You might remember Bugsnax as the game which stole the show during Sony’s big PlayStation 5 event this past July, especially since Twitter couldn’t stop raving about Lizbert the walrus and about the infectious song by the delightful Kero Kero Bonito. Unfortunately, nothing about the game has captured the internet’s collective attention since then. Bugsnax made the headlines again when PlayStation surprised us all with the announcement that the game will be available at no extra cost for PS5 owners with a PS Plus subscription. This made it so that for many PlayStation players, Bugsnax became (alongside perhaps Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls) one of the very first few games to play on the new console.
What Is It?
Bugsnax is a deliciously bizarre adventure game which has players take up the role of a journalist invited to explore an island harbouring creatures called, Bugsnax – half animal, half food. Think of a pizza with moth wings and you’ve already got one right there.
Once on this particular island it is striking to discover that the leader of the expedition, Lizbert, has mysteriously disappeared. As such, the story revolves around finding Lizbert and, on the way, running into her fellow animal-human friends, called Grumpuses. These said Grumpuses all know something about the circumstances in which Lizbert’s gone missing. The main task of the game is to find all of them, convince them to rejoin the expedition’s settlement of Snaxburg, and interview them for clues which will lead you closer to finding out exactly what happened to Lizbert.
Why Should I Care?
What impressed me most about Bugsnax is the writing; it does such a brilliant job delivering sweet and poignant moments while not taking itself too seriously. This really is an earnest game, double so after you move past its eccentricities.
On a different note, I’ve also appreciated how complicated the character cast is; the denizens of Snaxburg fight before they make up, and not even then is it all coming up roses for them. Nailing the characters was very important due to the nature of this being an adventure game, and I’m very happy to report that the developers over at Young Horses have done a splendid job in this regard. In fact, even the numerous side stories, which one might be tempted to dismiss or ignore, are very much worth seeing through for they are sometimes home to the game’s funniest and strongest writing.
In terms of blemishes, my biggest problem with the story and writing, which is otherwise genuinely great, is the ending. I won’t spoil it here, but the game constantly teases at there being something strange afoot on the island and that nothing is quite how it seems at first glance. Yet, when it came time for the big reveals, these were never as fascinating or as interesting as the setup led me to believe they would be. It’s a bummer, but Bugsnax really reminded me of Mass Effect in this way.
Bugsnax suffers somewhat in the gameplay department, too. Beyond spending time with the Grumpuses and playing detective, the bulk of the game has players observe and eventually figure out the puzzles that lie behind capturing the many Bugsnax which inhabit the island. If this sounds like the offspring of an odd paring between Pokémon Snap and, let’s say, Portal, that’s because it absolutely is. And, yes, it is as fun as you would hope it to be in that sense. Except for the fact that it eventually stops being all that fun altogether.
You see, the game starts off fairly simple by offering only the bare minimum you need to capture Bugsnax. And for as long as it lasts and for as long as it remains simple, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Maybe it’s the Pokémon fan in me, but I did truly have a good time seeing all the wacky creatures pop out at me, checking the Bugapedia for the Bugsnax I’ve missed and going through the diverse biomes over and over again in order to complete my collection.
But then as Bugsnax ramps up and throws more tools at your disposal, catching the later Bugsnax becomes needlessly complicated. For example, in order to catch a Big Bopsicle, a bug made up of two popsicles joined together, I needed to have it follow me to a hot spring to melt the ice protecting it, then trip it up with a rope before eventually catching it with my trap. If this sounds simple, I can guarantee that the finicky controls and the infuriating AI made it anything but. It took me a staggering amount of tries to finally capture the silly creature and this was also the case with most of the Bugsnax I was tasked with capturing in the end game. This made it so that I eventually wanted anything but to capture anymore critters, which is clearly against the whole point of the game. Making matters worse is that the game is so obscure at times – I found myself getting frustrated when trying to figure out the specific way the game wanted to solve puzzle after puzzle.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
I was really hot on Bugsnax during my first few hours with it as everything clicked with me really well. Unfortunately the more I played, the more the cracks in the game began to bother me. Looking back on the whole 11 hours or so I’ve spent with the game, though, I do really think most fans of adventure games would do well to pick up Bugsnax. The controls are finicky and the ending doesn’t deliver, but at the end of the day, Bugsnax is a game with a big heart and one that is positively bizarre. As for those who are lucky enough to have been able to buy a PS5 already and are subscribed to PS Plus, you owe it to yourself to at least give this one a go.