Bugsnax delivered more than I was expecting, and I was expecting a lot.
The narrative-driven adventure game from Young Horses — out Nov. 12 on macOS, Windows, PlayStation 4, and the — gives players the adorable-yet-consumable title creatures we’ve been craving since that first trailer dropped, of course. But, much to my surprise and ultimate delight, Bugsnax also offers an emotionally complex play experience unlike any other in recent memory. It’s Pokémon meets Nancy Drew meets, I dunno, a few very specific elements of ? There’s a lot to love, some do not, and a bit I’m still chewing over.
So here’s everything you need to know before diving into the shockingly easy-to-spoil edible insect romp of the 2020 holiday season, an irresistible must-play with a funky aftertaste.
Catching and (sometimes) eating bugsnax
From the moment you, a struggling journalist of the Grumpus species (yeah, that’s never really explained, but they’re ), arrive on Snaktooth Island via your flying pirate ship (that’s not explained either), bugsnax wriggle, sizzle, and otherwise maneuver their way into frame with unrelenting enthusiasm. Weenyworms (hot dogs, but worms too), cheepoofs (flying cheese puffs), stabby (upside-down strawberries that scuttle like crabs), scorpeppers (scorpions but also peppers), cinnasnails (cinnamon rolls-turned-snails), shishkabugs (shish kebabs assembled as ant), and 90 other types of bugsnax that I’m aware of appear in a rotating carousel of snackage the likes of which haven’t been seen since meatballs rained on .
It’s not just that the bugsnax are everywhere; it’s also that they’re doing everything — singing, fighting, sleeping, migrating, and more. Bugsnax behaviors are as nuanced as their many varieties; so much so, that more ecologically-inclined players may very well enjoy a safari across Snaktooth exclusively observing and keeping track of species in the game’s notebook instead of carrying assigned tasks.
Bugsnax offers fluid gameplay feel that’s sure to satisfy puzzlers.
But with the promise of capture hanging over every passive sighting, it won’t be too long before your investigative duties run headlong into traditional creature collecting.
Fully equipped, your main tool belt for snatching snax comes with six tools: your snak trap, lunch pad (as in “launchpad”), trip shot, sauce slinger, snak grappler, and buggy ball. Players must discover, mix, match, and otherwise combine these items to collect every kind of critter — a number of which have especially rare breeds (strains?) available to experienced (or at least dedicated) bugsnax hunters.
Comparable to Luigi’s Mansion 3in terms of tactile interactions, Bugsnax offers fluid gameplay that’s sure to satisfy puzzlers. Trapping the most challenging bugsnax requires think-before-you-act strategizing, which, when executed correctly, can feel as smooth as warm butter sliding off a flutterjam (y’know a butterfly with jam.) Done wrong, it feels more like a burger’s — a territorial kind of hamburger/bison situation — curly fry horns connecting with your rumpus’s uh…rumpuses. (It should be noted that I was playing on a PS4, sans the PS5’s hyped DualSense capabilities, so I may actually be understating just how great its execution can really be.)
Once you have your bugsnax in hand (in paw?), players have three options: (1) Release your bugsnax back into the wild; (2) Donate your bugsnax to the local pet shelter; or (3) Feed your bugsnax to a hungry grumpy. This is where the story’s narrative begins to take over, and things get weird…er than they already were.
Upon arriving at the capital of Snaktooth, appropriately named “Snaxburg,” players are tasked with befriending local grampuses. From Filbo the in-over-their-head mayor to Benfica the local gossip, the residents of Snaxburg are a remarkably lovable bunch. And all of them at least somewhat unite around their missing former leader, explorer Elizabert Megafig, and Elizabert’s partner doctor, Eggabell Batternugget.
Elizabert and Eggabell are a seal-shaped rumpus and an egg-shaped rumpus, respectively, who went missing shortly before you arrived on Snaktooth. (I don’t know what to tell you about the seal and egg thing, but I am certain no one can fully understand love until they’ve seen an animated pinniped and an unfertilized embryo snuggle. It’s…so…beautiful!)
The lingering sense that something is very, very wrong drives the game forward.
