Bugsnax (2020)

Bugsnax is an adventure game where you play as an unnamed character who does a bunch of fetch quests for other island inhabitants.Even though you have been brought to the island under the guise of interviewing a famous explorer, you soon get relegated to a personal assistant for each character until they reluctantly agree to give you a single interview that lasts a couple minutes, then it’s back to work gathering items for the lazy bums and feeding them.

Young Horses, the Development team behind Octodad definitely have a distinct style, one that really doesn’t gel with me too much. They make games for children. Octodad was a quirky little tech demo turned into a full game, focusing on “Goofy Physics” and with a story stripped out of a Chicken-Boo short from Animaniacs. Bugsnax, their second game, feels like it took the things they learned from making Octodad and made a full game out of a few simple mechanics.

I heard a lot of people compare the game to Pokemon Snap; a game that was totally on-rails, and only allowed you to travel a pre-destined path, never to deviate from it, and take pictures of the pokemon. Bugsnax is an open world game, where you can go wherever you desire and spend as much time as you want, trying to capture the cute and cuddly Bugsnak animals. So it's more like Pokemon proper, where you have to figure out each animal’s likes and dislikes, and lure them out into the open and capture them with the appropriate device. Some are water based, some are fire based, and some fly, some burro… it’s all extremely familiar to Pokemon, a series I never even have played more than a few minutes.

I wanted to like Bugsnax, and while playing next to my wife, it definitely left a good first impression on me, as the little food-animal hybrids say their names over and over again as they live our their little lives, with big googly eyes and everything is just so bright and colorful. It’s definitely a departure from the normal games I play, and the ones that come out at the end of a console's life. But as I dug further into the game, I quickly started to see all the small things wrong with it. The biggest issue was the personal politics that developers jammed into the game. We get it, there are lesbians and gay characters! “Look at the gay characters! Look how woke we are!” Something that immediately turned me off of the game, and really just made me want to put down the controller right away. I think it’s awful that they shoved this into this game, a game built for children primarily.

Even with the shoehorned in politics, the game just feels very immature. It’s all really cute and bubbly, and each character feels straight out of a coming of age teen movie. Beefica, the game’s stand in for the troublemaker, uses phrases like “OMG” and “totes” like it was written back in 2012 by the lead designer's daughter. Other over the top characters include the used car salesman, the nerd, the jock, the diva and the push around dork no one respects. Each character is the same archetype character you’ve seen in countless other games, movies and TV shows. None of them have any big character reveals and only exist to make painfully dated and obvious jokes that have been performed better in other media.

The gameplay itself isn’t half bad. The pokemon style characters are fun and don’t even get boring, with them only able to say their name in fun cute ways, it does make for some laughable “Oh that’s pretty cute” moments. Each design and blending of both animal and food items is really interesting, and while done before, it still is enjoyable. The trapping and catching mechanic did feel enjoyable, but later on, when encountering elemental Bugsnax, they present a little bit of frustration when capturing characters depends on a bit of luck. Some Bugsnax will be attracted to each other, or want to fight, and if they deviate off their intended paths, they can just fight with each other until the game is reset. Fire or Ice Bugsnax also cause some issues and capturing them requires a bit more patience as well, and once I started not enjoying the game so much and just wanted to power through to the end, I got really annoyed with the time it took to set up some traps.

The storyline of trying to bring back the inhabitants of the island together to the village is nice, they all seem like crappy people, and none that I really cared or wanted to hang out with more than I was forced to for their missions. I couldn’t really care whether or not they lived or died, and the game splits up into two main story lines. Bring everyone together, and also find “Elizabert” the intrepid leader who has gone missing, along with her token lesbian lover. If you want to mainline one, you can, but with the story and level progression locked behind getting a certain gadget, you’ll have to backtrack back and forth a lot. Along with dealing with annoying characters who won’t help you out, until you help them out a few times first.

I didn’t really bring up the whole Feeding mechanic at all, because, well, it doesn’t matter. Feeding characters, and having their limbs turn into certain food items really isn’t important, and doesn’t do anything other than “oh look, their arm is some french fries now” moments. It technically ties into the story’s ending a bit, but other than that, it’s just a simple few moments where the joy fades away after a few seconds.

The ending is an  “out of nowhere” narrative that is oh so popular now. Every game needs to “go places” that you don’t see coming. While you definitely know that something is up and everything seems a bit off, it takes that idea and brings a Temple of Doom sequence at the end that makes you feel like you are playing a totally different game. Couple that with “A Point Of No Return” where the ending is around 30 minutes long and you have to sit through unskippable dialog and in-game cutscenes, it just takes too long if you want to redo something in the ending. Yes, characters can totally die at the last part, and ruin the ending if you make a small mistake. Think of it like a racing game, where you are in first place the entire race, but in the final turn you cut it too short, and accidently get stuck on the wall, and end up in last place. It’s like that.

While Bugsnax tries to make itself a Pokemon/Viva Pinata game, I don’t think it really excels at being either very well. The game stretches itself out a bit too much for my liking, clocking in around 6-7 hours for what should have been a solid 4 hour game. With a smaller time frame, the extra waste of time sidequests could have been cut and the story tightened up a bit. Even if that was the case though, I don’t think it would have helped me like it. It’s a game made for people with tween kids, people who are too young to notice the propaganda, or ones that fully embrace it to begin with. If I would have known about the underhanded message of this game, I wouldn’t have bought or played it, but sadly I did, and I regret it. I’ll be more wary of Young Horses’ games in the future, as they seem to really be making games for a certain audience, and I don’t want to be a part of it.