Bugsnax is a dumb game in every way. You inhabit a world of Sesame Street– like monsters, and visit an island full of bugs in the form of snacks – hot dogs, soda cans and more. The googly-eyed residents inexplicably want to eat this Bugsnax, which turns their limbs into the objects they devoured. This process is known as “queuing” and for some reason does not please everyone but everyone. You have to bring the scattered townspeople back together, usually by capturing certain creatures and passing them on to individuals, even when absurd melodramas play out between the characters. It’s as strange as it sounds.
While this makes for an unusual wrapper, Bugsnax is really a puzzle-solving adventure game. You’ll wander through several relatively small open areas from a first-person perspective, scanning and packaging the small bites by luring, catching, or tricking them. Along the way you will meet many unusual islanders and solve a riddle about the missing founder of the settlement.
The light-hearted but deeply weird premise isn’t always enough to keep the story engaging, and there’s a lot of borderline nonsensical spoken dialogue as you meet and solve problems for the eccentric cast. If storytelling works, it’s because everything is communicated through such a serious and healthy delivery. All flawed characters are lonely, and topics around the value of community and relationships make for a heartfelt message. Whether it’s the guy trying to understand whether or not his long-time roommate is really his friend, or the husband and wife who love each other even though they are completely different, everyone is struggling to connect. And also to fight to play word games. So many puns.
To reunite them all, you have to hunt and capture the adorable and tasty Bugsnax, and several dozen strains across the island each have different behaviors to decipher, which is a compelling catch at first. The puzzles start extremely easy and get moderately challenging at the end. The challenge, however, often lies in intricate actions and tool combinations that do not always make sense. Sometimes I stumbled upon a solution through trial and error or found the correct answer, but failed because of the tricky workings of the hunting tools. From swinging nets to launching diving boards, putting together a multi-step plan to lure the burning hot stew creature to the ice-cold popsicle insect can be fun putting together a multi-step plan that will cool it down enough that it just begins, but mostly feels, the process look boring.
The quest structure doesn’t help as the absurd premise (I have to eat that bug!) Leads to increasingly insane tasks prescribed by the helpless islanders. With each assignment, I felt less like a brave island explorer and more like one of those people who deliver groceries to the store before they rush to collect apples at the store before handing them over to impatient customers waiting at home. Still, I appreciate that there is a wide variety of quests to discover. You can get on with the core campaign in just a few hours, but if you fall in love with this little bugsnax, a number of side quests offer more opportunities to delve into again.
Between character narrations, multiple active quest lines, and a whole taxonomy of Bugsnax, there’s a lot to consider. I was pleased to find a neat collection of collections and tracking options in the pause menu. From scan data to details about the characters and locations revealed, it helps the game feel cohesive and manageable.
When I played on PS5, I was also impressed with the early implementation of the built-in hint system. In both written and video tutorials, players can find puzzle solutions with just a few keys instead of looking up an answer online. It’s a small but significant addition to a game like this, especially knowing that the game may be aimed at less experienced users who will appreciate help with duller or more challenging creature captures.
As a game, Bugsnax seems thrilled with its own ridiculous premise and is hoping its players will climb aboard as well. I appreciate its real and childish subjects, but a lot of the humor never really lands, and some late-night stories of depression and abandonment are particularly inappropriate. With quests and puzzles that feel less like exploration than errands, I applaud a particularly entertaining idea that never blends into a great time.