First Impressions — Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling

Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling takes the best parts of classic Paper Mario games and adds a ton of fun-loving insects. It's a match made in my garden.

When I first saw Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling back in 2018, I was just coming off of a disappointing dive into Paper Mario: Color Splash. That game wasn’t bad, per se, but it didn’t feel like a classic Paper Mario title.

Bug Fables, on the other hand, looks like Mario and his crew had dressed up in bug costumes for a wacky adventure. It’s not a one-for-one recreation, but the Paper Mario influence is front and center. Given how lackluster the last few games in that series have been, Bug Fables fits into a space many fans find lacking. At least until Paper Mario: The Origami King comes out later this summer.

Now, Bug Fables launched late last year on PC to mostly positive reviews. At the time, I was fully caught up in all the big fall games coming out and completely missed picking it up then. This is why I was so excited to see the game release on consoles on May 28. That gave me another window to hop in and see if the team at Moonsprout Games can capture my nostalgia.

Before we jump in, it’s important to note that Bug Fables runs about 30 hours. At the time of writing, I’ve only played a handful of hours. So, take everything I say with a grain of salt. Maybe the whole thing flips on its head 10 hours in. However, given the reviews available, I’m pretty confident that my thoughts hold up over the course of the game.

Anyways, my early impression is that Bug Fables pretty much nails everything it’s going for. From the cutesy visuals to the irreverent dialog, the game oozes charm. If those little bugs don’t immediately melt your cold gamer heart, then I’m not sure what will. It lacks the name recognition of Paper Mario, but the characters are so fun that it doesn’t really matter.

Mixed in with the RPG combat is some neat, puzzle-based platforming. At least in the early stages, these aren’t that deep. Each of your companions has their own special skill that you can use out of combat. You’ll use these to solve some relatively simple puzzles that serve to quickly break up the action. They’re not game-changing, but I definitely welcomed them.

Probably the most important part is the game’s battle system which keeps you engaged even in the most basic combat. Each character has their own way of attacking. Whether it be unique timings or different button inputs, you’re constantly kept on your toes, making fights more engaging than other RPGs. Of course, anyone who’s played classic Paper Mario games will instantly recognize this system. It’s not like Bug Fables invented it or anything.

And that might be the one big knock I could make against Bug Fables. It almost feels like too much of a copy of what made the old Paper Mario games great. Obviously, I’m still early, so the feeling could change. However, I could easily see myself getting frustrated if it feels like too much of a carbon copy.

Of course, then I start to think about that and see what “pushing the genre forward” did for the last few Paper Mario games and maybe I’m less interested. Maybe just marinating in that 2004 nostalgia is all I need from Bug Fables. But your mileage may vary.

What is clear is that Bug Fables is maybe the best Paper Mario game since Thousand-Year Door. I still have a ton to play through to confirm that early impression, but nothing has given me even a glimmer of doubt that I’ll change that opinion as I continue playing.

Now, here’s the real question for me: Can Bug Fables possibly stand out from The Origami King when it releases in just over a month? That’s a tough one. The Origami King will undoubtedly garner way more buzz. It’s a Nintendo-published game, after all. That said, Bug Fables is lovingly crafted and gives fans exactly what they’ve been asking for from The Big N for all these years.

With that in mind, I think fans need to check this out. For one, you already know it’s great. The Origami King looks great, but we don’t know that yet. However, it also shows Nintendo (and just developers/publishers in general) that games like Bug Fables and classic Paper Mario-style titles still have an audience. Plus, Moonsprout’s game lets you play as an overconfident, teenage bee. What other game lets you do that?

So, yes, Bug Fables is, in my early time with the game, absolutely worth your time. It’s an entertaining romp through a charming world with a memorable cast of characters. Oh, and everyone you meet is a bug. It might be the best bug-based media since A Bug’s Life. Sorry to all my Antz fans out there. Unfortunately, we lost that fight.

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Ricky Frech

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