Bugsnax is a game all about creatures that embody features of two completely different forms of life. This dichotomy extends beyond the game's subject matter, though, and bleeds into almost every other aspect of the game as well. The resulting effect is a game that sometimes cultivates charming clashes but more often feels like an experience that is at odds with itself. It makes for a fascinating play nonetheless, and this mobile version is more than capable of allowing you to enjoy the wonders of Snaktooth Island without much of a hitch.
Trap and snack
In Bugsnax, you play as an intrepid Grumpus reporter who journeys to Snaktooth Island where a form of life known as Bugsnax roam the land. These creatures are named for their resemblance to giant bugs that have somehow combined themselves (and presumably taste like) snacky foods like fruits, burgers, cookies, etc.
A small group of explorers has already set up a small encampment on the island to learn more, but you quickly discover upon your arrival that things are in disarry. Two of the most vital leaders of the group have gone missing, and most of the other Grumpuses have fallen out with each other and isolated themselves from the group as a result. This then sets you on a mission to explore the island, interview group members, and try to find out what happened to its leaders, all of which involves some amount of trapping and/or feeding Bugsnax to Grumpuses you meet along the way.
Most of Bugsnax consists of exploring an area, meeting the Grumpuses there, and completing quests for them which in turn pushes some story event forward that unlocks the next area to explore. Given the way that the encampment acts as a hub to small areas branching off of it, the structure has a real throwback feel to it, almost like a Playstation 1 game, but with surprisingly polished visual and sound design.
This is where the style clashes start, but definitely not where they end. There's also the kid-friendly aesthetics that run up against a pretty dark story featuring characters who (with few exceptions) are often not very nice, the seemingly simple tasks of capturing and cataloging creatures getting convoluted with all manner of gadgetry and environmental manipulation mechanics, and all the ingredients for some kind of management system for the encampment but applied so lightly they largely feel like an afterthought.
It's interesting to see these points of friction rub against each other, but I wouldn't say they are as fun to play through as they are to observe. The brightest spot among these choices is Bugsnax's audio design, though, as no matter what you are doing you can be sure to be delighted by the inspired voice acting behind both Grumpuses and Bugsnax alike.
Despite being a first-person, somewhat action-oriented game, I found little to no issues playing through Bugsnax using touch controls on my iPad. The port itself is technically sound and the design of the action combined with the layout of the on-screen buttons posed few--if any--challenges I might experience elsewhere.
The straightforward structure of Bugsnax also lends itself particularly well to mobile play, as there's only so many things available to do at any given time and the in-game journal does a great job of helping you keep track of everything you might want to do in the world of Bugsnax, even if it's not the main story quest (or any quest at all).
The bottom line
Bugsnax is certainly not the game I was expecting it to be, and that works both for and against it. I am glad it wasn't some cozy, edgeless romp about thoughtlessly collecting creatures, but I am also not particularly smitten with the direction it takes. In its defense, Bugsnax did make me curious enough to see it through to the end, but not for any of the reasons I thought it would when I first started playing it.