Bugsnax is a whimsical adventure that missed its calling as a disturbing horror title. Here's what could have been.
Bugsnax was undoubtedly one of the strangest games of 2020. Ever since it was first announced, it captured the imaginations of gamers all around the world, thanks to its impossibly catchy theme song from Kero Kero Bonito, a range of colourful characters, and the strange little critters themselves. When a Grumpus, or the creatures that live alongside the Bugsnax, ingest the adorable creatures, their limbs turn into food.
It's undoubtedly one of the wackiest premises we've seen in some time. Early looks at the game prompted question after question: How long would a Grumpus have a curly fry arm? Why do Bugsnax turn those who ingest them into food? And where did they come from?
While many of these questions did receive answers throughout the late game, Bugsnax remains a strange title that's as odd as it is cute. But while it appears to be much darker beneath the surface, it doesn't quite veer into the "scary" territory that many players thought that it could. Though all the set pieces are in place for Bugsnax to make a sudden detour into horror territory, it doesn't quite commit.
It's a shame, especially since when it comes to the horror department in gaming, so many titles have exhausted their well of creative premises. Bugsnax could have been a phenomenal horror game with a few tweaks to its storyline and other aspects. Here's how it could have been different and moulded into a truly frightening experience.
Warning: Massive spoilers for Bugsnax follow. Be sure to turn away now if you haven't completed the game!
Something Stinks on Snaktooth Island
Bugsnax takes players to Snaktooth Island to kick things off. You first meet a Grumpus named Filbo, who's not as well-informed about the ins and outs of Bugsnax as you might think. The Grumpuses here are content to chow down on Bugsnax and apparently spend much of their time finding the creatures and eating them. It's a little odd, but there's nothing horrifying here.
None of the Grumpuses have an exact theory regarding the Bugsnax's purpose or origin, but as you and Filbo search for Bugsnax researcher Elizabeth Megafig, you uncover some truths about the creatures that aren't so subtle. By the end of the game, after defeating a massive Bugsnax-laden Elizabeth Megafig, you learn that the creatures are parasites that actually use those who consume them as hosts.
But even this revelation isn't exactly unsettling. The Bugsnax already somewhat fit this description, so it's not out of the realm of possibility to view them as parasites. However, if the developers wanted to take things a bit further, they could have delayed the whole "body turning into food" side effect and played it for a heaping helping of body horror later on.
This could have been one of the first bits of truly horrifying content the game could have adopted for it to turn into a straight-up terrifying and twisted tale. If it were acceptable to chow down on Bugsnax, then horrific body-altering side effects happened later in a much more violent fashion, the game could have avoided how cutesy the process seems at first. It seems the village folk are totally fine with what happens to them. If the process were more horrific and uncomfortable, perhaps they'd think twice about consuming parasites.
In addition to the way it handles Bugsnax and their unexpected side effects, the game could have taken a different approach to instil creeping dread around every corner. This means the game would have had to ditch the googly-eyed characters and think of something a little more disturbing than foodstuffs roaming around an island. A walking watermelon just isn't intimidating. Neither is an anthropomorphic burger.
The game could have changed up the way the Bugsnax themselves look, even if it's just a bit different without their cartoonish nature, to give the game a more mature and less predictable nature. Food was an unassuming choice that likely made people feel as though the game was another unassuming indie favourite, but even if they were swapped over to inanimate objects that come to life, or even strange meat-like creatures that would give people pause when eating them, that could have worked to introduce additional horror elements.
It would have been interesting to see more work put into making the Bugsnax themselves a much weirder entity, even by a little. That would have gone a long way to make the game feel more horrific and less like a cartoony, family-friendly adventure.
Beating Back the Bugsnax
Another way the game could have undergone a makeover to transform into a horror title is by allowing the Bugsnax more of a predatory nature. In the beginning of the game all you really need to do to capture one is throw a net over it or do some rudimentary trapping. Even when you progress further throughout the game, it never becomes particularly difficult, as trapping these creatures is the name of the game.
If you had to battle against Bugsnax, and they used a series of disturbing and weird powers against you instead of the situations set up within the game, it could have been riddled with some extremely disturbing moments. Just as the game No More Heroes is largely a series of boss battles tied together with smaller-scale fights in between, Bugsnax could have followed suit with players facing off against some truly grotesque monsters.
Imagine creeping in the darkness trying to catch a Bunger that wants to eat you instead of the other way around, or searching around for a Strabby that's actually full of blood instead of strawberry juice. These setups could have made for compelling gameplay rather than the trap-setting themes that play throughout the game.
There are several ways that Bugsnax could have ended up going, should it have fully embraced the darkness within. Many of them involve changing the way the creatures look, how you interact with them, and how the Grumpuses initially got to know them.
But thanks to the game's ending, which sowed some seeds of darkness, it's not too late. Perhaps we could see a sequel at some point that really leans into the potentiality of making it a horror adventure. If there is some sort of follow-up, it would behove developer Young Horses to pursue a different direction to enhance Bugsnax in just about every way. While it's a great game as-is, it could be ten times better if it sought to disturb and terrify players.
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Images via Young Horses