Bugsnax is not quite what I expected. I mean, for a game from the developer behind Octodad, it’s sufficiently zany and loaded with “how the hell did they even come up with this?” types of ideas. That was certainly expected. But what I didn’t think I would find is a game filled with heart and purpose, with endearing and memorable characters, with a message about community and belonging, and with one of the craziest endings for a game about eating anthropomorphic food and becoming it.
You are an intrepid journalist, headed off to Snaktooth island to investigate the mysterious “isle of Bugsnax,” and the disappearance of one Elizabert Megafig. Upon arriving, you find the small community of Snaxburg scattered across the island. Only the lone Filbo Fiddlepie remains, Mayor of a town with no other Grumpuses (the name of the beings here) around. The two of you come upon Wambus Troubleham, a gardener trying to figure out how to grow Bugsnax. Soon you’re met by Beffica Winklesnoot, a Grumpus with a flair for the dramatic.
Narrative is at the center of Bugsnax; whether it’s the mystery of where Elizabert has disappeared off to or the complex social relationships and personal problems of the Grumpuses, everything revolves around the story. The first task at hand is completing mini quests for each of the Grumpuses in order to convince them to return to Snaxburg and rebuild the fractured community. You’ll travel to a number of different biomes filled with fascinating Bugsnax and slowly learn more and more about each character and their interconnected relationships in the community through your interactions.
Wambus and Triffany are going through a rough spot in their long marriage. Chandlo and Snorpy have an affectionate relationship despite being polar opposites. Cromdo is a bit of a sleazy salesman, but has a heart buried under all that red fur. Gramble cares about the Bugsnax as living creatures while dealing with a lopsided bit of affection from the glamorous Wiggle. For a game about furry monsters who turn into food when they eat food-shaped creatures, it’s genuinely surprising how much I cam to care for each of these characters and their growth throughout the game.
Chandlo may have been a bit a meathead, but his genuine love and caring for Snorpy was adorable and endearing. Likewise, Snorpy’s overly analytical personality cracks just a little bit to allow room for his relationship with Chandlo. Every single character is unique and memorable, and they each get ample room to lend a bit more genuine heart to this overall story.
While a lot of Bugsnax seems like its made for kids, there’s plenty here for the adults in the room. The messaging isn’t so subtle that the adults will miss it, like the complex relationship between Wambus and Triffany, or the beautiful definitely-more-than-friendship between Chandlo and Snorpy. There’s also the fact that Beffica really, really likes Weenyworms. Like, almost uncomfortably a lot. (A detail I tried not to let my mind “go there” on, but the game makes it tough). So while kids can enjoy the silliness of catching a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich butterfly, parents will enjoy the deep and complex emotions along with a few adult references and jokes.
Bugsnax Review – Let’s Talk About Bugsnax
While the driving motivation and story centers on Snaxburg and the community of Grumpuses, gameplay is all about the Bugsnax. Most gameplay tasks will see the player puzzling out exactly how to capture them. Some are relatively easy, like the shy Strabby. Simply set your trap, lie in wait, and grab it. Others, however, require a bit more finessing. Maybe you need to get a Bunger to charge a bush to push a hiding snak into the open. Fling some sauce to get the out-of-reach Fryders to come down to your trap. Or lure two Bungers together to get them to collide.
As you get further into Bugsnax, puzzling out just how to catch these creatures becomes more and more complex. Often you’ll need to utilize traps in curious and interesting ways, thinking a bit outside the box in order to come to the solution. Or maybe you need to lure multiple creatures into confrontation, like getting the Scorpenyo (a jalapeño scorpion) to throw fire at a the Poptick to get the kernel to pop into a popcorn-like creature big enough for you to catch. But you’ll also need to catch it when the fire is out. Bugsnax isn’t a game to hold your hand too heavily though, so how to catch some of the creatures can take quite a bit of thought and testing, though none are ever too oblique or difficult with the right tools and methods.
