Bugsnax review for PS5, PS4, and PC.
The PS5 Future of Gaming Show in June was our first look at Sony’s next-gen hardware, yet despite finally seeing what the console would look like, we were left with only one burning question after the event: what on earth are Bugsnax? Now, nearly six months later, we finally have our answer, and they’re given throughout a compelling mystery that carries an otherwise unexceptional adventure game.
We missed you, hissed the Bugsnax
The Bugsnax announcement trailer unveiled during the June event was absurd, depicting muppet-esque monsters with french fries for limbs and creatures mimicking fast food rummaging through piles of bones. It evoked comparisons to the YouTube series ‘Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared,’ with its Saturday morning cartoon characters seemingly hiding a dark secret from viewers. Our interview with developer Young Horses’ Kevin Zahn piqued our interest even further, all but confirming that Snaktooth Island wasn’t as bright and cheery as it seemed.
Snaktooth Island’s disturbing mysteries are mostly told to the player, not shown. Bugsnax places players in the role of a journalist hero (the first sign that something’s not quite right) tasked with uncovering the secrets of the Bugsnax, along with finding the whereabouts of the missing couple Elizabert and Eggabell. You’ll need to interview the local Grumpuses, the island’s furry Bugsnak-eating inhabitants, in order to learn key details that can help you with your newspaper report.
Gotta catch ’em all (but not really)
However, the Grumpuses have mostly become dependent upon the Bugsnax, meaning that they will only part with their information if you find them a sufficient number of delicious, sentient treats. Each Bugsnak is a puzzle, with you having to make use of various pieces of equipment in order to catch them. Some will be as simple as laying down a trap and waiting, while others will require you to use grappling hooks, tripwires, and more to secure them.
As their name suggests, Bugsnax are a combination of bugs and food, with their design reminiscent of Pokemon’s stranger creations. Nintendo made a Pokemon that was also a keychain, but Bugsnax raises the bar with a spider that’s also a bowl of noodles. Each species of Bugsnak behaves in its own unique way, from the Bunger that tackles anything covered in ketchup, to the Tropicabug that will stay hidden forever if it’s scared.
But unlike Pokemon, there’s not much to do with the Bugsnax once they’re caught. They’re predominantly used as plot devices, with you handing them over to the Grumpuses to advance the story, but they don’t have any inherent value to the player aside from this. Feeding them to the Grumpuses alters the appearance of their limbs, and while it’s fun to transform a muppet into a giant talking burger, there’s little else that can be done with them.
There’s a Bugsnak catalog that can be filled up, but there’s no reason to catch anything beyond what’s required of you to complete your objectives. You can’t look at your Bugsnax after catching them, you can’t interact with them, and you certainly can’t force them to engage in a fight to the death for Gym Badges. They simply exist in your backpack, stuck there until you release them to make room for more Bugsnax or feed them to a hungry Grumpus.
A rumpus with the Grumpus
Bugsnax may be the stars of the show, but it was the Grumpuses and their intertwined relationships that maintained my interest. Despite its colorful exterior, Bugsnax tackles some deep subject matter, from imposter syndrome to depression and anxiety. Its mature storytelling echoes shows like Steven Universe and Adventure Time, where bright and friendly characters carefully address real-world issues with their younger audiences.
Bugsnax’s portrayal of gay relationships is particularly noteworthy, with the openly lesbian couple Elizabert and Eggabell sharing a sweet relationship that is accepted and unchallenged by the other Grumpuses, while the dweebish Snorpy and musclebound Chandlo have a bond that makes them far more than “bros,” as the bodybuilder would put it.
Side-missions are firmly focused on exploring these Grumpuses’ insecurities and motivations, though they offer no tangible benefits to the player aside from helping you get to know each Grumpus a little more. Clues are given out every now and again — a mystery key to a locked box, part of a treasure map, that sort of thing — though these are mostly obtained through the main quest. There’s little incentive to stray from the beaten path, as all character arcs are tied up in the central story anyway.
For those who are appreciative of a 6-8 hour experience that ties itself up nicely, Bugsnax accomplishes what it sets out to do with its central mystery. However, I suspect that a game filled with an abundance of ludicrous creatures to hunt will attract completionists who may leave disappointed. I felt no drive to Catch ‘Em All, as I instead treated the Bugsnax as though they were McGuffins in a fetch quest.
Bugsnax Review | The final verdict
Bugsnax is an enjoyably dark mystery that deftly handles mental health issues with a superbly voice acted cast of entertaining characters, despite its shortcomings as an adventure game. The Bugsnax themselves may not be as interesting as the Grumpuses, but the mystery surrounding them remains compelling, leaving room for a sequel that I’d want to play. Much like its creepy-crawly comestibles, Bugsnax is short, sweet, strange, and worth experiencing for anyone tickled by the idea of a flying jam sandwich.
Bugsnax reviewed on PC. Code provided by publisher.