Review: Come back for a second serving of ‘Bugsnax’

0
177

With its console exclusivity lifted and ports released for all major platforms, there’s no excuse anymore. You’ve all been sleeping on “Bugsnax” since its release in 2020.

“Bugsnax” is set in a world of Grumpuses, Muppet-like humanoids with silly names. The player, referred to as the Journalist, investigates the disappearance of Elizabert Megafig on her expedition to Snaktooth Island. Her base camp, the village of Snaxburg, discovered a species of sentient foods called Bugsnax, which transform Grumpus body parts into food appendages when eaten. However, Elizabert’s disappearance shattered their community, causing them to separate and leave Snaxburg.

The gameplay takes inspiration from “Pokemon Snap” as you photograph Bugsnax, but it’s far from that game’s on-rails controls. In this first-person adventure, you capture Bugsnax with various tools. Since you can’t die (at worst, you run and wiggle your arms like Kermit if you’re lit on fire), catching each Bugsnax is a fun puzzle; you must study their behavior to learn how they interact with tools and the environment.

Contributed Photo from Young Horses.

Players will meet Snaxburg’s former residents as they explore new areas, and after convincing them to return, the Journalist can interview them. Every interview gives a different perspective on why the Grumpuses left their community, why they came to Snaktooth Island and their relationships with other characters. They also offer side quests after their interviews, and while they’re optional, I strongly recommend doing them to see these characters develop.

You’ll definitely want to pay attention to the dialogue because the game quickly establishes that it will drop incredibly funny lines out of left field, delivered perfectly by iconic voice actors. It’s witty without being quippy, and there were several lines that caught me completely off guard. One particular interaction between Gramble and Wambus during the first town party immediately sets the tone for the game’s sense of humor.

Despite striking comedy gold every few minutes, “Bugsnax” balances its humor with an emotional story. Each side quest humanizes the Grumpuses with raw and relatable character arcs, and I guarantee you’ll meet at least one character who hits close to home. The story explores themes of community versus isolation, showing how each Grumpus retreats into their unhealthiest traits in the absence of supportive friends and family.

This theme is subtly communicated through the game’s soundtrack. The music sounds upbeat when players are closer to Snaxburg and its community at the island’s center, but the farther away they are, the more eerie and synth-heavy it becomes. As you start on the coast and venture to Snaxburg, the soundtrack lightens up, but the same leitmotifs sound lonelier as you explore Snaktooth’s farthest reaches and fight legendary Bugsnax.

One aspect that might turn players away is its performance. “Bugsnax” is more graphically demanding than it appears, which can lead to unappetizing frame rates when several models are on screen at once. Thankfully, these issues aren’t horrendous enough to detract from the gameplay, and the wacky art style makes up for it. Any rough edges are easy to ignore when you’re surrounded by Muppet creatures and googly-eyed food animals.

I want to gush about what made this my favorite game of 2020, but saying more would spoil its best surprises. “Bugsnax,” like Snaktooth Island itself, is much deeper than its surface level; its compelling characters, creative gameplay and uniquely weird charm – not to mention, better LGBTQ+ representation than your favorite piece of media – must be experienced for yourself. Also, there are psychological horror elements. No, that’s not a joke.

Players who previously bought “Bugsnax” probably won’t see the additional console releases as enough reason to double-dip, unless you want to take the Switch port to go. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to open the game again. The new ports feature additional content and quality-of-life improvements at no extra cost, and existing versions received this content as a free update.

The highlight is the Isle of BIGsnax, a 3 to 4 hour bonus story that unlocks after finishing Snorpy and Chandlo’s side quests. Set on the Broken Tooth, a neighboring island that emerges from the sea, the Journalist and a small team investigate a phenomenon that causes Bugsnax to supersize. Environmental puzzles test players’ knowledge of their tools, and the story expands character development for Chandlo, Floofty, Triffany and Shelda.

I was initially worried about Shelda’s inclusion, since her annoying, holier-than-thou attitude in the main story made her my least favorite Grumpus, but the DLC pleasantly surprised me by fleshing her out and making her more likable. Characters like Eggabell and Clumby, who didn’t receive much screen time in the base game, also received new story beats outside of the Broken Tooth expedition.

Additional side quests, in the form of letters from Grumpuses, improve the story’s gameplay loop by encouraging players to find specific Bugsnax in different ways. For completing letter side quests, players are rewarded with furniture to customize their new hut. New players will see these quests play out naturally, but even though returning players will immediately receive rewards for tasks they’ve finished, they’ll still find several new missions afterwards.

Speaking strictly from a gameplay standpoint, the best new quality-of-life feature is the new fast-travel system. However, from an aesthetic standpoint, the most groundbreaking addition is the ability to make Bugsnax wear hats. You probably think I’m joking when I say the game is worth it for that alone, but come on. Look at this article’s graphic and tell me you don’t want to see Bunger wear a hat.

Now is the best time to start up “Bugsnax.” New players can devour a delicious first-course meal that’s better than ever, and existing players can finish their playthroughs with dessert on the house.

“Bugsnax” is available for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Steam and the Epic Games Store. This review was made using the Epic Games Store version.

Share this post

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Opinions Editor | + posts

Sean Mullins (she/they) is the opinions editor and webmaster for the Journal. She is a media studies major and professional writing minor at Webster University, but she's participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Her passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment mediums. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club. She enjoys playing games, spending time with friends, LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy, streaming, making terrible puns and listening to music.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here