When it comes to the PS Plus freebie games, we are normally not the first to jump on and review. The reasons for this are that there is a good chance a lot of you are playing the game already, adding it to the ‘play later’ pile. Either that or the game has been out for a while already and is considered ‘old news’. When it comes to titles like Bugsnax though, things are different. PS5’s are pretty hard to come by right now, so your choices are either buy it on PS4, or to get the download later when you get your console, likely be for a price. I figured that was as good a reason as any to chronicle the utter enigma that is Bugsnax .
This is the latest effort from Young Horses, the fine people behind Octodad: Dadliest Catch and…not much else. Anyone who remembers the 2014 paternal mollusc simulator will be aware of just how weird it was. You had a game about an Octopus, pretending to be a loving father to a family of two children and a wife that were oblivious, despite the main character being a clumsy fellow and also clearly an Octopus.
This weirdness set a bar and when I saw Bugsnax for the first time as part of Sony’s belated E3 press stream, I was both dumbfounded and downright ready for that dose of wholehearted surrealism again. The short trailer didn’t give much to go on and as more came out, I think I was just as confused as I was with the first one. All I needed to invest was that image of a strawberry with googly eyes running around on his leaf petals. Little did I realise that instead of finding a game about cute looking edible creatures that you can capture by various means, I found a game that included all of the above and also a genuinely interesting story with surprising amounts of character depth.
It all starts in an office. You play as a journalist who is sent a short video, leading you to Snaktooth island. The famous explorer, Elizabert Megafig has invited you to chronicle the happenings on the island and its native inhabitants, the titular Bugsnax. On your way there, you find yourself being knocked out and landing smack in the middle of a crisis. The town of Snaksburg has a fractured community and all of its inhabitants have moved away due to a falling out, which happened shortly after the disappearance of Elizabert and her partner Eggabell who went exploring to parts unknown. The core of the story revolves around meeting each of Snaksburg’s inhabitants and solving both their personal issues and the rifts between them and their neighbours. The ultimate goal in all of this is to find out what happened to Elizabert and to complete your article.
All of this is achieved with the capture and devouring of Bugsnax. These creatures appear everywhere on Snaktooth island, each representing humorously designed edible pastiches of real-life insects that all have their own profiles and personalities: Ranging from the skittish Strabbie’s to the far more aggressive likes of the fiery Preying Picantis, an amalgamate of various Bugsnax that resemble tacos, burritos and a nacho for a face. Each of the Snaksburg villagers has a taste for these critters, even though when eaten by a Grumpus (the muppet type characters you see,) the snax change part of their body into the appearance of the snak that the Grumpus ate.
As downright daft as this all sounds (and it does) it all contributes to the overall mystery in the story, which is one that takes on a couple of surprising twists and turns that I wasn’t quite prepared for. I won’t go into these exactly, as that would be a major spoiler for those interested. What I can talk about however, is the main meat of the game that gets you to that point, namely the interactions with the townsfolk and the various Bugsnak related missions that they send you on, and if you’re into similar games, you can also find great Pokemon games at sites like https://www.solutiontales.com/quiz/pokemon-quiz/ online.
Beyond the town mayor Filbo whom you meet early on, there are ten other villagers to find and bring home. Each of these characters have their reasons for wanting to stay away from Snaksburg and this is mostly due to their relationships with each other and how they broke down after a big fight that is often alluded to. The characters look like a muppet B-list team; however, they are all fleshed out much further than I would have ever expected. To give a couple of examples, there is Wambus, a farmer that is down on his luck due to not being able to catch Bugsnax, he has instead taken to growing sauces, which act as both an inferior food source and a means to tempt bugs into traps. Wambus is missing his wife Triffany as she has gone off to explore island ruins to learn more about Bugsnak history. Wambus also harbors a grudge against Gramble, a skittish but caring fellow that detests the idea of eating Bugsnax. Instead, he keeps them in his barn to train them as pets, much to the chagrin of those who see them as nothing more than addictive food. Gramble is the object of affection for Wiggle, a singer who has fallen out of the charts and came to Snaktooth island to find her edible, bug shaped muse.
