Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Bugsnax (PS5)

When Bugsnax was first revealed during E3 2020, it got a lot of traction online for its characters and premise, but it didn’t fully capture my interest at the time. When I got a free PlayStation 5 copy through PlayStation Plus, however, I figured I might as well check it out while I still had some curiosity. I soon discovered that while it’s a creative and lighthearted title on the surface, it actually hides a secret so horrifying that you’ll never view it the same way again.

You play as a newspaper journalist who travels to Snaktooth Island in search of the disgraced explorer Lizbert Megafig, who has discovered a new type of creature called Bugsnax and wants the whole world to know about them. Exploring the various biomes of the island not only lets you learn more about the nature of Bugsnax, but also encounter fellow Grumpuses who are stuck on the island and interview them as you rebuild their makeshift community. The characters have diverse backgrounds and personalities, as well as their own personal issues that you can help resolve.

Then there’s the lore of Snaktooth Island. Rather than give an info dump, you slowly learn more about the nature of Bugsnax and the fates of the island’s previous inhabitants from character interactions and environmental details. The search for Lizbert Megafig also leads you down a twisty road with disturbing implications that eventually lead up to a rather horrifying finale. Without spoiling anything, it completely recontextualizes the game and retroactively gives the entire journey more of a horror vibe. Admittedly, I figured out at least one twist on my own, but hearing the full explanation still hit me. Let’s just say that it takes “we are what we eat” to its logical extreme.

The game gradually takes more of a dark turn.

Gameplay consists primarily of completing quests or capturing Bugsnax. Capturing Bugsnax takes a surprising amount of creativity, with some requiring a clever combination of equipment and environmental features. It can be as simple as placing a trap and waiting or as complex as setting a trap near tripwire, luring the Bugsnak with sauce they like, then capturing them while they’re stunned and grappling the trap into the water before it completely burns and the Bugsnak escapes. This surprising amount of depth keeps the gameplay interesting and prevents the player from running completely on autopilot.

For help capturing Bugsnax, you can document them with your camera, which gives you their name and identifies their likes and dislikes, such as what sauces attract them, and can even include additional insight from other Grumpuses that can clue you in on the best method. Documenting certain environmental details can also tell you what time of day or type of weather certain Bugsnax will appear under, plus you can find six different sauce types out in the wild or on the small farm in Snaxburg in case you need more. On top of that, documenting a Bugsnak lets you view its route, which helps with observing its behavior and planning accordingly.

The end goal of capturing Bugsnax is usually feeding them to the Grumpuses who ask for them. Quests are largely built around getting specific Bugsnax for them, meaning you’ll end up running back and forth a lot between biomes, but the small size of the biomes makes this more manageable and it’s worth completing side quests for more information about Lizbert. When you feed Bugsnax to a Grumpus, the anatomy of the Snak replaces part of their body. As you feed a Grumpus more and more Bugsnax, more of their body can be replaced until they’re almost 100% Bugsnak. Not that far into the game you gain the ability to specify which body part gets replaced, though completing some side quests involves going by their specifications, and eventually you can replace Bugsnak parts with any other that they’ve already eaten. Of course, feeding Grumpuses Bugsnax is largely optional and you can instead donate them to a farm in Snaxburg to gradually increase your inventory space for captured Bugsnax.

Grumpuses take on the appearance of the Bugsnax they eat.

Thanks to a cartoony art style, Grumpuses and Bugsnax alike look visually appealing and I liked that they made an effort to distinguish members of both groups through creative silhouettes and clever details (Bunger’s design is my favorite). As an interesting detail, the Grumpuses speak not unlike Muppets, which actually goes well with their general aesthetic. Additionally, when you capture a Bugsnak, you can hear them speak their name from the DualSense controller’s speaker in a unique and appropriate voice. I also generally liked the music, though the big plot twist at the end gives one line from the theme song a rather horrifying double meaning.

Bugsnax has a very appealing art style.

Throughout my playtime, I didn’t really run into any issues, but I did once have it where the music sting for completing a quest stuttered twice in a row from multiple simultaneous completions. I also wasn’t sure how well the game took advantage of the PS5’s hardware for its visuals, but that could be due to the availability of a PS4 SKU.

If you have any interest in Bugsnax, or are familiar with the studio’s other game, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, I’d say go for it. The gameplay and visuals are pretty creative, plus the storytelling is pretty good and knows just when to catch you off-guard. Since the very ending also hints a sequel, I’m now curious where the story could go.

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