Developer Young Horses
Publisher Young Horses
Platforms PC, PS4, PS5
Release Holiday 2020
Even if you haven't heard of Bugsnax, the game, there's a good chance you've probably heard Bugsnax, the theme tune, which has been the internet's new favourite meme ingredient ever since Young Horses unveiled its new title at the PS5 Future of Gaming event earlier this month. Written and performed by indie-pop band Kero Kero Bonito (KKB), studio co-founder and president Philip Tibitoski explains just how that incessantly catchy song came into existence.
A couple of us were already fans of KKB and had seen them a couple of times here in Chicago, and felt like the kind of vibe that they give off with their music really fit Bugsnax," he tells me. "Plus, with Octodad also having like a Saturday morning cartoon theme song, it already felt part of our identity as a studio to make these tunes for our games."
"And so we reached out to KKB and eventually got to their manager, and talked with Gus from the band, and they had luckily heard about Octodad before. From there, we showed them what Bugsnax was, let them play it for a while, and gave them a bunch of materials, like our script and screenshots. They were into it and excited about it, so went off and created a demo track pretty quickly, within like a week or two, and then came back with this fantastic cute song."
Welcome to Snaktooth Island
That song, of course, is just the icing on Bugsnax's deliciously high concept cake, which marks Young Horses' first new title since 2014's Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Bugsnax shares a few holdover strands of DNA to that game with its robust physics engine, quirky sense of humour, and a colourful, unpretentious art style, but is arguably far more ambitious in scope and scale than Young Horses' tale of a mollusk looking for love.
Tibitoski explains that Bugsnax puts you in the shoes of a newspaper reporter (as I said, it's a high concept story), who's arrived at the mysterious Snaktooth Island after learning of its titular insectoids; strange creatures which appear to be a hybrid between, well, bugs and snacks. The native populace, muppet-like people known as Grumpuses, can consume the bugsnax to take on some of their properties, but with famous explorer Elizabert Megafig having suddenly gone missing while exploring the island herself, it's likely that this preternatural paradise potentially holds some much darker secrets...
"Initially, we were looking at stuff like Pikmin, Adventure Time, and Ferngully for inspiration," says Tibitoski of Bugsnax's wild and wacky conceit. "We actually did experiment with a Pokemon Snap style game, which seeing that Pokemon Snap is coming back, I'm glad that we didn't go in that direction. The project has changed quite a bit over time, but it's always had the bugsnax creatures, and it's always been about capturing those bug snacks, feeding them to the grumpuses and having them transform their bodies."
Tibitoski describes Bugsnax as a "first-person adventure" with a strong narrative focus, but also stresses that the slapstick comedy wrought from the studio's robust physics engine will also be as prevalent as it was in Octodad. You'll be able to create and deploy different traps to collect the island's carnival of edible insects (of which there are at least a hundred), feed them to Grumpuses to discover their unique properties, and ultimately solve the mystery of Elizabert Megafig's disappearance.
The trailer's spooky last minute sting has left people wondering whether Bugsnax could be a survival horror game in disguise, but Tibitoski is hesitant to explain what it all might mean: "I can say that our games often look bright and cute on the surface, but there's always something a little bit deeper behind that."
Part of the reason why everyone's talkin' bout Bugsnax, of course, is because the game debuted at PlayStation's recent showcase for its next-generation console, the PS5, which has already become the most-watched gaming live stream on YouTube. For Young Horses, it was beyond exciting to unveil its new title on such a large stage alongside the likes of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Horizon: Forbidden West, and Tibitoski explains that the studio's relationship with PlayStation has been one of nothing but mutual admiration for years.
"We'd worked with PlayStation on Octodad on PS4, and the relationship has been great ever since," he tells me. "They've been super supportive of us, and gone out of their way to help us out when we've needed it, so I think it felt kind of natural to go to them first when we had our next game. I think they got the general idea and dug it, but when we first showed it off to them, they asked us if there had been a gas leak in our office! We've always wanted to go for something that is an idea that another studio would have passed on, or not even pitched internally, because they think it's too stupid."
As one of the first games to be launching on the upcoming hardware, Young Horses has had access to Sony's PS5 devkits for quite some time, and Tibitoski says the team has already been having fun with the DualSense controller's new features to make Bugsnax feel even more immersive on the next-generation system, explaining that "walking through grass, water, dirt, or sand all feel different with haptic feedback."
"Even just the impact of a jump; you're able to tell the difference between a hard landing and a soft landing. Then with the traps that we use to capture bugsnax, we can give feedback for when you've caught it, or if it's trying to break out, and things of that nature. The tension that you can put in the triggers also make it feel like you're actually pressing a button as the character in the game, basically. For instance, the main character has a kind of a wristwatch type button that they hit to open and shut down traps, and you can make it give it that weight to make it feel like a certain type of button. It's hard to describe just by talking about it, but it really adds a lot when it's all working in conjunction!"
Nice to eat you
Bugsnax is scheduled to launch later this year for both PS5 and PS4, in addition to PC via the Epic Games Store. Given current lockdown measures enacted across the world, including Chicago, where Young Horses is based, the studio has had to transition to remote work for the final leg of the project's development, but Tibitoski says that disruption hasn't affected its release plans, pointing out that the team "pretty much all worked from out of our apartments when making Octodad."
"To some degree, this feels normal for us in terms of work habits," Tibitoski continues. "There's the kind of mental impact of everything that's been going on with, well, Earth. So that's been difficult here and there, and we've been just trying to give each other room to take a day if we need to, for some respite."
If the trailer is anything to go by, Bugsnax will be exactly the kind of abstract, unpretentious respite that everyone needs right now, and arguably just as valuable for PlayStation as its bigger exclusives in making sure the PS5's initial library is as diverse and accommodating as it is system-selling. People may still be intermittently talking about Demon's Souls and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart following the Future of Gaming livestream, but it's the Bugsnax song that's been stuck in their head ever since.
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