Everybody’s talking ‘bout ‘Bugsnax’

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 4:05pm

NOSELL

Young Horses

On June 11, the world changed for the weirder. It’s a day that probably flew under the radar for most people — during quarantimes, if you’ve seen one day you’ve likely seen the next thirty. The “Tiger King” fad had passed and the novelty of buying newly released movies for twenty bucks a pop had long worn thin. Only the gaming community remained buzzing with energy; It was hard not to be excited for Sony’s “Future Revealed” conference. Sony was finally ready to show the world what the future of Playstation looked like with a knockout direct announcing heavy-hitters like “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” a new “Ratchet & Clank” and the highly anticipated “Horizon Forbidden West,” ending with a detailed first glimpse of the PS5. 

But take that all and throw it away. 

None of it matters, well it matters but not as much as what came 49 minutes into the conference. I’ll paint a picture for you: A dark screen fades into a cartoon forest, as the camera pans down to a strawberry. The strawberry … turns and stands on its leaves, grows some eyes and walks around. What the heck? The strawberry walks and meets another anthropomorphic strawberry and then both are chased away by a hamburger with curly fry legs before being eaten by a humanoid walrus. It ends with a bunch of the creatures coming together to form a Frannkenfoods monster and attack the viewer.  I’m not being hyperbolic when I say the “Bugsnax” trailer blew up the internet. You may have never seen a Strabby or a Bunger (the half-bug and half-snack combos I described earlier) but chances are you heard the infectious title song by Kero Kero Bonito. No one could get the song out of their head, everyone from games journalists to lowly fans were singing about ketchup patches and trying to figure out exactly what a Bugsnax is. (A side note: the lyrics quite literally explain the story and how the gameplay will work, we just had no idea at the time.) 

Developer Young Horses was no help, responding only to the ominous ending of their trailer with seemingly unconnected random games that served as inspiration. Nothing made any sense. And that’s exactly what Young Horses wanted.

Everyone was talking ‘bout “Bugsnax”. The song currently sits at 800,000 listens on Spotify and ranks among Kero Kero Bonito’s most famous. Nearly three months passed before anymore context was given, promising a truly absurd story about a reporter visiting Snaktooth Island and seeing what the deal is with the titular bugsnax.  

As launch day approached — Nov. 12, the same day as the launch of the PS5 — and the game got more real, “Bugsnax” stood on its own two food-based feet and proudly became the most interesting game of the launch line-up. Sure, when you do get the monolith that is PS5 you’ll want to play “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” or “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” to see the technical prowess of next-gen gaming. But, if you’re anything like me, you’re also beyond curious about what awaits you on Snaktooth Island. Standing up to the sequel of one of the top-selling PS4 games of all time is no small feat, but somehow Young Horses managed to do it.

Reviewers seem to agree that this game is something special, something full of heart and humor that manages to balance fun gameplay with a grounded, engrossing story. What started as a joke blossomed into a genuine obsession over the hundreds of quirky bugsnax and the unique minds that dreamed them up. Somehow this small Chicago-based team known only for the joke laden, QWOP-like game “Octodad: Dadliest Catch” — a bonafide hit in its own right — made a hotly anticipated and highly acclaimed game.

This success story is one of individuality and charm, of not letting a scary, uncertain year without a single convention keep you from the finish line. Young Horses, working with PR firm Popagenda Co., took a gamble and saw it pay out in spades. They didn’t have to make a weird, Kafkaesque world full of sentient fruit and fuzzy walruses, but they stuck to their guns and created what they wanted to. In a year full of hotly anticipated next-gen fare and stellar first party exclusives such as “The Last of Us Part II” and “Ghost of Tsushima,” this passion and creativity somehow managed to bring “Bugsnax” into the limelight. 

It serves as a nice little reminder that for every Triple A blockbuster game, there are indie games lying in wait, raring and ready to charm the pants off of you and make for another unforgettable gaming moment. This year alone saw the explosion of “Fall Guys” and “Among Us,” the latter of which finally captured its audience after being on the market for two years. So let’s all cheer for the indie studios, the ones who make it big and the ones who stay small because they all pour their heart and soul into each and every polygon and pixel to make something special. 

Three cheers to Young Horses, whose passion is what drew Kero Kero Bonito to create such a gosh darn catchy tune. Three cheers to the insanity of mixing bugs and snacks and bringing people together to conspire about what a even a bugsnack is. Three cheers to the designers and press agents who kept these people around, constantly teasing an experience unlike anything else as we all wait to play the game for ourselves. Three cheers to talking about Bugsnax for a long, long time to come.

Oh-oo-oh. It is Bugsnax indeed.

Daily Arts Writer M. Deitz can be reached at mdeitz@umich.edu.


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