There's nothing more bizarre than spending too long trying to catch a Scoopy Banoopy in the chilly mountains of Snaktooth, and then watching the arm of one of the Muppet-like Grumpus residents turn into a banana after you've fed them the aforementioned Bugsnax. It might sound like I've lost the plot entirely, but that's just one example of the oddities you'll find in Bugsnax. I've been waiting for something to fill the bizarre void left behind by Viva Pinata, and developer Young Horses' latest creation is definitely doing its best to occupy that space.
If you haven't heard about Bugsnax yet, you've probably long-abandoned social media. Its catchy theme tune has been drilling into our brains as a glorious earworm, helping to lift the drudgery of 2020. But now, it's finally time to talk 'bout Bugsnax.
Release date: November 12, 2020
Platform(s): PS5, PS4, PC
Developer/Publisher: Young Horses
Young Horses is making quite the name for itself by creating rather unusual games. Following on from Octodad: Dadliest Catch – a game about having a suit-wearing octopus for a dad – Bugsnax will see you play as a journalist called in to investigate a remote island by the name of Snaktooth, where odd creatures called Bugsnax have been discovered. You've been sent a sepia-toned video by Elizabert Megafig, an explorer of infamous proportions, and she wants you – specifically you – to come on down to Snaktooth to check it out.
The problem is, by the time you actually get to Snaktooth in search of Elizabert and the big Bugsnax scoop, Elizabert has gone missing and the remaining residents of Snaktooth's little settlement, Snackburg, have scattered across the island after a big row broke out between them. The only one left attempting to hold the fort together is the stand-in mayor, Filbo Fiddlepie. Adorable, nervous, and slightly inept, he's the key to understanding what exactly is going on in Snaktooth (and my absolute favourite).
It's down to you though to bring all the various Grumpus townsfolk back to their little bush-topped homes in Snackburg. You'll need their stories, told through the interviews you conduct, to piece together what's happened here. The problem is, every single one of these Grumpus are absolute addicts – Bugsnax addicts. So, prepare to get catching, because no-one's going to start talking until their bellies are full.
You are what you eat
Aside from the core quest to find Elizabert, most of your time will be spent exploring Snaktooth for yourself, and building up your collection of the titular Bugsnax. As the name suggests they're part bug, part snack. Whether it's the waffle-winged Charmallow, the apple crab Crabble, or even the wide variety of citrus fruit-themed Peelbugs, it's all about discovering the full range – along with how they tick, what they crave, and when they're out and about. You can scan them, Pokemon Snap style, to discover a little about them, eventually working to fill out your Bugapedia. Each one of these strange creatures is a delight, as each is quite unique, and the creativity at work creating them all is palpable. I've chucked aloud regularly at discovering a new one and hearing them announcing their own name like twisted Pokemon from across a field. There are some serious comedic chops here from the team at Young Horses.
There's also a layer of puzzle solving present, should you want to fill out your Bugapedia and satisfy the insatiable appetite of the Snackburg residents. You'll start off with a simple trap, and initially nabbing a Bugsnax will just be a case of mapping its route with your SnaxScope, leaving the trap along its route, and waiting for it to wander inside the trap's confines before snapping it shut. Later, you'll have access to multiple tools and gadgets to aid your Bugsnax hunt; with every additional tool, the complexity of the catch ramps up.
You'll have to use the various sauces that grow on bushes around Snaktooth, from ketchup to peanut butter, to lure your prey into carefully laid traps or even into fighting each other, playing with the elements to snag your 'Snax. It's not always easy either as sometimes your best-laid plans will go wrong, and you'll have to wait for a new version of that super-rare 'Snax to appear later on. Or it'll just be particularly tricky to work out exactly how to get them into your trap or net without getting set on fire, or turned to ice. The risk / reward ratio is quite moreish, and there's nothing quite like finally nabbing the 'Snax you've been working on for quite some time.
Sometimes it's exhausting too. There's no fast travel on Snaktooth, and even on PS5, you'll face short loading times of a second or two between each of the island's areas. Thus travelling around to repeatedly catch different Bugsnax for the residents can sometimes feel like a tedious task, as in between figuring out how to catch 'em all, it's really just a series of fetch quests wrapped up in a quirky gameplay bow.
They are what you feed them
But a little repetition doesn't detract from the charm of Bugsnax. To complement the bananas array of the critters just waiting to be found throughout the game, there's also the residents and their story. You'll want to avoid as many spoilers as you can for this one, as it's a game that consistently surprised me with its writing and plot. What I will say though is that it's clear there's a sinister, dark element at play from the off here, and it'll constantly be nibbling at your Spidey-senses as you try and figure out exactly what's going on.
The residents themselves are beautifully cast too. It's a bit of a ramshackle group of Grumpus, with very different personalities clashing together with brilliant, sharp dialogue, and conversations regularly highlighting those aforementioned comedic skills of the writers. There are lovely inclusive touches too, with most characters referred to as 'they', rather than with gendered pronouns, and there are strong LGBTQ+ themes running through the various plots. From the town gossip Beffica Winklesnoot and local superstar Wiggle Wigglebottom, to Gramble Gigglefunny, who believes that Bugsnax can be domesticated rather than used simply for food. Bugsnax has a seriously memorable collection of characters.
And they'll evolve too, as you work to feed them various Bugsnax on demand, slowly turning limbs, noses, and torsos into the foods you've just fed them. No-one ever seems concerned that their limbs are suddenly strawberries, their teeth Oreo-style cookies, or their feet a very breakable potato chip. They'll always want more and by the end of the game most of them will more closely resemble a buffet than a Grumpus. It's a strange place to exist.
But, it's quite unlike anything else. While the gameplay loop will resemble that of something like Pokemon, the world of Snaktooth is an endearing place that I can't quite get enough of. I've become very attached to its characters and the Bugsnax themselves, priding myself in the knowledge I've obtained along the way to becoming quite the Bugsnax catching expert. It's a fantastic blend of bizarre and brilliant, with gameplay offering up plenty of puzzle-solving and detective sleuthing in between the laughs and the raising of eyebrows. Get yourself down to Snaktooth immediately.
Reviewed on PS5.