My story isn’t really unique, especially this year. Animal Crossing: New Horizons brought so many gamers to the fold. We’ve all basked in the simple pleasures of this soothing game, allowing it to deliver comfort and escape when the world seemed to be crumbling. I know many people continue to log on and play for hours every day, but I’m not one of them. Once I completed the main storyline and outfitted my island the way I wanted it, I was finished. I need a goal with my gaming. I love exploration and experiencing the full breadth a game has to offer, but at some point, I need some sense of completion. I also really value a good story.
As a result, I’d been looking for a game that will give me the same cozy feeling as Animal Crossing but with more of a sense of satisfaction; an emphasis on narrative and more structure surrounding it (sometimes, a blank sheet of paper is too much freedom for my brain). Then, right on time, I found Bugsnax.
The hype around Bugsnax was real. But shortly after developer Young Horses finally released it late last year, it quickly faded away. A lot of that probably has to do with its release date—November 12, the same day the PlayStation 5 hit the internet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this year’s next-gen console launches have been an absolute disaster, and the gamer news cycles were dominated by people trying and failing to secure a console. Bugsnax seems to have been forgotten amidst all this (understandable) frustration.
It also doesn’t help that, while Bugsnax was available as a free game for PlayStation Plus subscribers, only the PS5 version was included. That means that a lot of the people who were interested in playing the game and intended to buy a PS5 didn’t have the ability to actually play it.
I was lucky enough to secure a PS5 on preorder, and after it finally arrived, Bugsnax was the first thing I booted up. The premise is deceptively simple: You’re a journalist, invited to the mysterious Snaktooth Island by explorer Elizabert Megafig (the names in this game are fantastic) to uncover the puzzle behind Bugsnax, local insects that taste absolutely delicious. You arrive on the island, but Lizbert is nowhere to be found, and it’s up to you to figure out what happened.
I’m a sucker for a good mystery, so I was hooked right away. What I didn’t expect, though, was just how sweet this game would be. You’re introduced to a wide range of characters—Filbo, the town mayor who feels like he’s failed. Wambus, who just misses his wife Triffany. Snorpy and Chandlo, the gay couple I was willing to die for about three seconds after meeting them. These characters made my heart feel full, and I wanted to learn more about them, spend as much time in their world as possible, and stuff them full of delicious Bugsnax.
Bugsnax centers around strategizing to catch the different insect morsels around the island quest-style. As new areas unlock, the puzzles (and Bugsnax) get more complicated. But the game eases you in, and it’s always possible to figure out what to do. When you get stuck, Google can always help. (I am a huge supporter of trying to figure it out yourself—but then just searching for the answer before it stops being fun.) And the game’s pacing means it’s easy to do one thing and then attend to the other areas of your life. (In total, the game is only about 15 to 20 hours.)
Games that aren’t fighting-based often present a real difficulty in that most of the time there are no level settings. If you don’t find the controls intuitive, there’s not really much you can do. (It’s why I haven’t been able to make much headway in The Outer Wilds, though I’m going to try again.) But happily, I didn’t find that to be an issue with Bugsnax; the gameplay was simple and easy to figure out quickly.