Bet You Can’t Eat Just One
LOW Trying to freeze a flying Snak.
WTF All of it. Every part.
It’s incredibly easy to point out Bugsnax‘ strongest selling point as the creatures it features — called bugsnax themselves — are cute, playful, mean, scary, and all points in between.
Sure, on one level they’re just foodstuffs with googly eyes stuck onto them, but the developers have imbued them with such personality that they’re a delight to be near. Bugsnax are the kind of next-level character designs that come just once in a blue moon. Also, there’s a game built around them.
Set on the mysterious and foreboding Snaktooth Island, players take on the role of a reporter who’s investigating the mystery of what bugsnax are. The goal is to interview Lizabert Megafig, the leader of the expedition that discovered the adorable creatures. Upon arrival, they’ll find the expedition’s settlement abandoned, so they attempt to track down the island’s residents and catch as many bugsnax as possible.
Played from a first-person perspective, Bugsnax is simple at its core. There are eight maps — two for each of the biomes — each filled with a dozen or so unique bugsnax. The player’s job is to learn their behavior and then figure out the best way to trap them so they can sate the villagers’ ravening hunger. Yes, people eat them.
To aid in this task the player will unlock a number of different tools, each one invaluable for catching certain types of ‘snax. There’s a wire to trip fast-moving ‘snax, a launch pad to send them flying through the air, a remote trap to nab smaller ‘snax, and a variety of sauces to bait them with.
While the large number of tools may seem daunting at first, they’re all so easy to operate that they soon become second nature. Each new bugsnak is a puzzle to be solved, and play is all about figuring out the best way to combine tools in order to scoop them up.
Lollipop flying high above? Try launching a trap into midair! Bowl of Stew too hot to touch? Convince a foul-tempered popsicle to ram it! Bugsnax features a hundred different creatures, and while they fall into a handful of broad categories, the subtle differences between them kept me trying new techniques until the end of the game. Especially impressive are the boss fights, each one forcing the player to focus on using a completely different tool at the highest possible level of expertise.
Bugsnax’s exploration and capturing gameplay is stellar, but the best part is the cast. Each of the thirteen explorers the player will meet is a distinct character with their own likes, dislikes, and quirks. Whether they’re helping the archaeologist track down evidence of an ancient civilization or gathering secrets for the gossip girl, players will learn all they need to know about the explorers by seeing what they truly value.
However, these characters aren’t as one-dimensional as they might first seem — every one has a rich backstory full of trauma to be addressed. Broken marriages, secret loves, drug addiction — the people of Snaktooth Island have problems, and the game treats them with a mixture of respect and good-natured humour. Despite the art style, this is a mature story about people overcoming illusions about themselves and figuring out how to be part of a society.
Also worth mentioning is that Bugsnax is weirdly disturbing. The ‘snax and the cast are both cute, but when one starts eating the other, things get very weird, very quickly.
In a truly absurd bit of body horror, every time a character eats a snak, part of their body — the player chooses which — transforms into a crude simulacrum made of the thing they ate. Chow down on a set of ribs and a leg will suddenly transform into a bone wrapped in brown meat. Chew on a chip and an arm becomes a crispy potato accordion.
When I first saw this mechanic in action I was viscerally unsettled, and that feeling never quite went away. Each new snak brings a troubling texture or color pattern, as well. I wasn’t prepared for strawberry hair or oreo teeth — although the cinnamon bun ears are great. By feeding characters a variety of different foods players can transform them into bizarre assemblages that can get difficult to look at without feeling ill.
Bugsnax leans heavily on the unique nature of its titular creatures, and it succeeds by doing so. They’re cute, they’re creepy, and their existence makes no logical sense whatsoever. Armed with a bit of design this indelible, the developers could have phoned in the rest and raked in the merchandising money. Instead, they fully committed to delivering a narrative worthy of the creatures starring in it. It was a risky choice, but it was also a daring and clever one, and that’s exactly what it wants to be.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Young Horses. It is currently available on PC, PS4, and PS5. This copy of the game was obtained via PS Plus and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is Rated E10+ and contains Animated Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, and Suggestive Themes. I don’t see how this is less than a T, honestly. Not only are the snak people horrific to look at, the storyline is extremely serious, delving into depression and drug addiction quite extensively. Also, just FYI, most of the characters use neutral pronouns and there are a couple of same-gender relationships in the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played much of the game without audio, and encountered no difficulties. The only thing you’ll miss out on is being able to hear when bugsnax are close. All dialogue is subtitled. The text size cannot be changed.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls cannot be remapped. There is no control diagram. This game uses standard FPS controls, with the left stick controlling movement, and the right stick controlling the camera. Face and shoulder buttons are used to interact with the characters and use traps.