There’s a group of people who miss certain aspects of a papercraft plumbers prior adventures, and while it’s not a carbon copy of those pages of gaming history– Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is looking to deliver a charming adventure RPG filled with puzzles, combat, and wit. Does this love letter stand out as a parcel worth reading or does its allure fizzle out?
Bug Fables captures the tales of three different bug heroes– Kabbu, Vi, and Leif– on their quest to reach the Everlasting Sapling. Along this quest, you’ll travel to diverse landscapes, interact with a cavalcade of interesting and charming characters, and become enveloped by a story that’ll have you itching to start the next chapter as you progress through the lengthy seven chapter saga. Outside of the main story, there’re dozens of side-quests and bits of lore to complete and discover along the way allowing you to dive deep into Bugaria.
The gameplay in Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is a joyous loop of puzzle solving, platforming, and combat scenarios. The platforming is never too innocuous although, I did find myself missing certain jumps from time to time that would result in me having to trek through sections of certain puzzles again. The only redeeming part of that, was if you fell to an area that you couldn’t traverse such as a pit of thorn bushes, you would take no health penalty. The puzzle solving elements that were present in both the overworld exploration and dungeons sometimes required putting together clues from NPCs or other elements within the dungeon and never felt too strenuous but some of the more difficult ones resulted in satisfying eureka moments. Many of the puzzles revolved around relying upon the unique abilities that the three heroes possessed, with more abilities gained down the line that allowed the puzzles to ramp up in complexity as well. Whether it was using Vi’s Beemerang to flip a switch, or Kabbu’s horn launch an object, the puzzle design was clever and rewarding most of the time. Though, outside of the engrossing narrative and charming aesthetic, the real star of Bug Fables is the active combat.
If you’re familiar with the combat in Paper Mario, you’ll understand the mechanics of Bug Fables’ combat system from the start. Following a turn-based rotation between Vi, Kabbu, Leif, and your current gang of enemies you’ll attack, block, and use items to navigate yourself to victory. In attack phases, each character’s attacks are tied to specific button inputs and timing. Performing the these inputs accurately and in rhythm will result in higher damage being dealt. While on defense, you’ll time blocking an enemy’s attack to lower or even negate the damage being delivered. The result is engaging combat that allows you to make decisive moves in-between turns to vanquish your foes. Certain enemies can take flight or retreat to the ground which results in certain party members not being able to attack, but you have the ability to swap someone’s attack turn to another party member allowing you to decipher which member of your bug brigade can deliver the most damage allowing for some critical thinking for savvy players. I felt as though the way that battles played out, it was as if the combat was also an active puzzle that required planning, timing, and attention to enemy patterns. Certain boss fights in particular really require you to utilize everyone’s abilities in the optimal way in order to come out on top.
It’s worth noting that in addition to items you can find or purchase at the shops, there is a cooking system where you can take one or two items to a chef and they will craft specific concoctions for you to both aid in offense and defense. I was actually quite surprised that this element was included in the game. For the most part, completely optional, but allows you to enter battles prepared if you desire utilizing this system.
The leveling system is a simplified take on stat building, offering three different ways in which your party can become stronger each time you earn enough experience points– or in Bug Fables, exploration points. In addition to that, the game has a rather robust Medal system which allows you to equip Medals that you obtain throughout your journey to offer certain stat boosts or other helpful battle augmentations. The Medals that you choose to adorn your insects in can definitely tip the scales in your favor, but also not a necessary system to delve deep into.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling offers up a worthy challenge in its own right but also offers the ability to make things harder on the fly with the Hard Mode Medal. I put this on for one of the boss fights early in the game and it definitely required you to be on point, which if you’re looking for this type of challenge, comes with special rewards upon completing certain boss fights with it equipped.
The aesthetic of Bug Fables is familiar yet unique, boasting a paper aesthetic that is buzzing with life. Each locale, all of the enemies and NPCs are bursting with personality to match the witty dialogue that floods the screen between story beats and cutscenes. All of this backed by a soundtrack that rivals some of the best game music this generation. All of these elements fuse together and explode with a magnetic charm that continually pulled me along with a smile on my face from chapter to chapter.
When I first discovered Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling it was impossible for my brain to disassociate what my eyes were seeing and my memories of Paper Mario. Not that drawing those comparisons are a bad thing, but after playing through this surprisingly lengthy adventure through Bugaria– Bug Fables inspired exoskeleton is present but not an overpowering force allowing Bug Fables to shine and shimmer as its own flourishing entity. A captivating tale, a fluid fighting system, and an eye-popping paper panache that pays homage to it’s inspiration while delivering it’s own insect fueled adventure. This may be a love letter written on plumber’s paper, but the scribbles are all written and derived from the minds at Moonsprout Games. I enthusiastically recommend Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling to anyone looking for an adventure RPG full ripe with content and engaging combat- oh, and I guess if you’re a Paper Mario fan too!
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is available May 28, 2020 on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on May 28th, 2020. We reviewed Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling for the Nintendo Switch with a game code provided by the publisher, DANGEN Entertainment.
For all things Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling and indie game related, be sure to keep it locked to Pass The Controller. For a deeper dive on all things gaming and nerd culture, listen to the Pass The Controller Podcast with new episodes weekly on your favorite podcast platform. Want to continue the conversation with us and our community? Join our official Discord server.