Kinda Bug and Kinda Snack, but also charming and terrifying at the same time.
We have been blessed as a society to have been gifted not one, but two great catchy songs to get there origin from pop culture and even more blessed that the piece of media that spawned both songs are pretty good. The first being “Toss a coin to your Witcher” from The Witcher and second is the theme song from Bugsnax, obviously. Both have done wonders for their respective IP’s by worming their way into your brain to think about them constantly and I can confidently say that in both cases the products have been really good. Bugsnax, developed by Young Horses of Octodad fame, is a grab bag of influences that does it’s very best to stand out on it’s own. From the first few minutes it would be hard to deny the sense you’re playing a love letter to not only the Muppets, but Pokemon Snap and Viva Piñata as well.
In Bugsnax you play as a investigative journalist called to a mysterious Island inhabited by half food. half animal hybrids in search for famous explorer, Lizbert Megafig whose disappearance has upended the lives of the rest of her make shift community of Grumpuses (the name of the race of muppet like characters in the game). Upon your arrival to Snacktooth Island you are almost immediately thrown into what you will be doing for the majority of the game which is helping the interim mayor of Snaxburg get all the residents to come back to the town. Each resident left shortly after Lizberts vanishing act for different reasons and it is your job to find out what they need to move back while searching for clues about what happened to Lizbert. Each Grumpus character is unique in personality and what motivates them. Refreshingly enough the characters in this little game about eating food bugs are all great, diverse and fleshed out. The meat of the game relies on these characters and it really sails along nicely with he writing you really get to know them through the game and I actually found myself routing for some characters to get their act together or even some who I found annoying, Beffica, managed to grow on me as I interviewed her and found out more about her.
The gameplay will mainly have you trying to capture the over 100 different varieties of Bugsnax to give to the townsfolk for their various needs. For example one of the more “artistic” resident, Wiggle, will only move back to the town if you jazz up her look by getting her 3 specific bugsnax so she can write new music. You see when you feed Bugsnax to the residents they take on some physical attributes of whatever bug you feed them, letting you pick what bug to feed and what body part it will affect gives you the opportunity to make some hilariously monstrous creations. Each Bugsnax is different so naturally you will need different strategies to capture the bugs you need for the residents. Thankfully your camera will let you gather info on the Bugsnax and you will be given various tools and bait as the game progresses. The Island slowly expands as you progress opening up new environments and Bugsnak variations that would naturally go within those zones. For example the cold mountainous region finds you hunting popsicle walkers and gooey smore flyers, where in the beach area will find you getting pineapple bugs and crab apples.
While the premise seems like some one off joke that gets old fast, I found the opposite to be true during my time with the game. I constantly found myself chuckling by myself at the clever use of puns or various funny moments throughout. The writing, care and thought put into characters carries the gameplay loop further than it probably should be allowed to. I could only find few things that ended up letting me down during this weird and wonderful game. I played on the PS5 and couldn’t really find a use for the new dual sense controller which seemed like a wasted opportunity given how much this game was advertised and promoted by Sony. Some puzzle elements that came along with catching the various bugs I was honestly stumped on and if it wasn’t for the new card/help features built into the PS5 I’m sure I would still be sitting with my newly acquired grappling hook trying to pull a Cinnasnail off of a cliff. Lastly I found myself wanting to spend more time with the residents of Snacktooth Island, not something you can really fault when a game is as fun, weird and charming as this. People are going to be talking about their favorite Bugsnax (Bunger) and their favorite Grumpus (Chandlo) while singing that song for a long time. Sony has a wonderful launch title with Bugsnax and Young Horses has another great, creative game to add to their portfolio.