Bugsnax Review — A Charming Island Getaway
With its fun story and entertaining characters, Young Horses' Bugsnax is a charming game that shouldn't be missed -- whether you play on PS4 or PS5.
With the way 2020 has gone, it’d be nice to leave everything behind and escape the real world. In Bugsnax, the latest game from Octodad developer Young Horses, we’re taken to Snaktooth Island filled with Bugsnax — creatures that are half-bug, half-food. Though there are some technical issues, Bugsnax oozes with charm, quirkiness and boasts an entertaining story and characters that’ll brighten your day.
Bugsnax follows a journalist who travels to Snaktooth Island after being invited by explorer Elizabert Megafig to interview her and see the Bugsnax for yourself. By the time you reach the island, Elizabert has gone missing, and the residents of the island have gone their separate ways. You eventually run into Filbo Fiddlepie, the major of Snaxburg, the game’s main area. With the help of Filbo and your journalistic skills, it’s up to you to convince the missing residents to come back to Snaksburg and find Elizabert.
Like Young Horses’ Octodad: Dadliest Catch, the story in Bugsnax is charming, fun, and whimsical. It also goes in directions I didn’t see coming. During the game’s 6 to 10-hour story, you’ll explore the island’s 9 diverse sections. These areas range from mountainous areas, beaches, and deserts. As the story goes on, you learn more about where the Bugsnax came from, what makes them tick, and how they affect everyone.
Additionally, each area features Bugsnax specific to that map and the in-game time of day. If you want to catch a specific Bugsnak that shows up between 4 AM and 4 PM, you can sleep in a nearby bed to speed up time. The time of day becomes key as you try catching each Bugsnak and meeting each resident’s needs. The inclusion of times when Bugsnax come out adds a sense of strategy to the game. It isn’t just a tacked-on feature that you use once. Speeding up time makes Snaktooth feel like a real place that’s filled with life.
As you explore Snaktooth Island, you’ll come across Snaxburg’s residents. Each of them is goofy in their own way and have different personalities from one another. One set of story missions has you finding Wambus Troubleham, a farmer, while another story mission has you meeting Cromdo Face, a sketchy salesman. As you try convincing each resident to come back, you’ll have to complete quests for them that mostly boil down to finding specific Bugsnax and feeding it to them.
Doing this for each story mission can get repetitive quickly, and some missions drag on a little too long. However, the game mixes things up since each character wants Bugsnax specific to the area you’re in. The missions can increase in difficulty and complexity since you’ll need to use multiple traps to catch certain Bugsnax. Some missions stumped me at times, but patience and experimenting is key to progressing through the story. Once each resident is back in Snaksburg, you’ll have the chance to interview them.
You’ll get to ask each character questions such as why they came to the island, what they think of Bugsnax, and if they have info on Elizabert. Once the interview is over, you’ll also receive clues as to where Elizabert might be. The interviews not only put your journalism skills to use, but you also learn about the characters and their motivations. Once you interview each character, side quests will open up where you can help them out. As a whole, the inclusion of interviews is a creative way of learning about each character and understanding their perspectives on Snaktooth, Bugsnax, and the reason they came to the island. Like good journalism, this aspect of the game highlights the different residents’ perspectives to give you a more well-rounded idea of the game’s setting.
Speaking of the game’s setting, a chunk of the game is spent in Snaksburg–the main town area. Here, you’ll get to visit each person’s home, talk to residents, donate Bugsnax, and get missions. Through visiting each resident’s home, you learn a bit more about them and their personalities. It can be fun to walk around and see certain residents interact with one another and hear what they’re talking about. While it can be fun to see what each resident is up to and where they’ll go, some of them stay in one spot for most of the time. Regardless, seeing how most residents act makes Snaksburg feel more like an actual village than a basic HUB world.
Like the main missions, side quests mostly end up with you finding specific Bugsnax for them. If you want a distraction from the main story or want to see everything on Snaktooth, completing the side missions are worth it. While you may learn more about each character, the side quests weren’t as interesting as the main story. Sure, they’re entertaining, but it boils down to catching more Bugsnax you may have caught previously while also learning little tidbits on the characters.
