When Bugsnax was first revealed during the PlayStation 5 event I was instantaneously enamored. With a catchy theme song whistling into my eardrums, cute critters scurrying around the screen, and furry fumbling figures inviting everyone to Snacktooth Island I knew I wanted to play Bugsnax but I was also bewildered not knowing what awaited me underneath Young Horses‘ fascinating facade teased in the trailer. Although, now that I’ve had the chance to taste Bugsnax for myself and now that everybody’s talking about it, the only question that remains– should everybody play it?
But before we come to terms with whether or not you should play Bugsnax we should start with, what the heck is Bugsnax? Bugsnax isn’t easily definable– part puzzle game, part mystery, part collect-a-thon, and part adventure, topped with jokes and seasoned with charm that keeps you salivating from start to finish all while satisfying your hunger pangs throughout. It’s almost an embodiment of the Grumpuses that inhabit Snaxburg. Grumpuses are the aforementioned creatures that populate and pluck and eat the Bugsnax, which result in their limbs reflecting the many different Bugsnax they ingest, and the game itself is a hodgepodge of genres and attributes that fluctuate in focus along the journey.
The narrative that sprouts up on your expedition to Snacktooth Island is quite enjoyable and at moments deeper and more heartfelt than I had expected. For the sake of not robbing any of the more genuine story beats, I’ll only paint the narrative with broad strokes. Elizabert Megafig invites you– a journalist for GNN– to report on the Bugsnax phenomena on Snacktooth Island, and the tale unravels from there along the path to uncovering the truth to what Bugsnax are. The cast of characters you meet, the innate charm of the Bugsnax, and the writing and performances all elevate the wacky but warm world.
Bugsnax quite perfectly tiptoes along the line of absurdity. Saturday morning cartoon mixed with late-night adult animation to concoct a recipe filled with quasi-deep emotional tones under the guise of nonsensical character names for unnatural beings equipped with witty banter and an insatiable hunger for Bugsnax and drama, all while never taking itself too seriously or becoming flimsy. The delicious deluge of food puns and silliness that flutter effortlessly throughout Snaktooth without ever feeling forced or over-encumbering is a dangerous balancing act to attempt and Bugsnax plates it to spec. With how heavily the game’s writing leans into whimsy and the food theme, it could very easily overfeed the player but instead continues to shine and stay crisp and fresh from the moment it’s picked until the credits roll.
The gameplay in Bugsnax revolves around hunting and catching Bugsnax with an array of tools that become available as you hit certain points of the main quests. At first, the hunts seem easy enough once you understand how Bugsnax will react to traps, sauces, and your proximity to them but the deeper you dive into hunting or trying to catch all of the Bugsnax in the game, the challenge begins to build. The scanner that you’re equipped with to uncover nuances and helpful tips on the Bugsnax or other elements in the world was as enjoyable to use as it was informative. It gave me subtle hints of Pokemon Snap and Metroid Prime while investigating my surroundings. There is even a day and night cycle that affect which Bugsnax are active in the nine different biomes of Snaktooth Island, which only enhanced and led to more planning when tryin to hunt specific critters.
The delight I felt upon catching my first Strabby and hearing it exclaim its name through my DualShock controller felt just as delightful in the beginning as it did hours later when a Scoopy Banoopy was chasing me down or when a Bunger barreled his way into one of my traps. The hunger hunt was an appetite I could never quite quell.
Another great choice for game design that also opens up the level of accessibility is the omission of lives or a health bar which lends itself to a more relaxed puzzle-adventure vibe and makes it approachable for a wider swath of gamers looking to feast on the selection of edible beasts. The stakes are relatively low but the snacks are always high and the challenge comes with puzzle solving and thinking outside of the box on harder side quests or certain Bugsnax hunts. Although, there are some later game main missions or hunts that do require some more careful thought, I think the gradual incline of utilizing your tools and understanding Bugsnax interactions is as balanced as can be.
For a game like Bugsnax that is littered with collecting and discovering Bugsnax that don’t do much for you outside of existing or pushing along certain main and side quests, it should’ve been a tough task to ask me to care or look for these little bumbling buddies, but the way these feisty food creatures squeal their name and interact with the environment or you encroaching on them was always a joy worth hunting down. In something like a JRPG where you are catching, training, and building strategies with a team the connection comes with not necessarily less effort, but through constant interactions and reliance upon your chosen creatures. While in Bugsnax, aside from the hunt itself, the relationship is more heavily weighted on the charm of the insect-like treats and performance from the voice actors and animators.
One of my only complaints with my time with Bugsnax was occasional tedium with backtracking for certain quests. It didn’t plague the game, but there were a few instances where I either wasn’t sure where my next goal post was or the quest took me across multiple biomes intentionally and the loading screens in-between areas took me out of the immersion in some instances. I did play this on a PS4, so maybe these intermittent load times were less noticeable on the PS5 version, but the slight hiccup between areas was enough to try and make me plan my hunts and quests in advance if it meant traveling to multiple zones.
Bugsnax is a world reminiscent of our reality injected with fantastical elements and creatures that collide with clever writing, stellar voice acting, and one of the best soundtracks of the year to create something unique, charming, and worth the calories. Bugsnax story dips it’s digits in a variety of sauces– from friendship and love, to self-purpose and mystery– there’s never too much of one thing, but just enough to satisfy and whet your appetite for an endearing story and engaging puzzle gameplay that resulted in the most fun I’ve ever had playing with my food.
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