Bunger Bunger Bunger
Bugsnax undoubtedly stole the show at the PS5 event a few months ago, with its cute anthropomorphised food/animal hybrids and muppet-esque characters taking centre stage. It just looked like a lovely looking game, and… Wait a minute, did that muppet just eat that strawberry? And… Oh my god, what’s happening to their hand?!
See, Bugsnax isn’t quite the game you think it is. On the surface, it’s that cutesy catch-em-up that you expect, but when you start to scratch away even the tiniest bit, it becomes something altogether more… Interesting.
Visually, Bugsnax is mostly adorable. Cartoony landscapes and characters, with vibrant colours everywhere, the island of Bugsnax is a delight to walk through as you try to snag all 100 of the tasty critters. However, things get really weird when you start to feed them to the fuzzy Grumpuses throughout the game. Whenever one of the inhabitants of Snaxburg chows down, they’ll take on some of the characteristics of whatever it is they’re about to digest. It brings a strange level of Cronenberg like body horror to the table, and it only gets stranger from there.
See, Bugsnax is actually a narrative driven game. There are two main story threads here, the first being to find out what’s happened to Lizbeth, an explorer who’s gone missing during a secret expedition. After crash landing on the island, you find Filbo, the self-appointed mayor of the town, who explains the situation a little bit more. Filbo’s goal is to reunite the town of Snaxburg, which he enlists your help to do, and you set off trying to convince people to come back. But of course, they want favours before they do. And usually, those favours involve being brought a bunch of the edible lifeforms that you find dotted around the place.
As mentioned above, there are 100 different Bugsnax to collect, but a large number of these are simple variations of each other. This isn’t a bad thing as such, but it’s definitely a bit of a let down the first time you discover a BBQ Bunger instead of the regular one. You need to use your brain a little bit to catch certain Bugsnax, but there are a few primary methods to catching them, some of which use a combination of the tools you get throughout your playthrough. There is something uniquely satisfying about figuring out a combination of elaborate steps to eventually snare a Snak for someone who’s reluctant to come back to the town, especially when it’s one of the ones with slightly more violent tendencies. The Snax themselves are fantastic, with vocal lines that repeat their own names in the same way Pokemon do, but with more variety to the voice lines. The first time you get chased by a Bunger, you’ll not be able to stop hearing “Bunger Bunger Bunger” in your head for at least a couple of days! If you’re a bit of a completionist, there is a log of which ones you’ve captured, as well as a handy guide to which ones appear in which biome, allowing you to finally get your hands on that elusive missing walking sandwich. In a nice touch, there will only be certain Snax that come out at certain times (for example, when it’s raining or late at night), which adds a bit more to the variety in the game.
The true beauty of Bugsnax, however, is in how it handles its subject matters. As you start to reacquaint the citizens of Snaxburg, you’ll start to find incredibly ‘adult’ topics being brought into what appears to be a kids’ game on the surface. Mental Health, divorce, and the ethics of the food chain are all brought into sharp focus, and it’s all handled with a surprising level of nuance. I definitely didn’t think I’d be helping a character that looks like Grover get over the fact that his wife left him after finding out he’s dressed a cactus like her to compensate, that’s for sure. And if that sentence makes absolutely zero sense, it’s because it’s come from this game. The story also takes some sharp left turns as it goes on, delving into some pretty dark places at times, all the while keeping the fuzzy nature at the forefront. It’s a bizarre title, but one that earns its stripes and doesn’t try to play anything off solely for laughs.
Technically, Bugsnax is fine. I noticed a few areas where the frame rate drops below 60, and it gets particularly shaky in some busy areas, but this isn’t the kind of game that you come to for the “ultra settings” experience. The soundtrack is lovely too, with a subtle score underpinning every area as you try and hunt, with the aforementioned calls of the Bugsnax filling out the atmosphere nicely.