One of the best parts of Bugsnax is Young Horses embracing some of the chaos that made their previous game, Octodad, so endearing. Yes, there are specific things you can do to catch Bugsnax, but there’s also a level of unpredictability to their little ecosystems. Sometimes just letting the Bugsnax interact can knock them out and allow you to catch them. Or maybe you use a crazy set of tools in an unintended way, still succeeding anyway. In fact, just today I saw a tweet from PlayStation with a gif showing their method of catching Cheepoofs, which was… definitely not my method of catching Cheepoofs.
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) November 13, 2020
But it’s the fact that there isn’t an exact science to Bugsnax that makes it so much fun to experiment with, instead building and iterating on your own ideas and knowledge to that point. With more than 100 Bugsnax to catch, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to fail your way to success throughout the game.
Bugsnax Review – Gotta Catch ’em All?
With the central conceit of Bugsnax being its narrative and characters, I can’t help but feel that there was a missed opportunity to do a lot more with the Bugsnax you catch. Most missions will use them in some way, most often by feeding them to the quest giver. But beyond that, there’s very little reason for you to go out and catch yourself a Strabby or Buffalocust or any of the other snax. Creature collection is more about checking off the in-game checklist. You aren’t raising these things to fight like Pokemon or really doing much with them at all. Early on you can donate them to Gramble to increase your Snak inventory space (and you can even just donate a bunch of easy to catch Strabbys for this), but once that’s capped out, there’s not much motivation to get out and capture anything outside of quest requirements.
Sure, you can have fun feeding the Bugsnax to the Grumpuses, changing their limbs and body parts into different food items, but a later development in the game means you only need to feed one of each kind of Bugsnak to each Grumpus to get the ability to change their parts at any time. And this “Grumpus customization” doesn’t really feed into any wider gameplay loop, already being largely handled by the requests Grumpuses make of you. Still, that longtime completionist collector brain in me couldn’t help but snag anything and everything, even stuff I’d already caught before many times over; The old primal gamer instinct kicking in. Sometimes it’s fun just to prove you can.
There are a few interesting boss encounters for bigger Bugsnax that conclude each of the Grumpuses’ individual quests, and these were always fun little challenges to overcome in order to defeat and catch these unique creatures. Again, however, it usually came down to just feeding the boss snak to the Grumpus in question once you had caught it.
In terms of Bugsnax‘ positioning as a PS5 launch title (and the debut PS5 PS Plus game), it’s not exactly a game that exudes the sterling qualities of the next-gen (now current-gen) console. The most annoying aspect is each little biome on Snaktooth Island being separated by a loading screen—albeit a very short one on the PS5—and not actually interconnected as an open world. Snaktooth Island is effectively made up of a series of smaller areas, some that you’ll need to pass through multiple times to get to others. Visually, it’s adorable, but doesn’t seem to take advantage of the PS5s ability to offer high resolution textures or other visual features.
Much of this may have been a stylistic choice by Young Horses, and that’s not to say that the visuals are bad or the separated areas ruin the game. Bugsnax is still very much a delight throughout. But as one of the first ever PS5 games revealed, I went into it with perhaps higher expectations that it might utilize the power of the console in more unique and interesting ways than it does. It’s a fun and fantastic game in general, but doesn’t go out of its way to showcase the capabilities of the PS5 in obvious ways.
Bugsnax is a delight in the most unexpected of ways. Despite its cartoonish and exceptionally goofy exterior, it’s got deep messages of community, relationships, and belonging. Though there are certainly missed opportunities for a bigger gameplay loop around catching the various Bugsnax, everything about Bugsnax is a joy, perhaps the reason that I wanted more from it. It may not be an obvious showcase of the PS5’s power and capabilities, but it’s certainly a unique game that shouldn’t be missed.
Bugsnax review code provided by publisher (Early code. Also available now on PS5 as a free PS Plus game). Reviewed on PS5. For more information, please read our Review Policy.