Bugsnax is so interesting that I suspect it deserves a pretty short review. The real fun here is discovery and interpretation, two things that both require a little mystery. Really, it would be good for you to stop reading now and go and play it. Go and play Bugsnax. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that it’s definitely worth your time.
If you need a little more than that, know this: a lot of the time Bugsnax is a sort of riff on the creature-collecting genre, more Viva Piñata than Pokémon. You gad about an island composed of various different biomes, collecting the local creatures, known as Bugsnax, which are half-insect and half snack. In the early stages you’ll find a spider that might have French fries for legs, a hamburger that’s also a beetle, and a hotdog worm. Designs are inventive and often funny. My favourite, from much later in the game, is a moth that I think is also made of French toast. I could be friends with a moth like that.
These Bugsnax are caught by using an expanding arsenal of gadgets, starting with a trap that you can put down and then trigger when the Bugsnax is within its grasp, and scaling to include stuff like a sort of hamster ball you can steer by laser, a bounce pad, and even a kind of Hookshot. Really, though, the Bugsnax are caught by studying them – uncovering their likes and dislikes and plotting their paths through the world. Then you have to think about how to use your gadgets – and any other Bugsnax – to get them in range of a trap. How to bring down a flying Bugsnax? How to lure a ketchup-loving Bugsnax out of the bush it’s hiding in? How to increase the size of a Bugsnax that looks like a kernel of popcorn so it won’t escape your trap? How to get a chilly Bugsnax to stop freezing you before you can get to it?
At its best this stuff plonks you into a world that is predictable enough to puzzle your way through, but still dynamic enough to surprise. I spent an absolute age trying to get a sentient bowl of noodles out of some lava using a sort of lollipop stick-insect. I caught fire many times, which was fine, but so did the stick-insect, which really put a crimp in things. There is a pleasure here to working out everything that a gadget can do and everything that a Bugsnax can do, and then discovering the possibilities of combining these possibilities. If this was all Bugsnax was, it would still be pretty good.
But it’s not all. Beyond that, there is a mystery to be solved on the island where the Bugsnax live, and solving it means gathering and understanding the relationships between a wonderfully diverse group of Grumpuses, sort of muppety creatures that stand in, I guess, for humans at the top of the food chain. These Grumpuses love Bugsnax and have a very particular set of uses for them, but they don’t often love other Grumpuses, and the game progresses as a kind of inquest into their attempt to create a community on the island where the Bugsnax live.
Even this feels like saying too much. Really, just go and play this game, which uses familiar ideas, all of them well-handled, in the service of something that I will be continuing to turn over in my mind for the next few months, I suspect. Bugsnax is colourful, clever, and surprising – and you deserve to discover the deepest aspects of it for yourself.