How often do you hear that Nintendo games are just for kids? It’s a sentiment that is forever cropping up, but it’s not just Nintendo exclusives that are affected by this viewpoint. Far too often, any game that doesn’t employ hyper-realistic graphics or tell an overtly dark and gritty story is dismissed as just another kids’ game. Surely cartoonish graphics and cutesy characters aren’t conducive to serious themes! What this viewpoint fails to consider, however, is the multifaceted nature of the medium, and Bugsnax stands out as one of the best examples of this in recent memory.
As we land in the world of Bugsnax, we find ourselves in the shoes of an intrepid journalist, hungry for their next story. Choosing to journey to a mysterious island with the promise of a ground-breaking discovery, we soon meet an eclectic cast of characters known as Grumpuses, and race to discover the truth behind the sudden disappearance of the Grumpus that invited you there. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter a huge variety of creatures known as Bugsnax, an often adorable cross between… well, bug and snack. From a spider with fries for legs (Fryder) to a crab resembling a sliced red apple (Crapple), Bugsnax is filled with the weird and wonderful, and all the food-related puns you could dream of.
Underneath the cutesy façade, however, lies a more nuanced experience. Each character you meet may, at first glance, seem to fit some obvious stereotype—the vain diva, the hustling businessman—but look deeper and you’ll discover a group of Grumpuses each with their own flaws and insecurities, simply masked by a bold personality. Throughout the main story of Bugsnax, you’ll naturally discover more about each character, yet it’s only when diving into the side content that they become more fully formed. Each Grumpus is dealing with some sort of issue, be it anxiety, depression, or loneliness, and each needs your help in coming to terms with these. Such complex themes aren’t so easily dealt with over the course of one short game but, by the end, each character has gone on a significant journey, and it’s extremely gratifying to see the results.
Diving into such complexities isn’t something I expected of Bugsnax. As mentioned, whilst I wasn’t dismissive of Bugsnax as a game, I certainly didn’t expect it to focus on such heavy themes. It’s beautifully crafted, really. The notion that everything can appear perfect on the surface, yet much darker just underneath. Bugsnax peppers this idea throughout the game, both through subtle and not-so-subtle means, and the resulting story is equal parts thrilling, mysterious, and even cathartic. It’s hard to go any deeper without potentially spoiling the experience, as this is one game that very much earns its payoff. Still, I can honestly say it’s one of the best stories I’ve experienced in the medium.
The impact of such a story would be somewhat lessened if the gameplay didn’t live up to such a high standard. Fortunately, Bugsnax very much delivers in this regard too. The premise is a simple one. Using a variety of traps and gadgets, your aim is to ensnare the Bugsnax in an effort to learn more about them and fulfill the requests of each Grumpus. The game has a standard learning curve that rewards more critical thinking, fusing creature-collecting mechanics with puzzle gameplay. The Bugsnax get naturally more difficult to capture as the game progresses, urging you to really think about what you’re doing. Reaching the end stages and combining all the knowledge you’ve gained is a great feeling and speaks to the journey Bugsnax takes you on.
What makes this such a rewarding experience is that the game is very hands-off in its approach to telling you what to do. There are details that guide you on your way, such as showing the kind of food a particular Snak loves or hates, but the way this information is then utilised is entirely on you. This allows for a certain level of creativity as you experiment with different methods, and with such a wild array of creatures, you’re forever discovering something new.
The only place Bugsnax really stumbles on the Switch is on the technical side of things. Having played—albeit fairly briefly—the game on PS5, the difference here is quite apparent. Graphically, the game looks amazing, the colours and style really popping, especially on the OLED. It’s a shame then that the game seems to struggle slightly, when running on the Switch. Luckily, this isn’t to the point where it affects gameplay, but the load times are excruciatingly long, and you encounter load screens quite often. I also noticed a significant amount of pop-in as I journeyed through Snaktooth Island. Again, these aren’t dealbreakers by any means, but the Switch certainly doesn’t stand as the best place to play Bugsnax.
With a surprisingly deep story, a penchant for world-building, and character work that rivals the best in the business, Bugsnax is an enjoyable and enriching experience that should not be missed.
Combining nuanced storytelling with engaging and addictive gameplay, Bugsnax is a real treat through and through. Some technical stumbles aside, this is a title that any fan of games needs to experience for themselves.