You are what you eat. It’s wisdom that has been passed down over the ages to remind people to stick to healthy food and only eat junk in moderation, but Bugsnax leans into the absurdity of the phrase. It posits an interesting question: what would life be like if you literally became what you eat?
It’s an interesting idea, and one that catches the eye of our protagonist. You’re a photojournalist who sets off to Snaktooth Island to find the enigmatic explorer Lizbert, who tipped you off to the existence of the game’s eponymous Bugsnax.
You set off for Snaktooth Island and quickly learn two things: first, Liz has gone missing and, second, everyone else around you is utterly useless. Rather than helping you find their leader, you are tasked with running around the island, catching a menagerie of Bugsnax and feeding them to the residents.
A Bugsnak is a peculiar little beast — the animalisation of a given food or drink that gives it googly eyes and a cute personality. Eating a Bugsnak causes a mutation, known as Snakification, instantly turning a limb into a representation of the Snak you just ate. Although this is random at first, you quickly gain the ability to target these mutations to the limb of your choice.
And thus begins your intrepid journey to body-mod an entire island’s worth of grumpuses (your species of furry humanoids) in the most irresponsible and amusing ways you can think of. Sure, they wanted to eat a pickle, but they didn’t specify whether they wanted their arm or their nose to represent it — that’s your choice entirely.
Catching the 100 different species of Bugsnax across the island’s diverse range of biomes, from the frozen mountains to the volcanic springs at the beach, is no mean feat. Each one has its own unique way of fitting into the world around them, from the walking popsicles to the flaming buffalo wings. The level of creativity here really is impressive and it is a joy spotting a new Snak for the first time.
Getting your hands on the Snak, however, is far less simple. As you set about your mission, wondering how you’re gonna Snak ‘em all, you pick up a range of tools to help. These are simple to use, but surprisingly tricky to master.
Some snax are very enough to catch. Simply lay a trap and step back, and the idiot Strabby (a strawberry with googly eyes) will walk right into it. Others, such as the flying Cheepoof, require you to combine your portable launchpad with your trap for a more dynamic tool. Others still ask you to manipulate the elements, lay fiddly traps on the fly or wait for certain weather conditions.
In this way, Bugnsax is like a Pokémon game without the ability to rely on Pokéballs and a decent pitching arm. Although there are fewer things to catch than Red and Blue, there’s a good 20 hours of gameplay here to keep you occupied.
And much like Pokémon, beneath the cute and cuddly veneer, there is a very dark story unfolding.
Truly, any spoilers would ruin the experience, and I wouldn’t want to take away the sheer brilliance of experiencing Snaktooth Island for yourself, but I will say that despite its appearance, this isn’t the kind of game you should leave with your impressionable six-year-old.
Bugsnax is undeniably cute and it looks like the kind of thing you’d see on a Saturday morning kid’s TV channel. It’s adorable when you catch a Snak and your controller trills “Strabby!’, “Kweeble!” or whatever it is you caught (again, like Pokémon, they can only say their own names), but there are some dark themes that you probably don’t want to explain. The inevitable topics of addiction and cannibalism that comes from running around like Mother Superior to the island’s snakheads, who have limbs made of french fries and Cheetos.
For all the darkness, there is also a lot of light to enjoy here. One of my first moments of genuine appreciation for this game was seeing that Liz, our absent leader, is dating another female character. There is no comment about how these characters are gay and there is no trace of homophobia from the other residents. They are accepted for being themselves. Given the sly innuendoes this pair of characters slip in (like Shrek and the Lego Movie), these moments of joy just keep coming.
This kind of diversity (minus the smut, of course) is the kind I’d love a future six-year-old of mine to see. Although it doesn’t normalise ethnic diversity in the same way — everyone is a different colour of the rainbow — it is a powerful message putting LGBT characters in such a prominent position. Well played, Bugsnax.