When I discovered that Bugsnax came from the creators of Octodad, I knew I had to throw all my expectations out the window. These are the type of games that have a “what you see is what you get” vibe in the opening few hours, and yet can still manage to surprise you in so many ways as you play more of it.
Bugsnax takes you to Snaktooth Island, a tropical paradise where a group of yeti-like Grumpuses have settled among the island’s native half-bug, half-snack creature population. You’re a reporter who has been invited to the island by Elizabert Megafig, a disgraced explorer who is documenting the Bugsnax for scientific and archaeological purposes. It’s only when you reach the island that you discover she has gone missing, and the Grumpuses are now scattered across the island. It’s your job to bring everyone back to town and reach the heart of the mystery surrounding Elizabert’s disappearance.
It’s strange, but Bugsnax might be like an offshoot of Pokémon and Viva Piñata. You explore this island, finding all the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit it, and must figure out to how catch them. Each Bugsnax has a specific method that will allow you to catch it, with some requiring the use of traps while others may need more elaborate tools to seize them. For example, there’s one that burrows deep underground and won’t come out on its own, so you instead use a nearby crab-like Bugsnak to dig it out of the ground for you to grab. Half the fun in Bugsnax is discovering how to catch each one, and the ways in which they interact with each other can produce interesting results.
While you’re doing this, you meet the different Grumpuses that are now living alone across the island. These characters love the taste of Bugsnax, completely unphased by the colonial implications of devouring an island’s indigenous population for their own gluttonous desires, and will often ask you to collect certain ones to feed them.
The twist is that eating Bugsnax transforms parts of their body into that specific snack, resulting in a Grumpus that could have a strawberry arm, a hamburger leg, and so on. As your playthrough continues, and you feed the characters more, their appearance gradually becomes more warped. The end results can be truly horrifying, as you can see from the image below. Bugsnax might appear to be a cute creature collection game, but it’s really a body horror in disguise.
Each biome on the island is diverse, taking from hot tropical beaches to cold mountain tundras. No matter where you go, however, you’ll always be cutting through Snaxburg, the game’s central hub area where all the characters coalesce once you can convince them to come back. Bugsnax is very big on having you interact with these folks and getting involved in their personal lives, and as the plot progresses you grow to love them and their idiosyncratic personalities. It’s fun to see Snaxburg slowly grow as more return to it too, with old broken-down buildings being restored as more residents return.
Most importantly, there are gay and non-binary characters too, and it’s never a big deal. They aren’t othered, their sexualities are hidden, there’s not even a “OMG these characters are gay” moment. They just… are. I’m willing to bet a huge portion of Bugsnax‘s playerbase will be children and teenagers, so this is absolutely important. Queer young people will see it, and will appreciate the representation.
Bugsnax is a launch title for the PlayStation 5 but I should note this review has only been tested on my PS4 Pro. This version runs fine for the most part. Graphically, it looks great and I can’t imagine what improvements could be made to textures or lighting on a next-gen version to make it such a drastic upgrade. On the other hand, framerates fluctuate very dramatically in some areas. The Snaxburg hub area hits an almost-consistent 60fps, whereas some of the late-game areas dip a lot further. One biome even put me into the below-20s range for about a solid five minutes. I can’t imagine this problem exists on the PS5 version (and is probably much worse on a base PS4), but you may want to check reviews that have tested the platform you intend to play it on for confirmation.
It’s the versatility of every tool that impressed me the most. Ranging from simple traps to tripwire guns, each of the different equipment you use to catch Bugsnax is slowly drip-fed to you over the course of the game’s ten-hour runtime, and there are so many interesting ways the gadgets can interact with each other. It’s just so much fun to adapt a strategy to catch each individual creature.
On the surface, Bugsnax isn’t a needlessly complex game, and yet it allows for a huge amount of depth. It’s a lot more than just the meme the internet has taken it for, and while not a perfect title, it’s certainly fine for what it sets out to accomplish.
Tested on PS4 Pro
Also available on PS5, PC
Developer Young Horses
Publisher Young Horses
Disclosure a copy of Bugsnax was provided by Popagenda PR