Yes, we've all heard the catchy song, and yes, we've all had a good laugh about that ridiculous game with the food creatures. Bugsnax might have achieved viral status back when it was announced, but we're here to tell you this surreal adventure is more than just a meme. Developer Young Horses has made a proper game that manages to be silly, poignant, and ever so slightly sinister all at once.
The first-person title is all about those titular beasts, which have captured the attention of a ragtag group of characters called grumpuses. On an expedition to the mysterious Snaktooth Island, explorer Elizabert Megafig invites you, a journalist, to travel out and document their experiences with Bugsnax. Things quickly take a turn, though; Elizabert goes missing, the group disbands, and one of the first things you do on the island is fall and hit your head. Great.
Obviously, it doesn't take long before things pick up. After speaking with Filbo, the nervous mayor of an abandoned settlement named Snaxburg, you'll quickly learn about Bugsnax and how to catch them. This is the main thrust of gameplay — finding and capturing dozens of the things. A basic trap allows you to snare some critters, but you'll quickly get other tools to help acquire Bugsnax of all shapes and sizes. For example, a slingshot allows you to lure bugs with different sauces, while a launchpad helps to trap airborne creatures. There are many different species to discover, and while some tactics apply to multiple beasties, others require more unique methods. There's a neat puzzle element in figuring out how to most effectively catch each critter, and of course, collecting them all is part of the fun.
While we're on the subject, there are some brilliant creature designs. Granted, some are just bits of food with eyes, but others are wonderfully imaginative; a pickle monster that retreats into its jar for protection, a coconut critter that splits into two, a snail whose shell is a cinnamon bun. We won't reveal any more, as there's real joy in finding them all yourself. There are a fair few Bugsnax among the 100 species that are merely variants on others, though. Repeated designs with superficial changes crop up every now and then, but they all look so good it's hard to be mad about duplicates.
Once you've caught a handful of Bugsnax, you can feed them to any characters you've met along the way. A huge aspect of the game's structure and story is finding each of the grumpuses and returning them back to Snaxburg, and most of them can be persuaded to do so if you bring them their favourite treats. Curiously, when a character eats a Bugsnak, part of their body will transform into whatever's been consumed. As well as allowing you to customise each grumpus, this quirk does weave into the narrative. Lest we forget, the Bugsnax themselves are only part of the experience; your other job is finding Elizabert's various followers and figuring out what happened to her.
Of course, real answers to the mystery are reserved for the final moments of the game, but there's enough to chew on along the way. Each grumpus can be interviewed, but you'll learn more about them through various side missions, where character flaws and relationships with others come to the surface. You shouldn't expect the best stories ever told, but this game goes to some surprisingly serious places. The group may have found a supposed paradise, but their personal problems haven't gone away. Although this is largely a comical game, it takes time to punctuate the whimsy with more meaningful story moments, giving events some texture.
As we mentioned, most quests involve capturing Bugsnax, but some involve visiting various regions on the map. The island opens up as you progress, and each area has its own set of bugs to collect. The map itself is fairly varied, but to get from one side to the other can be slow. There are very few shortcuts from one area to another, and no fast travel. With loading screens between each area and occasionally choppy frame rates, traveling around Snaktooth Island isn't the smoothest trek.
That being said, once you've unlocked more equipment, revisiting earlier parts of the map opens up more Bugsnax for you to catch. Generally speaking, the pace at which you'll fill out your journal with the creatures is judged very well, meaning you'll be seeing new things for most of the eight to 10-hour playtime. Once you've wrapped things up, though, there's not much reason to jump back in. Of course, after the credits roll you can continue catching 'snax to your heart's content, and Snaktooth Island is an inviting location with its diverse biomes. Visually, the game isn't pushing the envelope by any stretch, but the colourful art style and chilled out music do make for a pleasant excursion.
Bugsnax is a strange concoction of elements that come together for a truly unique adventure. Finding and catching the titular creatures is great fun, but the gameplay is broken up by story beats that belie the game's simple, whimsical style. The mysterious narrative and memorable ensemble cast will keep you interested between hunting for snax, too. Despite loading screens interrupting the flow and a handful of repeated beasties, this curious game is an unusual blend of flavours that works wonderfully.