I realised as I was typing the last paragraph that I could easily go on. Each Grumpus is connected to each other in some form or other, either at odds or in favour of each other and it is those relationships that took me on an unexpected ride that travelled through themes of anxiety, depression, love and learning to let go of one’s dreams. It certainly wasn’t what I signed up to when starting up a game from the Octodad guys, but I absolutely loved this approach. Not only was it genuinely deep and heartfelt, but I didn’t find a character among the bunch that I didn’t like or get in some way. Despite the ludicrousness of the concept, the themes and issues portrayed are surprisingly down to earth and this elevates Bugsnax in ways that I never thought possible. This is all helped in no small part to the stellar voice acting from the cast and their cartoony, yet grounded portrayals.
The other characters are of course the Bugsnax themselves. These things are great and with over one hundred to find, there is plenty to see and work out. Each Snak is a puzzle, requiring separate methods to capturing them. You get an arsenal of tools to work with to help you on your way: early on you start with the trap that provides the primary capture method for most smaller snacks and a sauce launcher to act as rudimentary bait. Combine these two and you can capture most Snaks, like Bungers with ketchup (burgers with curly fry legs) or Popticks (guess) that are attracted to chocolate. Other tools come thick and fast as you progress and open more options for you.
The real nuance to these tools is in how you can combine actions together in aid to catch the more troublesome Bugsnax. A good example of this is with the Preying Picantis. This creature is on fire and will chase you on sight, so you need to be able to quench the flames and knock it out to be able to safely capture it. To do this, one of the ways is to stun the Picantis using a tripwire, then drag them into a lake using the grapple wire to put out the fire. I was also able to do this by chucking sauce over the Picantis, letting a nearby Sodi Snak to spray water at the creature and then knocking them out for the catch.
Bugsnax fully supports the player in experimenting in this way, never punishing for unconventional capture methods. This is all aided by an in-depth journal which chronicles each Bugsnak you snap with a camera, their likes, and dislikes (much like with the villagers). While it provides you the broad strokes of how to deal with a creature, it is up to you to make it all work. My only grumble however, is that while there are a large number of Snaks in the bestiary, in reality, there is only a fraction of the total figure, as some archetypes, such as the Strabbie or Spuddy are seen repeated in other areas, only with a slight modification to make them slightly different to capture. For example, The Bunger in one area is attracted to ketchup, but in another, the BBQ Bunger will be attracted to cheese or range dressing and would be more aggressive.
Despite this, each Bugsnak is a joy to discover and catch, even if some become trivial after a previous encounter with their variant. I especially love the voice acting for the critters, each of the Snax speaks only their name, similar in fashion to the Pokémon anime series, making them easy to tell apart and find from a distance. The real standout moments come when you meet the legendary Bugsnax. I won’t go into detail here about where to find these or how, but for me, these are the standout encounters that act as boss fights. While you can’t die in the game, these were particularly fun as they are much bigger puzzles to solve, requiring some thought to first knock them down and then capture them.
Lastly, as appears to be tradition on a new console launch, let’s talk about performance. As will be immediately apparent from the screenshots or gameplay footage you may have seen, it isn’t exactly a standout for the PS5 in terms of looks and the framerate can sometimes take a dip in places. There were a couple of times also where I encountered a soft-lock or glitch that required me to either leave an area to reset the Bugsnax that had spawned or to restart from a save as I had accidentally overshot on a task before realising the true solution. As a result, Bugsnax won’t exactly win awards for technical prowess. However, Young Horses have more than made up for these rare, occasional issues with a genuinely heartfelt tale of mystery, personal drama’s and creature collecting. Bugsnax is not only a fun game, but one that demonstrates that new IP with outlandish concepts can still work alongside glitzy powerhouse titles like Demon’s Souls and make for a great experience in narrative and gameplay overall.
Version Played: PS5
+ Fun, creature catching gameplay with plenty of ways to ensnare the Snak’s
+ A story with genuine mystery and intrigue, thanks to the disarming surreal concept
+ Great creature design overall, whether Grumpus or Snak
- Some areas are sparsely populated for the relatively small size of the maps
- A little glitchy in places