This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Bugsnax and Super Meat Boy Forever.
Ah, 2020, the Jimmy Savile of years; only after its passing can we take stock and truly appreciate the flood of hushed-up sexual assault accusations. And as always, there are a few stray tentacles we need to pull off our ankles before we can banish the year back to the pit where it belongs. I wanted to mention that I went back to Persona 4 Golden after I reviewed it and ended up liking it a lot more, if still not more than Persona 5, and now I'm slightly embarrassed that I was ever intimidated by the combat, because if you do any amount of grinding in that game, combat's about as hard as a wandering dick in a badly organized sausage-slicing facility. And then there are the usual crop of games I didn't get around to; I do intend to review the Demon's Souls remake, just as soon as I can sit on my roof with a butterfly net and catch a PS5 as it streaks over my house on a trail of blazing stardust.
But in the meantime, let's talk about Bugsnax, which was an indie game that came out on Epic Store and consoles, and is... hm. You know, every time I take a stab at summarizing Bugsnax, I feel like something important has been left out; it's like writing a real estate profile for a nuclear bunker on Mars where eleven people died of asbestos poisoning. If I were to say "It's a first-person adventure sort of thing where you come to a hidden island full of mysterious creatures that are all a hybrid of an insect and an item of snack food like a fucking bag of chips with wings and shit, and there's influence from Pokémon 'cos they all have a cutesy hybrid name that is the only thing they can say and catching them is the main gameplay activity, but unlike Pokémon, you don't battle them; you just watch them get mercilessly devoured as they scream their own names in distress," even that summary fails to mention the significant fact that all the sentient characters in the game are furry puppet monsters that look like novelty butt plugs based on Sesame Street characters.
"Oh, so it's a kids' game, Yahtz?" (...) I DON'T KNOW! It's bright and colorful, and none of the characters would look out of place flogging nutritionally bankrupt breakfast cereals, but at the same time, all the characters have these fairly complex, adult relationship issues, with several overtly established to be banging their featureless furry midsections together. And besides that, I get a faintly sinister vibe as I watch the adorable Bugsnax disappear into the cheerful gullets of big-toothed furry monsters with an upsetting crunching sound, and then one of the monster's limbs turns into a Snickers or whatever, which adds a little sprinkling of body horror to the mix; it's like Fraggle Rock as directed by David Cronenberg.
Progress is structured around doing whatever the furry butt plugs ask you to do, and that's almost always "catch some specific Bugsnax or other", so we might as well call that the core gameplay. It's a sort of systemic hunting game with a bit of a Pokémon Snap vibe; you look for Bugsnax in the wild scuttling about on their little routines, and need to figure out how specifically to exploit the systems to capture them. Some are easy; you just put a box held up with a stick in their path. Some are hard, like the ones that are on fire, which sounds painful, but it'll be the least of their problems by the time I'm done with the little gits; you can't capture them until you put them out, so you use their favorite sauce to lure them into water or an ice cream-based Bugsnax, as our protagonist's furry biology seems to lack the facility to piss. So on the one hand, this is a collection-based puzzle game in which one literally "gotta catch 'em all", then "serve 'em all" with fries and a soft drink, but on the other hand, there doesn't feel like there's much incentive to "catch 'em all" unless a quest specifically asks for "'em".
The mechanics are a bit disconnected; all you can do with a Bugsnax once caught is feed them to someone to make their toenails turn into Oreos or whatever, which is only an aesthetic change, and now I'm writing all this down, perhaps a slightly fetishistic one. On the whole, though, Bugsnax has the charm of a banana and crisp sandwich and has a similarly unique enough combination of flavors to be worth a try for curiosity's sake; plus, asking the creative leads to explain the inspiration behind it would provide a lot of useful material if you're looking to have them sectioned for whatever reason. So let's move on.
Another loose end still trailing off 2020 like a strand of cum on an eyelash is Super Meat Boy Forever, a sequel to Edmund McMillen's classic super-hard 2D platformer from that lovely Newgrounds era of indie gaming, when all you needed to get ahead was a vision, some Flash programming ability, and a couple of crudely drawn turds. Super Meat Boy and Bandage Girl must rescue their baby from the evil Dr. Fetus, a doctor who is a fetus, a character who perfectly encapsulates mid-2000's online culture: cutesy innocence ironically blended with the try-hard gross-out scribbled-on-the-back-of-an-exercise-book vibe that Jhonen Vasquez already bled dry in the 90's. But I don't want to rip on Super Meat Boy Forever for its aesthetic, when there's so much other fertile ground for ripping on!
Things quickly turned sour when I started the first level and Mr. Boy immediately sprinted to the right without me asking; at first, I thought I'd left my drinking gun on the keyboard again, but no. Don't tell me you've turned Super Meat Boy into an infinite runner. "No, of course not! The levels are finite; they're just procedurally generated." Oh, even better! The most tired trend of indie games and the most tired trend of mobile games, together at last to squirt out a little narcoleptic baby. The inability to stop or slow down removes all nuance from movement and makes it hard to take stock as we're swept into death after unceasing death, and I know constant death is on-brand for Super Meat Boy, but I prefer to set the terms for my own death. You know; nice hospital room, classical music, dignity, not just capped in the back of the head and chucked in a yellow bin bag.
Edmund McMillen reportedly didn't come back for this game, as he's too busy endlessly tweaking The Binding of Isaac to find the perfect way to depict an infant crying on a turd. And you can tell, 'cos in his absence, Super Meat Boy Forever suffers from an obvious lack of central vision - a vision that was a touch fixated on poo-poos and dead baby jokes, but still a vision! - and without it, the game flails about like a quadriplegic on a teacup ride.
The levels are too long and badly paced - almost like they're being assembled randomly, funnily enough! - and the basic purity of the original "move and jump" controls is diluted with new combat moves and dashes and constant new environmental hazards, so the core gameplay is less nuanced but somehow simultaneously overcomplicated. It's strung together on a story that feels like a meandering partial retread of the already-established plot through a sequence of overlong cinematics that, in contrast to the first game's scrappy charm, have had all their character polished out.
What an egregious way to mark the recent death of the Flash engine: with a bastardized and unwanted reimagining of one of its most successful children. Fuck you, Super Meat Boy Forever; you've made me depressed! Now I'll have to cheer myself up with some dead baby jokes.
- A pile of skin and guts: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- What will the crudely drawn porn merchants do now that Flash isn't a thing? Why does no one think of the crudely drawn porn?
- I like a game I can get my teeth into