Bugsnax doesn't feel next-gen, but it's charming fun all the same
Inverse score: 8/10
Bugsnax makes for a delightful introduction to PS5, and a warm-hearted sendoff for PS4.
This quirky game will be free with PS Plus on launch day, and Bugsnax has had players’ attention since its reveal in June, thanks to its catchy theme song from Kero Kero Bonito and wonderfully odd premise. Players venture to Snaktooth Island looking to interview Lizbert Megafig, who has discovered an island full of animals that are also food and will change a person’s body when eaten.
Players arrive at the island and promptly discover it’s in complete disarray. They have to help gather all of the residents of Snaxburg, convince them to trust each other, find out why Lizbert went missing, and get to the bottom of what exactly Bugsnax are. What results is a weird mix of the best parts of Pokemon Snap, Ape Escape, and even Stardew Valley.
You are what you eat
While there’s variation in locations and creature types to collect, almost all missions in Bugsnax boil down to capturing a snak in order to get a Grumpus (muppet-like creatures that inhabit Bugsnax’s world) to come back to Snaxberg and get to know them better during sidequests.
Catching Bugsnax involves surveying the creature and environment before going in and catching it with the right tools. Every creature has a unique design, behaviors, and location, and it’s up to players to track them down at the right time of day in the right areas and use the right tools to capture them.
Looking at these creatures through the camera at the right moment elicits the same feeling as Pokemon Snap. But whereas that game — and presumably its upcoming successor — has a more on-rails approach to exploration, slowly moving through the environment, Bugsnax gives players free rein to move around.
There are also six tools that can be used, reminiscent of Sony’s all-but-forgotten Ape Escape franchise, you’ll have to determine which are the best to capture a given creature. These include a simple Snak Trap, a springboard “lunchpad”, a “Snak Grappler” that can pull objects and creatures from afar, a “Sauce Slinger” slingshot that shoots ketchup and other condiments to attract Bugsnax, a “Buggy Ball” that will attract certain snaks, and Trip Shot, which puts out a tripwire.
These can all work independently from each other, and sometimes that’s all that’s needed to capture a Bugsnax. Still, more dedicated players will find ways to make them work together. For example, the Trip Shot can’t be placed on most surfaces, but it will work if placed on a lunchpad.
Combinations like this give rise to a satisfying variety of opportunities to trip creatures in areas where it previously seemed impossible. Once they are captured, you can bring the creature back to whatever odd but loveable Grumpus you are trying to befriend. They’ll eat it, it’ll change a limb of your choice on their body, and after enough quests are completed they’ll return to Snaxberg.
This is where the Stardew Valley comparisons kick in. You won’t be farming at all outside of one sidequest, but the game puts an emphasis on getting to know all of the quirky muppet-like villagers sticking around on the island.
Like Stardew Valley, you’ll care about all of your Grumpus villagers by the end of the game, like the gullible but well-meaning Filbo Fiddlepie and conspiracy-driven inventor Snorpy Fizzlebean. The game is surprisingly progressive too, featuring two nuanced and realistic queer relationships.
Its themes about people’s tendency to push others away and not accept help when things go wrong are also surprisingly touching and relatable.
Bugsnax is enjoyable the whole way through, but never mind-blowing. Once you get a general idea of how all the tools work together and learn a creature’s pattern and weaknesses, there isn’t much variation, until the final mission puts a greater emphasis on combat.
Kinda bug and kinda snack
The Bugsnax creatures are all adorable and extremely novel mixes of bugs and food like their name implies. Character design is something that Pokemon does extraordinary well, but clones like Digimon, Yo-Kai Watch, and Temtem struggle with.
This isn’t an issue for Bugsnax, as each creature looks memorable and delectable. Bugsnax features the best catalog of unique critters in a creature collection game since Pokémon. While you don’t need to “catch ‘em all,” you’ll still want to capture new creatures just to to see what happens to their bodies after you feed them to the Grumpuses.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t that visually appealing outside of the Bugsnax themselves. The Grumpuses are distinctly designed, but animated roughly. The mundane environments lack the same imagination and food incorporation as the creatures that inhabit it. Especially when the ending twist reveals the truth behind Snaktooth Island, the relative lack of food-based concepts in Bugsnax’s environmental design feels like a missed opportunity.
Inverse played on a PS4 for this review, and even there it’s far from a technical marvel. Some of these issues might be smoothed over when playing on a PS5, but it doesn’t seem like the difference between versions is especially drastic. Still, PS5 will likely be the best place to play Bugsnax, thanks to boosts to loading and visuals and the teased DualSense support.
While its visuals and gameplay remain firmly rooted in current-gen, it’s hard to stay mad at Bugsnax for long. The capturing mechanics hit that sweet spot between Pokemon Snap and Ape Escape that I didn’t know I needed, and it’s all held up by loveable characters and smart writing that will keep you laughing and grinning from ear to ear.
Bugsnax will be released on PC, PS4, and PS5 on November 12, 2020.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)