By far, the heart and focal point of the game is the Bugsnax themselves. Each one is cute, creative, and well thought out. You can tell Young Horses had a fun time creating each one. They range from a Bunger, a heavier Bugsnak that’s a hamburger with curly fries for legs, to a Pinkle, a jar with pickles for legs. By far, one of my favorites is the Charmellow, which is smores themed, featuring crackers for wings, chocolate for legs, and marshmallows as its body. Some Bugsnax also come in several variations. One of these is a Weenyworm, a worm that looks like a hot dog. It doesn’t have condiments on it in one location, but another location has one but with things like mustard and other ingredients on it.
There’s not one Bugsnak that isn’t cute or charming. They add so much character to the game and help make Bugsnax unique from other narrative puzzle games. Also, each Bugsnak having their own personality traits, likes, and dislikes makes each one feel more fleshed out and more than just bugs that look like food. To complete story missions, you’ll have to feed certain Bugsnax to characters. These change the appearance of certain body parts, and you can choose where the changes go. Feeding them to characters is a weird but entertaining addition that adds more humor. Sure, why not feed a Weenyworm to a character and have its nose look like a hotdog?
To finish the side quests and story missions, we get into the game’s main puzzle: figuring out how to catch each Bugsnak. Whenever you try catching one, you can open up the trap wheel, which reveals six tools that you’ll unlock over time. Some Bugsnax like the Strabby, a small Strawberry bug, can just be caught by the Snak Trap. While the Snak Trap can work against smaller creatures, larger Bugsnax will break it if they see it. Others may require more strategy and using more than one trap at once. Additionally, some creatures will not only require traps but also help from your surroundings. For example, some larger Bugsnax may need to crash into other Bugsnax or a hard surface to be caught.
You’ll also have to use items like chocolate, peanut butter, and hot sauce to lead them in traps or a direction. Like the traps, these items are unlocked over time and can be replenished by plants in the area. Once you catch a Bugsnak in a trap or knock them out, you only have ten to fifteen seconds to catch them before you have to start the process all over again. Some Bugsnax can’t be caught right when you knock them out since some may freeze or burn you when you touch them. This is another great way that the game freshens things while also requiring you to add more thought.
One crucial tool at your disposal is the Snakscope, which lets you take photos of each Bugsnax and scan them by pressing R3 on the DualShock 4. When you take a picture of one, you’ll see what they like and dislike, a description of them, and see which direction they go in. It’s one of the most useful tools in the game and important if you want to see everything in the game.
The inclusion of multiple traps and lures is a fantastic way of adding variety to each time you catch a Bugsnax. It helps make things feel less stale and adds more strategy into each Bugsnak encounter. Some traps may be used more than others, depending on what you catch. Some traps, like the Buggy Ball (a Strabby Bugsnax inside a ball), are used for a few encounters in the main story and then not as useful later on.
Other traps like the Snak Grappler can catch things from a long distance, but you can’t zoom in to get a closer look. At the end of the day, the use of each trap comes down to your playstyle and how you’d approach catching each Bugsnax. When it starts getting into several traps needing to be used, that’s where I really loved the act of figuring things out.
With each Bugsnak I caught, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and it made me want to catch even more. When you start, you can hold a few of them in your inventory. However, if you donate enough Bugsnax to Snaksburg, you can increase your inventory. Catching them takes time and patience to figure out how they act. At the same time, it’s a rewarding experience once you figure out how to catch them.
Each Bugsnak has their own quirk and personality. Some may hide once they see you or run towards you. There were so many times where I’d get near several Bugsnax as they’d run into each other and knock each other out. Having each Bugsnak act differently adds more variety to each encounter and prevents things from getting old.
To help you keep track of things, you’ll carry a detailed journal broken up into different sections such as the map, what Bugsnax you’re holding, the list of missions, and the clues on Elizabert you’ve found so far. One of the most important sections of the journal is Bugpedia, which tracks what Bugsnax you’ve found and caught so far. Bugpedia will expand as you visit each main area of Snaktooth and scan each Bugsnak on the map.
Each entry is detailed and includes the same info you got when you first scanned them. The entries also tell you the time each Bugsnak comes out, which is especially helpful for those who want to catch each one. Additionally, you’ll find clues during the story that’ll help you piece together what’s going on. Some of these will be given to you during character interviews, while others will have to be found in certain areas.
The journal is extremely helpful, in-depth, and makes you feel like a journalist on the scene. Every aspect of it is useful, and going through it is vital to getting everything out of the game. As I kept catching Bugsnax, I’d always look to see if there was a checkmark by certain ones to see if I caught them or not. If I didn’t, I’d go to the area they’re in and look for them. Bugpedia being broken into sections based on location is also a great feature that makes things easier to sort out. One of my favorite touches to the journal is seeing a calorie count for each Bugsnax. You’ll see a Rootle, a carrot worm that’s 2,500 calories, while there’s a Noodler, a spider that looks like a bowl of noodles that’s 50,000 calories. It’s a creative detail that shows just how much thought Young Horses put into each Bugsnax.
As a whole, the journal is helpful and detailed but leaves things to be desired. The journal’s map is limited and doesn’t give you an option to fast travel anywhere. There were times where I had to go through more than one area to make it back to Snaksburg or to another area, which takes up time. Having a fast travel feature would also make it easier for those that want to collect every Bugsnak and bounce back from one area to another. Additionally, you aren’t able to pin a specific part of the map. While this is minor, some Bugsnax only appear in certain parts of an area, and being able to add a pin would help you figure out a path to go in.
What adds to Bugsnax’s charm is its art style and music. Each section of Snaktooth Island is distinct from each other but cohesive at the same time. In certain parts of Snaktooth, you’ll find cave paintings on walls, which are a nice touch of environmental storytelling. The Bugsnax that populate each area also add charm to each area, and seeing more than one Bugsnax interact is always fun to watch.
Despite being great to look at, there are times where the game stutters and has performance issues. For example, one volcanic area features some framerate issues since there are multiple Bugsnax in this area alongside lava. I also encountered one weird bug where I talked to a character and randomly backed up as the character was still talking to me. None of these performance issues are game-breaking, but they can break your immersion.
As for the music and sound design, Octodad’s Seth Parker returns to provide a whimsical score that adds to the game’s charm. The music in each area complements its respective part of Snaktooth and helps make each area feel unique. In addition to the score, each Bugsnak has its own cute sound effects. These can be heard once you catch or get close to them. The noises they make injects personality into each Bugsnax and helps make them distinctive from one another. Additionally, the iconic theme song from Kero Kero Bonito appears in the game’s credits as your journey on Snaktooth Island ends. The music, including Kero Kero Bonito’s theme song, never detracted from the game or my enjoyment of it. None of the songs were distracting in any way, and they fit everything perfectly.
I loved my time in Bugsnax and on Snaktooth Island. It’s a game I instantly fell in love with when it was announced in June. It has a charming story of coming together and putting your problems aside for the greater good. The characters you meet are also fun to meet and add to the game’s charm. The Bugsnax themselves are the heart and soul of the game and inject so much personality and creativity into every part of Snaktooth. The highlight of the game is catching each Bugsnax and figuring out how to do it. Each one you encounter has its own traits and ways of catching them. It’s up to the traps at your disposal and some patience to trap each Bugsnax on Snaktooth Island.
Despite some technical issues and wanting more out of the game’s map, Bugsnax is a fantastic follow-up to Young Horses’ Octodad: Dadliest Catch. It’s unlike any game released this year, and it feels like a breath of fresh air as this year ends. With 2020 being a hard year for me and everyone else worldwide, playing Bugsnax helped me forget about what’s going on for a moment and provided nothing but pure joy. With such heavy hitters like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls on the PS5 at launch, Bugsnax is a delightful experience that no one should skip out on.