Stunningly well-written and well voice-acted with facial animations that palpably convey the full range of Grumpus emotion, Bugsnax’s main characters are essential to pushing the story forward as you interview each of them about Elizabert and Eggabell’s whereabouts — but they’re just as much fun to get to know outside of a crisis.
As Mashable’s Adam Rosenberg (who wrote our review of the PlayStation 5, and similarly dug The Snax) said in an email to yours truly, “I felt things for those lovable Grumpuses!!” More likely than not, you will too. It’s that emotional connection which ultimately makes what you have to do to keep Bugsnax moving along so disturbing.
What should be a platonic courting ritual among friends almost always ends in your feeding your acquaintance bugsnax and having them transform, at least in part, into that bugsnax. As we learned in the Bugsnax theme song, “you are whatever you eat” on Snaktooth. So slowly but surely, all of the residents of Snaxburg begin transforming into part-grumpy-part-snack things.
Yeah, they seem fine with it by and large. Still, the lingering sense that something is very, very wrong drives the game forward into a final act somehow more baffling than anything I anticipated from a video game about sentient creatures made out of food that you can eat but also keep as pets.
And making the two live in harmony
Thus far, I’ve described two — count ’em, two — great games. And therein lies Bugsnax strongest asset and most frustrating shortcoming. Let me be clear: You’re likely to enjoy both catching bugsnax and searching for Elizabert and Eggabell. A good farming and/or hunting simulator and a strong narrative game are by no means mutually exclusive, and Bugsnax does both very, very well. What’s more, the dueling frameworks are intertwined enough that you’ll be able to see them as a single experience with no sense that the bugsnax is not integral to the story.
That said, there are moments of overlap in which the competing mechanics force concessions on either side, creating thin moments in an otherwise immersive story. Some of it was certainly an issue of perspective on my part — I, like many, wrongly pegged this game as an Ooblets-adjacent collect-a-thon, and not finding the hallmarks of a game fitting that description right off the bat was surprising. But I still have to wonder: If I clearly enjoyed all the components of these two game ideas, why did they not gel together for me in a rewarding way?
On the narrative front, a restrictive map and repetitive tasks essential to keeping a game this lively contained can make advancing the tale feel like actual work, and not in the relaxing Stardew Valley sort of way. You’ll get bugs for that grumpy, get bugs for this grumpy, rinse, repeat, and interview the locals for Answers that don’t always satisfy.
Yes, the rumpuses generally have good reasons for why they all want you doing roughly the same activity, but for a game, this long (it took me 10 hours), the lack of variation can be rough in a world that otherwise feels so lived in. The bugsnax look less beautiful when you’re seeing them fly around in the same pattern in the same place for the umpteenth time because you yourself happen to be completing the same type of task in the same type of place for the umpteenth time. With each identical appearance, the bugsnax of Snaktooth feel more like puppets than living beings.
Naturally, I’d mind that sort of thing less if this was a game where the hard work of collecting things over and over again paid off in a tangible way.
On the task-based simulator side, there isn’t anything to “build” with all the bugsnax you’re collecting and your ability to customize your playthrough in ways characteristic of the genre are starkly limited. You don’t have an avatar, you don’t have a house, you can’t even pick which bugsnax you would like as your sidekick. (You get a cute stabby, but still!) I wanted to do more with the bugsnax than the game allows, and I was feeling that by the end.
These two issues converge in the final act in a manner so spoiler-laden it really can’t be discussed without specifics. Suffice to say, the formats damaged each other enough for me that the whole end of the game felt jarring. In a series of rapid-fire story beats (and what I’d argue was some straight-up single narrative retconning), Bugsnax threw much of that very work back in my face in a dramatic twist that felt more like a snack-sized middle finger.
It wasn’t enough to keep from going back — and I already have. But I’m doing so in part because I’m actively seeking a resolution to a conclusion that left me unsatisfied. I loved the game overall but needed one more ingredient to bring it together.
Amazing, confusing, and just a little infuriating, Bugsnax is the kind of game that will gnaw at you. For good or for bad, it’s… Bugsnax. Oh-oo-oh. Talkin’ ’bout Bugsnax!