Calling something a spiritual successor gets bandied about far too much. It refers to a game that is heavily inspired by an older thing, one that hopes to bring the old into the modern day, and it always plays on nostalgia.
The Bug Butcher is a spiritual successor to a game called Pang. Pang was originally released in 1989 in arcades and had one or two people trying to survive wave after wave of bouncing balls. It came to the SNES too, so it gets extra marks there, bu I have a huge amount of nostalgia for it because it is at least partially responsible for my GCSE grades. You see, flash games were pretty big when I was in secondary school, and naturally the only thing that we wanted to do as students was play these. Pang was one of the flash games that stood out and, as we outsmarted the teachers trying to stop us playing, we spent hours upon hours playing it instead of studying.
The aim of Pang is simply to survive, and to do this you simply fire up above your character in order to destroy the big red balls bouncing around the level. Each time you hit them they split, until they are so small that they disappear. It’s an incredibly simple premise, but one that is so incredibly gratifying that it gets its hooks into you almost instantly. Add in the fact that you could play with a friend, and you have a game so good that it could easily knock a couple of grades off.
The Bug Butcher is a modern take on this; one that aims to recapture the feeling that the original gave you. The good news is that it definitely manages it, but the better news is that the new additions make it even better.
Instead of abstract balls, here you’re an exterminator dealing with some sort of alien insects. You have a job to do, and the person who has hired you is just trying to guide you through the facility one room at a time. This is your arcade mode and it is long enough to be worth playing without outstaying its welcome. It also steadily introduces the weapons, the enemies, and the abilities as you go.
The writing in the arcade mode is surprisingly good. It got a genuine chuckle out of me a couple of times, which is something I wasn’t expecting at all. The bumbling employee throws out coffee cups as part of the tutorial, for example. It is all part of the charm which the game channels straight into you.
The enemies start off as your basic bouncy pink bugs that split once or twice, but you then start to see ones that shoot projectiles, explode upon impact, or even just travel in a straight line. One of the funniest interactions is with an enemy that crawls on the ceiling, its sole purpose being to pick up your friend and carry them around. You quickly come into contact with boss level monsters, ones that shoot out gigantic beams of energy in-between spitting out volleys of projectiles.
The progression of the weapons keeps up nicely. You find laser cannons, gatling guns, and missiles, all of which give you a temporary boost in fire power for those tougher moments. You also get little power-ups here and there for things like extra health, faster firing, and improved damage. The odds are certainly stacked against you, but providing you can dash out of the way when you need to you can make it through.
Your special ability changes as you go. While this is initially just a burst of significantly faster firing, it can end up being an icy blast, or a huge salvo of homing missiles. It makes the progress through the arcade mode feel more worthwhile. The stages progress in a similar fashion, each section houses its own obstacles to overcome and present a new challenge.
The other mode is the Panic mode. This is where you, whether alone or with a friend, can take on an endless horde of bugs in a level of your choosing. You have a time limit that is constantly ticking away, but that can be extended by getting the right pick up. The coins dropped by enemies in this mode can be used to upgrade your character, which is a nice touch. This is perhaps the most fun, as it is where you get to play co-op.
The visuals are pretty, nothing absolutely ground-breaking, but they don’t really need to be. The music and general sound design are also good. The music doesn’t grate on you but won’t worm its way into your ears for days on end either.
The Bug Butcher is a spiritual successor that is very much possessed by its muse. This isn’t a subtle nod, it is soaked in Pang and it’s great because of it. The ability to play the game endlessly to beat your own score will keep you coming back. The fact that you can do it with a friend is just an even bigger incentive. The Bug Butcher isn’t reinventing anything, but it is a damn fine version of a classic game.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch