Video games, at their best, are a little ridiculous. Even the titles with the most jaw-dropping graphics and most heart-wrenching narrative can feel a little absurd when you break them down in the abstract, which only makes their effective approach to storytelling all the more groundbreaking. That sentiment becomes uniquely apparent a few hours into playing Bugsnax, a game that turns flinging chocolate sauce and ranch dressing at its characters into an exhilarating action, and makes you feel engrossed in the interpersonal drama of its Muppet-like NPCs. Almost since it was first announced, Bugsnax has been seen as an absurd addition to the PlayStation 5's launch titles -- but to an extent, that's the beauty of it. Bugsnax blends inventive worldbuilding, a surprising amount of strategy, and a whole lot of heart into what is easily one of the most gleefully fun and memorable games of the year.
In the world of Bugsnax - which is populated by furry anthropomorphic creatures called Grumpuses - players embody an unnamed journalist protagonist who ventures to the elusive Snaktooth Island in search of a groundbreaking story surrounding the disgraced explorer Elizabert Megafig. When they arrive, Elizabert has gone missing, causing the inhabitants of the town of Snaxburg to splinter across the island. The journalist is tasked with bringing each Grumpus back to the town, and with learning everything they can about Bugsnax, tiny creatures that are "half bug and half snack" and are the primary food source of those on the island.
If that sounds a little over-the-top, that's because it is -- but the game establishes its world so quickly and effectively that you'll quickly learn to relish in it. Given the fact that the game is from Young Horses, the makers of the delightfully-bizarre Octodad series, that was somewhat to be expected, but it's genuinely fascinating seeing how fully realized and charming the game's world is. The majority of tasks in the game involve finding new Bugsnax in different corners of the island, either by cataloging them with your camera or by catching them with various tools and traps. The Bugsnax themselves are unbelievably creative, both in their "too cute to eat" cartoon character designs and in their pun-filled names like "Shishkabug" and "Pinenantula." As you play more of the game, you'll surely feel a sort of Pokemon-esque desire to "catch them all," combined with the bursts of frustration when one evades your grasp.
As much as the game is about collecting the different types of Bugsnax, its beating heart is its roster of Grumpuses, who players will fall in love with over the course of playing. Sure, names like "Beffica Winklesnoot" and "Wambus Troubleham" initially feel like lost Dr. Seuss motifs. And sure, each NPC character falls into a series of tropes, but they feel so oddly human and relatable in a way that is sure to inspire countless fandoms and ships among fans. (The game also has a refreshing amount of canon LGBTQ+ and nonbinary representation, which feels groundbreaking for an E-rated game like this.)
When it comes to the gameplay itself, Bugsnax ends up being just the right blend of simple and challenging. After a few tasks, the game fully becomes an open world-style experience, complete with an ever-growing number of sidequests and chains of events that feel like Skyrim by way of Sesame Street. There is an impressive amount of strategy involved with catching almost all of the Bugsnax, with some maneuvers involving switching between tools - which include a butterfly net, a launchpad, and a slingshot that can fire dipping sauces - at a second's notice. From a technical standpoint, the game makes doing all of that a fun and rewarding experience and utilizes Playstation's Dualshock technology in an adorable way. That being said, there are some moments that border on unnecessarily frustrating -- I accidentally glossed over a discreetly-hidden new trap, which I needed to advance forward in basically every open quest in the game, and didn't find it until I retraced my steps hours later. As annoying as those moments might be, they're few and far between and are vastly outweighed by the fun and inventive gameplay.
While Bugsnax could have skated by on its bizarre concept and character designs, it uses a lot of different features to go one step further in creating a genuinely immersive world. The settings of each part of the island are incredibly distinct and imaginative, to the point where you can feel the snow crunching beneath your character's feet or the desert wind against their face. The game's music is also genuinely delightful, using lo-fi beats and an array of different music styles to create songs that'll be stuck in your head after you turn off your controller. Even the game's load screens - of which there are quite a lot, particularly once you traverse from one region of the island to another - are very aesthetically realized.
From the jump, Bugsnax caught the gaming world's attention for how genuinely weird it is -- and honestly, that weirdness is a comfort when you dive into the game itself. At its core, Bugsnax is a game that's both about the joy of curiosity and the importance of a found family, all wrapped up in an adorable and addictive package that's going to inspire a wealth of fanworks and merchandise. Whether you're cataloging different types of Bugsnax, coming up with a new trap combination, or interviewing the townspeople of Snaxburg (by the way, props to Young Horses for helping teach players good interview etiquette), Bugsnax is a gaming experience that just works really well -- and it feels like the kind of game that's going to stick around.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Bugsnax is now available for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. A PlayStation 4 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model PS4.