lizbert Megafig a famous explorer inviting you to Bugsnax island. With your reputation (and job) on the line you set off to find Lizbert, before crash landing on the island, and finding things having turned really bad: Lizbert and girlfriend Eggbert are missing, and the residents are scattered throughout the island separated after the mysterious events of the night that lead up to the duo’s disappearance. So, using a few tools and your wits, you set off to reunite and interview everyone, solve the mystery and find Lizbert, and get off the island. What follows is a roughly 12-hour long adventure game about finding new weird word-punny bugsnax, capturing them, and feeding them to the residents to make them happy and change their appearance. Capturing the creatures is easily the most fun and frustrating experience on offer; finding them in the wild, capturing and scanning them with your camera, and figuring out their “quirk” and how to best exploit that, so you can capture it is surprisingly decent, and the game milks this idea with interesting and unique mechanics. At the same time, there are instances where getting a new creature requires a new tool you don’t have yet and may lead to dozens of minutes wasted, or have creatures that come out during specific prerequisites like time of day and weather, which adds RNG in a game that doesn’t need it; thankfully some adjustments were made later on, but it is less about fixing these issues and more about letting you know to skip forward and roll the dice again. Moreover, the biggest criticism of the game is that it never feels different; it gets more complicated and challenging, and it is well paced as an experience, but it never surprised me or wowed me enough to feel energetic/passionate about it.
That’s why the writing is both a great surprise and mildly disappointing; other games would not have the talent and focus to fill a dozen hours with, but Bugsnax feels limited to a dozen hours, like it had as many characters cut as it had in the game. The humor is flowing through the writing and the design, but the dramatic elements are what add depth and legs to the campaign; there are some genuinely great moments, and few games truly manage to nail the feeling of a great adventure with laughs, cries, love, danger, mysteries, etc. It’s unfortunate that the humor turns from laughs to giggles and the dramatic elements made you sad the first few times, but later became routine; they are still interesting, the characters are still charming, and the mystery is predictable yes, but engaging and fun nonetheless, however they all lose their sharpness by the end.
Before that becomes a problem though, the game ends, and that seems to be a consideration that leaked into other sectors as well. One area where the curation was perfect was the visuals; no creature is anything less than superb and every time I saw each single creature – from the first time to the last time – I was excited and amazed. They have this silly way to call out their names like Pokemon, but in a much goofier way (which makes things even more nightmarish), and despite the creepypasta effect they have the first few times, the Bugsnax, the creatures, and the island is a joy to watch, and are (all to their own) one of the best characters of the year.
That’s all you really need to know about Bugsnax; I wish the feeding mechanic was more involved, I wish it was less formulaic, I wanted more of the song (you only hear it in the credits). Ultimately, what we all wanted and what we all came to Bugsnax island for was for the charm of the creatures, the inhabitants, and the island. That Younghorses also created a pretty great adventure with cool narrative ideas and solid gameplay to make it a 12-hour journey was necessary to make it a GREAT game, and I’m happy they pulled it off in such efficient fashion.