Bugsnax Review: Scoopy Banoopy And A Side Of Flapjackarak
Snorpy Fizzlebean has a theory about the nature of Bugsnax. She’s recruited me as her research assistant and for several days, I’ve been gathering Bugsnax and feeding them to her. When I feed Snorpy a preying picantis —a praying mantis made out of Mexican food — her arm turns into a burrito. Snorpy is unfazed by this transformation. In fact, Snorpy’s next request is that I help her cut her own head off to see if it will grow back. Naturally, I oblige.
Snorpy is among the 13 Muppet-like creatures called Grumpuses that followed Elizabert Megafin to Snaktooth island; a mysterious place inhabited by delicious, body-morphing Bugsnax. You play as a journalist who has been invited to Snaktooth to interview Elizabert about the Bugsnax discovery. When you arrive, Elizabert has been missing for some time, and the 12 other islanders have abandoned their camp and scattered to the distant ends of the island.
Snorpy’s brother, Floofty Fizzlebean, is another resident of Snaktooth island. Floofty struggles with anxiety and an obsession with the Grumpinati, a deep-state cabal that he believes is constantly surveilling him. Snorpy and Floofty have a strained relationship, as you can imagine, and this cutting-her-own-head-off business certainly isn’t helping.
It may sound like Bugsnax is some kind of ultra-violent body horror wearing the skin of a kid’s game, and though I wish that were the case, Bugsnax truly is a light-hearted, family-friendly experience that occasionally brushes with more mature themes. Bugsnax is a narrative adventure about finding the missing Elizabert Megafin, discovering the true nature of Bugsnax, and along the way, mending the relationships between the residents of Snaktooth island. Those interpersonal relationships form the core of the Bugsnax experience, while catching the titular snacky bugs tends to feel more like compulsory tasks in between opportunities to move the story forward.
The first Grumpus you meet after arriving at Snaktooth island is Filbo Fiddlepie — a clumsy, nervous lad and the self-appointed mayor of Snaxburg. Following the disappearance of Elizabert, the rest of the Grumpuses spread out across the island into the four different biomes: beach, desert, forest, and…winter. Filbo asks you to help him bring all the Grumpuses back together and gives you a Bugsnax trap. The Grumpuses may not agree on everything, but the one that they (almost) all can agree on is that Bugsnax are delicious.
As you travel around the island and meet the inhabitants, you’ll be given new tools for catching Bugsnax. Each of the 100 Bugsnax has its own behaviors, pathing, aggression level, likes, and dislikes. It sounds complex and ripe for intricate puzzle-solving, but one of the big problems with Bugsnax is that it never comes up with anything particularly clever to do with all the tools it gives you.
During the tutorial, you’ll be tasked with catching a bunger — that’s a cheeseburger with little horned-beetle-style french fries that marches around repeating its name. If you simply drop a trap and wait for it, the bunger will charge at it and knock it away. If you use your scanner on the bunger, you’ll learn that it charges anything with ketchup on it (naturally). Using your slingshot to shoot ketchup patches at the ground, you need to lead the bunger over to another bunger and coat it in ketchup. One bunger will charge the other, incapacitating it so that it can be caught with the trap.
The tutorial really sparked my imagination and made me think I’d be starting chain reactions using all of the Bugsnax’ individual behaviors to line up intricate traps. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single bug that takes more than the combination of two tools or on other Bugsnax to capture. Catching Bugsnax is simple and obvious. It’s a shame considering that’s all you really do in the game.
Before each Grumpus will agree to come back to Snaxburg, you’ll need to help them resolve a personal conflict. The solution to practically all of these problems is to feed them Bugsnax. While exploring each biome is fun, there just isn’t much challenge in catching the Bugsnax. On rare occasion, you’ll be asked to relocate a Bugsnax or destroy a Bugsnax, but for the most part, the solution to every problem is catching Bugsnax.
Things get a lot more interesting once everyone is back in Snaxburg. Every character has a chain of side missions that will help them resolve an interpersonal conflict with another Grumpus. These optional side missions contain all of the story’s most poignant moments, as well as the four optional boss fights. They have no bearing up the game’s ending, which really diminishes the impact they have, but even so, these side quests are the real meat of the game as far as I’m concerned.
There’s a looming sense of dread that permeates throughout the game as you learn more about Bugsnax and Snaktooth Island. The build-up is more rewarding than the pay-off, but a second playthrough reveals cleverly placed bread crumbs and hints you may have missed the first time.
There’s a moment at the end of the game where each of the characters sums up what they learned about themselves and their relationships and how they intend to move forward and grow. While narratively the scene flies in the face of the conventional wisdom “show don’t tell,” I actually found that putting a nice little bow on everyone’s stories was the most gratifying thing about the game. Helping the Grumpuses reconnect with each other and overcome their character flaws is a worthwhile experience. I may not have loved catching bugs, but I came away smitten by Beffica Winklesnoot, Chandlo Funkbun, and the rest of the Snaktooth Island Grumpuses.
A PC review code for Bugsnax was provided to TheGamer for this review. Bugsnax will be available on PC and PS5 on November 12.
NEXT: You Can Now Listen To The Full Bugsnax Theme Song
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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