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Review: Bugsnax Is Excitingly Weird but Clumsy When It Has Something to Say

The game noticeably stumbles as it attempts to more overtly address the darkness beneath its concept.

Photo: Young Horses

The eponymous creatures of Bugsnax—sentient food with googly eyes—live within their environments in much the same way that regular animals do. A Bunger, a hamburger with curly fries for legs, roams its terrain, charging at anything slathered in ketchup. A pineapple spider, naturally called a Pineantula, remains buried in the sand until a crab made from apple slices—a Crapple, of course—can be coaxed to dig it out.

And those are just a few of the strange creatures that fill the delightfully odd world of Bugsnax, including anthropomorphic walrus-looking thingamabobs called Grumpuses, some of whom have built a settlement on the illustrious Bugsnak domain of Snaktook Island. As a desperate Grumpus reporter from the city, you make your way to the island to investigate the rumors of things that are, per the game’s theme song by Kero Kero Bonito, “kinda bug and kinda snack” in a comedic adventure that flounders as it reaches its climax.

With Grumpus names like Beffica Winklesnoot and Wambus Troubleham, the game can often feel like an elaborate ploy to make voice actors recite ridiculous words, given that the Bugsnax don’t grunt or growl so much as say their own names aloud like Pokémon. But unlike the Pokémon games, Bugsnax seems to be much more consciously in touch with its darker side. Upon devouring a Bugsnak, a Grumpus will transform accordingly and horrifically—though not, it appears, painfully: a leg becomes a carrot, an arm becomes a shish kebab, a nose becomes a pickle. And not long after you does this for the first time, the player meets a Grumpus who’s morally opposed to the idea of eating Bugsnax in the first place, preferring to keep them as pets on a ranch that other Grumpuses view more as an auxiliary food source.

The game is most disturbing at its most overtly whimsical, when no one seems bothered by the fact that these characters blundered onto a remote island and are gradually becoming grotesque food chimeras by eating the wildlife raw. Most of the game functions in that mode of comedic ignorance, where a Grumpus has some request and you run off to capture the corresponding Bugsnak through some combination of sauce packets that grow like plants and the gadgets you’ve accumulated, like a launchpad or a tripwire. Light on challenge, the game works best as a procession of weird characters among even weirder fauna, the Bugsnak interactions more like momentary puzzles than particularly in-depth systems.

Which isn’t to say the game is incapable of surprising you with the way the Bugsnax behave even without your interference; sometimes you’ll see them attack each other while moving along their predetermined paths. But in its breezy nature, the game ends up living and dying by its storytelling, which noticeably stumbles as it attempts to more overtly address the darkness beneath its concept. If the game is funniest and strangest while playing dumb, it becomes tedious and wholly predictable once the time finally comes to say into the camera that all the Grumpuses have done on Snaktooth Island might actually be bad. Bugsnax is so much more inventive when it’s pretending everything is okay, even when it clearly isn’t.

The game was reviewed using a review code provided by popagenda.

Developer: Young Horses Publisher: Young Horses Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: November 12, 2020 ESRB: E10+ ESRB Descriptions: Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence

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