Perhaps best described as a comedy body horror, Bugsnax asks you to solve the mystery surrounding a missing villager on the bizarre island of Snaxburg, and this is done by using tricks, tools and timing to catch and catalogue the creatures that live there. Part bug, part snack, these critters are the titular Bugsnax: a moth made of pizza slices, a sea monster made of dragon roll sushi, a cinnamon-roll snail. Oh – and eating them causes part of your character’s body to morph into that food.
The obvious comparison, with the “catch ‘em all” mentality and the abundance of cute creatures that can only say their own name, is Pokémon. But Snaxburg doesn’t borrow much from Kanto at all; you use tricks, tools and timing rather than Pokéballs to catch these critters, setting up trip wires or ketchup catapults, or luring Bugsnax towards each other to trigger a reaction.
Bugsnax are the stars of the show, but the villagers are a great supporting cast. On the surface, these characters are one-dimensional (the mad scientist, the used car salesman, the gossipy girl), but Bugsnax’s self-awareness and inventive sense of humour wrings every last drop of comedy out of them. Rather than fight the tropes, the writing and characterisation lean into it so hard that they become original again. Do a few favours for these weirdos, and before long you find yourself making a genuine connection with a washed-up pop diva with pineapple hair and raspberry arms. The game also features a couple of queer relationships, and manages to make its representation as fun and vibrant as the rest of the game.
Feeding a villager a Bugsnak will result in their limbs, teeth, horns, head, or body transforming to absorb it, gaining curly fries for hands, a burrito for a nose, a rack of ribs for a body. With 100 creatures and 13 customisable body parts per villager, the possibilities feel endless. Get far enough into the game and you unlock a tool that lets you play around with the Bugsnax at will, configuring any part of any villager into any snak they’ve ever eaten, like a hangry mad scientist.
If Bugsnax is a buffet of delights, it’s fair to say there are a couple of slices of pineapple pizza in there. Every quest boils down to catching Bugsnax, and this gets repetitive, especially when four of the game’s eight regions share a spicy/fiery/tropical theme. You can sometimes be stranded for a while trying to figure out how to catch a given critter, too, as the game refuses to proffer any hints. But it does encourage you to come up with your own solutions. One snak is supposed to be caught with a sophisticated system of flaming traps, timed to perfection – but I, a genius, just set myself alight and ran into the creature, and that worked fine.
Every creature interacts with the others, making the world feel alive and real. Sometimes, these interactions are the key to a catch – encourage a frozen snak and a flaming snak towards each other and they’ll balance each other out. More often, though, these interactions are there to cause further obstacles; every time I eat an ice lolly for the rest of my life I will curse the name Big Bopsicle, the annoying lolly snak who headbutts and freezes you whenever you get close.
Sweet and occasionally salty, Bugsnax is certainly one of the PS5’s most interesting launch titles. If you look at it as a checklist game where you need to catch creatures in order to win, it wobbles: it gets repetitive, some parts are harder than they need to be and it won’t help much if you get stuck. But the sheer range of creatures on offer, and the villagers’ hidden depth, filled my time in Snaxburg with joy. It’s funny, thoughtful, inventive and warm.
• Bugsnax is available now; £17.99.