Bugsnax was an obvious standout during the PlayStation 5 reveal event. I don’t think I’ve ever been so simultaneously horrified and intrigued about a video game. I don’t know if it was the cute little creature being consumed, the following body horror—or the fact that it was all so damn adorable, with a subtly dark undertone. By the time that Kero Kero Bonito’s It’s Bugsnax! finished out the trailer, I knew it was something I had to see for myself. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but Bugsnax has exceeded those expectations.
Created by local developer Young Horses, Bugsnax is a semi-open world first person adventure game where you take the role of a journalist stranded on a mysterious island. You play as a creature called a Grumpus, which are hairy bipedal creatures that are the dominant species in this world. You’re off on an adventure in search of Elizabert Megafig—famed explorer who recently led an expedition to Snaktooth Island. This island itself is full of creatures that are kinda bugs, and kinda snacks—well, I’m sure you’ve heard the song. In fact, all of the fauna on Snaktooth island has been replaced by Bugsnax. As you get to the island, you discover that island disturbances scattered the expedition, and it’s up to you to get to the bottom of it—and bring everyone back to Snaxburg at behest of the mayor, Filbo. To do that, you’ll need to catch a lot of Bugsnax and convince a stubborn group of Grumpuses to work together for a common goal. And one thing all of the Grumpuses love is Bugsnax.
The main thing you’ll do in Bugsnax is search for and trap the eponymous creatures. Bugsnax are everywhere, and there are some that are so easy to catch you can grab them off of the walls—and others that require more careful planning. At first you’ll be given a single trap in which to catch them, but eventually you’ll have a whole arsenal of tools at your disposal to catch all manner of flying, walking, swimming and jumping Bugsnax. For most Bugsnax, it’s not as easy as just dropping a trap waiting for a Bugsnak to walk into it—you’ll have to lay out trip lines for clever snax, and use lures to pull the more stubborn snax into your traps.
Everything in Bugsnax is adorable, from the Grumpuses to each Bugsnak. Developer Young Horses obviously had fun creating the hundred or so Bugsnax. Each snak has characteristics of both the animal and the food it represents. The Spuddy, for instance, is a potato-meets-crab creature with a temper—it wants to knock into you on sight, and starts whistling like a hot baked potato before it tries to ram you. Some snax, like the Sandopede are made up of multiple snax acting communally as one creature. Bugsnax even interact with each other—with some that are scared of other snax, or other snax that anger them so much they’ll attack on sight. And if you needed any additional reasons to love the adorable Bugsnax that populate the world, each one runs around saying its own name in a hilarious manner as you meet and trap them.
You’ll know what each snak likes and fears, because you have the Snaxscope to scan them. This scope helps you catalogue the different Bugsnax as well as give you information about how to capture them. Once scanned, each snak will even have a dotted line that represents its path of travel—something you can use to set out traps for them in a manner similar to Aloy’s focus in Horizon Zero Dawn. You can tell how each snak is actively feeling by an emoji that appears above its head. Some snax like to trick you, and they’ll let you know it as they taunt you—while others will show fear at your presence, or love for something their desire—like their favorite condiment. On Snaktooth Island, condiments grow on bushes, and you’ll need them to catch the various snax. You can use these condiments to lure Bugsnax, or even coax them into attacking each other for your benefit—something that some are already prone to doing.
To catch snax you have a few tools at your disposal—your Snaxscope, as I mentioned, is incredibly important and relays information about each snak. Your bug net catches snax that are within grabbing range, and are usually stunned or otherwise unable to run or hide. The Snak Trap is a deployable wooden trap that grabs most snax that walk through it—but not all of them. Some snax even get angry at the sight of it, and will try to destroy your trap. The sauce slinger is a slingshot that shoots sauce at the ground or other snax—or at the buggy ball, which is a Strabby you can guide around in a rolling ball. This Strabby can be used as a lure or a way to flush out certain snax. You also have the lunchpad (not a typo) that launches objects or your trap, which you can use to get hard to reach snax—or even use to fling yourself in certain circumstances. The Snakgrappler helps you grab objects and some snax at a distance, while the trip shot can set up a tripwire that can knock out most snax who run through it. Catching Bugsnax with the various tools is incredibly satisfying.
When I found out most of Bugsnax was about catching these snax, I never thought it would be so fun to figure out how to best catch some of them. Some snax make it even more difficult with different elemental effects—burning snax like the Scorpenyo will burn your trap and frozen snax will freeze it. If you’re not careful, you can be frozen or set on fire—but you don’t suffer damage, nor can you die. Bugsnax is all about catching snax, and helping the dozen or so Grumpuses of Snaxburg—and this is where the real heart of Bugsnax shines through under the right circumstances.
The Grumpuses of Bugsnax are cute, bear-like creatures with large teeth that are perfect for crunching on Bugsnax. Grumpuses love these snax—but eating them has a strange effect on them: their limbs begin to turn into Bugsnax, and if you feed them enough, their entire body can take on the appearance of the various Bugsnax they’ve eaten. While the Grumpuses mostly feel like themselves after eating Bugsnax, their transformations are profound—and somewhat terrifying. You can choose to feed these Grumpuses Bugsnax and change them as you desire.
The Grumpuses themselves are great, flawed, incredibly human characters. For a game about catching bugs that look like food, there is a surprising amount of heart in its cast of characters. Each Grumpus is expertly voiced, and each is definitely a character—with their own unique, pronounced personality. Bugsnax handily eschews convention and subverts stereotypes with its Grumpus characters, and ends up with a cast of flawed but lovely creatures.
Snaktooth Island itself isn’t that large, but it does contain eight distinct areas, with the Snaxburg acting like a hub between them. The island opens up the further into the story you get, and eventually you’ll be able to travel between each of the nine zones as you like. Each area is distinct, containing its own set of Bugsnax to catch, and there are even a few secrets to uncover. My only complaint is that there isn’t a fast travel option—but the areas are pretty small, and you can run across them in little time.
If I did have one complaint about Bugsnax, it would be its finale sequence. I don’t want to spoil any story points—but the end of the game was a little darker than I expected. There was always hint at a darker side to Snaktooth Island, but I didn’t know how dark it could get. The rest of the game is pretty low stakes—you can’t die, and any snak you fail to catch will respawn if you wait long enough. But the last section of the game raises the stakes incredibly high. It feels like the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2—but without all the mental (and physical) preparation that came with it. While stressful at the time, in hindsight I realized how much of a bond I had with the Grumpuses—a testament to how much I cared about the characters I had grown to know through my dozen or so hours of playtime.
I love Bugsnax. Even after learning the mystery of Snacktooth Island, exploring every nook and cranny, and endeavoring to catch every Bugsnak, I still want more. The very end hints at a possible sequel—and I hope that is the case, even if it takes Young Horses another six years to get it out. Catching snax is incredibly fun, and the Grumpuses are some of the most endearingly human characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a video game.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR
You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites at twitch.tv/bokor